Proposed development Which Way Westerham
To meet its Government-set housing target of 698 new homes per year across the district, SDC must now identify a number of sites of a variety of sizes.

Here in Westerham we face a number of challenges unique to the town, not least the issue of affordable homes for local people, the poor air quality and congestion in the town centre, a dramatic fall in the number of school age children threatening the future of our primary school, and a fall in the number of working age people set against sharp increases in the number of elderly people.

All of these place particular stresses on the town’s services, some of which are already grappling with pressures for which solutions are hard to come by.

Like every other settlement in the district, Westerham is also vulnerable to the challenges of climate change.

Solutions to these sustainability challenges are possible – but will require sustainable development in sustainable locations to generate the resources needed to put the solutions in place.

Exceptionally, in Westerham, there is a single landowner who has the opportunity, and is willing to take it, to invest in the developments and take the kind of long term review on the investment returns needed to leverage the resources required to deliver the infrastructure, community facilities and environmental improvements that Westerham needs – regardless of WWW.

The WWW proposals will go a long way towards delivering the new homes the town needs to secure its future and provide the resources needed to help tackle the town’s other challenges.

Why in the Green Belt?

A challenge facing SDC as it seeks to identify sites to meet its housing need is that 93% of the land within the district lies within the Green Belt. It would simply not be possible for all the homes necessary to meet the council’s housing needs to be built without releasing land from the Green Belt.Nor would it be possible to meet Westerham’s needs for new housing without releasing land from the Green Belt.

There are not enough brown field sites to accommodate the number of homes needed to meet SDC’s housing need and many of those brown field sites lie within the Green Belt anyway and so could only be developed if exceptional circumstances could be proved.To fail to meet the district’s – and Westerham’s – housing needs would itself be unsustainable.

The Government allows for land to be released from the Green Belt for development if exceptional circumstances can be proved.

The land that would need to be released for development would equate to a small fraction of the Green Belt and AONB around Westerham. The housing and employment sites have been carefully chosen to occupy the least sensitive land in environmental, landscape and/or visual terms and which also has the greatest scope or need for improvement.

The extended Common Land will remain within the Green Belt, but with permanent protection from development. The further 25.1ha (62 acres) proposed for significant environmental improvements will also remain in the Green Belt.

Where the Green Belt serves its purpose of providing a setting for the historic town along the River Darent valley, this would be significantly strengthened.

What impact would the development have on the Kent Downs AONB?

The Kent Downs AONB Landscape Management Plan explains that the statutory duty of the AONB to ‘conserve and enhance’ can only be achieved through management of the landscape.

The Area Design Guide for West Darent gives guidance on how developments and landscaping should be used to protect and enhance the appearance of the AONB.

Locally, the upper Darent Valley has been a convenient location for transport corridors, most obviously the M25, and has been impacted by Clackett Lane service station, minerals workings and the expansion of Westerham, to the point where the landscape does not always match the characteristics of the AONB.

The WWW masterplan shows where we propose to significantly restore the intrinsic landscape characteristics and enhance the environmental value of the new Common Land and the further 50.3ha (124 acres) of AONB.

This will be achieved with the benefit of the resources leveraged from the housing and employment development, and will all be in line with the AONB Design Guide for the area.

Part of the mitigation for the development sites lies with the choice of site and part in the mitigation the masterplan proposes. The selected sites are those with the greatest ability to accommodate the proposed development without significant harm to the features of the AONB that have merited its designation. The masterplan’s mitigation both restores those features where they have been lost or eroded and delivers landscape works which would enhance those features and enrich the environmental value of the landscape of which they are part.     

In addition to its other purposes, the proposed environmental screen – the land form to the south of the M25 – will help integrate the M25 into the landscape as well as enrich the environmental value of this area. Similar works are proposed to mitigate the impact of Beggars Lane.

As with Green Belt land, the NPPF accepts major development in the AONB only in exceptional circumstances. For development on AONB land, there is a further test: despite the great weight to be given to conserving the landscape and scenic beauty, the development proposed must be demonstrably in the public interest.