Myth: These plans would concrete over the Green Belt
To achieve our plans 21.53ha (53 acres) of land would be released from the Green Belt for housing and employment uses – equivalent to just less than 4% of the Green Belt around Westerham, and just 0.06% of the total Green Belt in Sevenoaks District.
The land would be confined to the least sensitive in environmental, landscape and visual terms and which also has the greatest scope or need for improvement.Additionally, 3.8ha (9.4 acres) of Green Belt land would be required for the corridor for the relief road, which is identified as essential infrastructure.
To offset this, the masterplan proposes the designation of 25.2ha (62 acres) of new Common Land (or another appropriate classification) within the Green Belt that would be open to the public for use and protected from development in perpetuity.
Both the new Common Land and a further 25.1ha (62 acres) of Green Belt land would benefit from the extensive environmental enhancements needed to deliver the Kent Downs AONB Management Plan 2014-19 for the Westerham areaWhere the Green Belt serves its purpose of providing a setting for the historic town, along the River Darent valley for example, it would be significantly improved.
Myth: The air quality in the centre of Westerham is improving. There is no longer a need for a relief road
It is true that nitrogen dioxide levels monitored by SDC have been below the annual mean objective in the High Street and on Vicarage Hill since 2014. However, concentrations at Market Square, in the centre of the town, remain 25% above the objective mean and there has been no significant reduction in recent years.
Additionally, a study by independent experts Air Quality Consultants (AQC) shows the objective is likely to be exceeded at a number of properties in the town centre and will substantially exceed the objective by 2022 in the absence of a relief road.
Technical studies have shown that if nothing is done to alleviate traffic through Westerham town centre, by 2035 queue lengths at the London Road/A25 junction are projected to reach 18-20 minute wait times in peak hours.
Projections show that a new relief road would divert between half and 70% of the traffic currently travelling through the town centre at peak hours (depending on the junction and morning or evening peak). The through traffic would benefit from improved travel times and the town centre would benefit the improvements to air quality and the visitor and trading environment.
Myth: The proposed haul road associated with the infilling of Covers Farm is simply a Trojan horse for the proposed relief road. It follows the same route
Which Way Westerham and the infilling of Covers Farm are separate but related projects. Whenever permission is granted for the extraction of sand or minerals from a site, a planning condition is included requiring the restoration of the site at the end of its extraction life.
Permission was originally granted for work at Covers Farm to Redland Ltd in 1982. Since extraction ended and it became clear that Redland Monier Ltd were unable to restore the site, Squerryes Estate took over responsibility for the restoration in 2017.
Extensive technical work has since been undertaken to demonstrate the 1982 restoration plan is not acceptable because official standards that need to be met have been significantly upgraded.
800,000 cubic meters of inert infill is required to provide long term stability to the site and the surrounding area. Highways England also has concerns over the stability of the edge of the pit closest to the M25.
We are working closely with Kent County Council and pursuing all the relevant permissions and permits required to stabilise and restore Covers Farm.
Covers Farm has to be stabilised and that will be done in the most environmentally beneficial way practicable and that work will go ahead regardless of whether Which Way Westerham is included in the draft Local Plan or not.
It is not possible for the haul road associated with the Covers Farm infilling to be a Trojan horse for the relief road included in the Which Way Westerham masterplan.
The haul road has been included in the plans for the infilling of Covers Farm as the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to provide access to the site for the lorries bringing in the infill material. The majority of the infill material will be coming from the north via London Road and, to a lesser degree, Croydon Road. The haul road avoids the need for these additional HGVs to access the site via the town centre.
The route of the haul road would be considered as part of our application for the infilling and, if permission for the road is granted, it would only be temporary and for the specific use of the quarry infilling. If Which Way Westerham does not go ahead it will be restored back to a green field.
Our proposals for Which Way Westerham are still at the stage where we are finalising our masterplan. No exact alignment for the relief road has been established and there is a lot of work to be done before we reach that stage.Sufficient work has, however, been done on the need and prospective transport benefits for KCC to support the principle of the relief road. The further work is needed both to demonstrate the network benefits of the relief road and assist its design, including the precise siting and design of the new junctions.
Myth: We could have a relief road without the additional housing
Major infrastructure projects such as a relief road for Westerham town centre are expensive to deliver and Government and/or local authority funding for such projects is extremely difficult to secure, particularly in the current climate of austerity.
A relief road for Westerham does not feature on any list of infrastructure projects awaiting funding.
With major development projects proposed around Westerham, traffic pressure on the town is only going to grow and technical studies have shown that if nothing is done to alleviate traffic through Westerham town centre, by 2035 queue lengths at the London Road/A25 junction are projected to reach 18-20 minute wait times in peak hours.
Doing nothing is not an option if the town is to thrive and grow and the town centre is to remain competitive.
Private funding will be needed to build a relief road to ease congestion and pollution in the town centre in the foreseeable future. One way of raising that is through residential development.
In short, Westerham needs the relief road and it needs the housing on the scale proposed. But it is the housing that makes it feasible to fund and deliver the relief road, which would not happen otherwise.
The housing is also needed to address problematic changes the population size and age structure of the town, to protect the primary school and maintain income levels to sustain the town centre.
Myth: The town doesn’t need or want a huge housing estate
No, and that’s not what Which Way Westerham is proposing.
Our master plan shows separate neighbourhoods of varying sizes and each with their own character. They would be designed paying close attention to their location, open spaces and areas for families to play and relax.
Our aim is to provide a distinctiveness which characterises the older parts of the town, new communities that have their roots firmly in Westerham’s tradition.
We would do this by creating places and new neighbourhoods, not just buildings.They would be built on the least sensitive land, absorbed into the landscape and designed in keeping with the character of the town.
The people behind this proposal are of the town, have the town’s best interests at heart and are developing a proposal that will add to the town’s character, not detract from it.
Myth: The affordable housing included in the scheme will be used to house overspill from London boroughs
There is no obligation on Sevenoaks District Council to accept London’s housing overflow. The intention is for the affordable housing included in the proposal to directly benefit the town, its younger and older residents, and its employers.
Westerham has an ageing population. It is an expensive place to buy property. In Sevenoaks District, the ratio of mean property price to average wage is 13:1 – the highest in Kent. In Medway, the figure is 7.7:1; in Maidstone 10:1; and in Tonbridge and Malling 11.3:1.This means that young people brought up in the town cannot afford to buy here and so have to move away.
A combination of price and lack of affordable or suitable property means that downsizing for older people can also be prohibitive.A demographic study commissioned by Which Way Westerham projects a slow but steady decline in Westerham’s population from 2021. The decline results in steep losses of primary age children in the town from 2021, as well as steep declines in the number of working age people against sharp increases in the elderly.
The reductions in young children will place greater pressures on the school to recruit students from beyond Westerham, further increasing traffic at school arrival and leaving times.The reduced spending available to the town centre from those in work will impact on its vitality and presents these businesses and other local employers with still further challenges that will see even more in-bound commuters – people living away from the town but travelling here every day for work.
An increasingly ageing population will put added strain on the town’s GP surgery, which is already under pressure.
Westerham needs housing to help solve its own problems. In the Upper Darent Corridor (Westerham, Brasted, Sundridge and Chevening), there are currently 474 households in affordable housing need, living in unsatisfactory conditions because they cannot afford to rent or buy the housing needed to resolve their problems.
We envisage the additional housing, including the affordable housing, will help address these issues, providing first homes for local young people and a choice of housing, including affordable properties, to allow new employees to move to the town and live and work here.
Myth: We can’t be sure that a new GP surgery and a new school will be delivered as part of the WWW proposals
We are continuing to hold discussions with Westerham GP Practice and Churchill School as to how Which Way Westerham can support their ambitions for the future and cost provisions have been made in the proposals to help deliver that support.
The aim for the GP Surgery is to create a centre that can provide a wider range of services for more people, while we are working with the school towards helping them create quality outside space so it can become a Forest School, allowing our children to be taught in a natural environment.
This is key to ensuring a viable future for the town, and our support for the community would be wider than just that.
We have also made cost provisions for a package of improvements to the town centre once a new relief road made it possible to downgrade the existing A25.
Other local community groups have made contact and discussed their wishes for the future, and while no formal discussions have taken place, we are delighted to be in contact with them.
We have also held informal discussions with Valence School about how it can be better linked to the town and over possible shared facilities with Churchill School. We see very many direct and indirect benefits for the local community from Which Way Westerham and we are delighted that many from that community already share the vision.
The delivery of the proposals – including the relief road, community facilities and environmental benefits – will be secured through statutory planning policy provisions and legally binding agreements when planning applications to deliver the proposals for Westerham are made.
If applications are to be permissible, they would have to comply with the policy for Which Way Westerham – including the provisions for delivering the relief road, phasing the housing and contributing to affordable housing, community facilities and environmental improvements.
The aim is for the policy provisions to be drafted so that others who wish to invest in Westerham’s future are encouraged to do so. Squerryes, for example, own no land in the town centre. We would prefer any town centre improvements to be delivered in partnership with the Westerham Town Council.