“Thousands of New Homes” Possible in Southborough if Local Plan isn’t Opposed

A local residents’ group has warned that a very large area – equivalent to 250 football pitches – between the A26 and Vauxhall Lane could be opened up to development if local people fail to object strongly enough to the Borough Council’s Local Plan.

The Hangman’s Hill Residents’ Association submission seen by Southborough News states that the plan for new housing on site AL/SO 3 is “unacceptably vague and unclear” as it covers the whole of the mile long strip of Green Belt land that currently separates Southborough and Tonbridge.

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Serious concerns from Southborough Town Council about the plans were published on this blog on Sunday.   The official deadline is 5pm today for comments to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which is the planning authority.

HHRA have an email to obtain a word document template for public submissions in the format required by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Send an email to:

The Hangman’s Hill Residents’ Association (HHRA) argues that the proposed allocation by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) of the site AL/SO 3 Land at Mabledon and Nightingale Farms is not adequate for a mixed-use scheme to include land-based economic development and approximately 50-120 residential dwellings.

HHRA told Southborough News its key objections were:

  • the lack of clarity in the Draft Local Plan documentation set regarding the proposal – confusion as to where the site is and what exactly it will entail;
  • the potential for inappropriate development in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Green Belt – as the site is in High Weald AONB, typically there need to be ‘exceptional’ circumstances to justify such ‘major development’, and in the view of HHRA no such ‘exceptional circumstances’ exist;
  • the increased traffic congestion on the A26 – the additional traffic from this proposed development will exacerbate the existing congestion and air quality issues on the section of the A26 near the site and in the nearby area; and
  • environmental and social impacts – including impact on ecology, biodiversity, and further strains on local amenities.

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A committee member of HHRA said: “We have been blown away by the support from the community in relation to voicing their concerns against the prospective allocation of this site, and have been very grateful for everyone’s efforts to contribute to the campaign, and within a very short space of time”.

A Facebook page has been set up to post the latest news:

The Hangman’s Hill Residents’ Association argues that the Draft Local Plan just establishes that development in this protected landscape is acceptable to TWBC, and sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

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Other detailed arguments made by the Hangman’s Hill Residents’ Association include:

  • This site is a glorious strip of green space between the built-up areas of Southborough and Tonbridge.  There are views into the site from the A26, Vauxhall Lane, the Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk and public footpaths higher up the valley.  Conversion of the small number of heritage farm buildings into homes has already taken place within the site.
  • This is a very important area of biodiversity between the built-up areas of Southborough and Tonbridge.  It includes a designated Local Wildlife Site (TW50 Vauxhall Lane Woods), which provides a vital habitat for a variety of species (e.g. great crested newts (protected species), rare dormice, deer, hedgehogs, badgers, foxes and owls).  The gill woodlands and shaws provide important corridors, rich in biodiversity.  There are traditional orchards, now a rare habitat, and rare early purple orchids.

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  • It’s an area of relatively Dark Skies, only 2 and 3 levels higher than the darkest skies (CPRE Light Pollution and Dark Skies interactive map), an essential haven for nocturnal wildlife.
  • Away from the flood zones by the railway line, the topography and clay soil mean that the ground rapidly becomes waterlogged in periods of heavy rain due to run-off from the A26 and the network of underground streams and springs.  This is not ideal land for development and will be made worse by additional impermeable surfaces.

Plan to Replace Fields with New Housing Between Southborough and Tonbridge

Residents have just five days to give their verdict on a plan by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to transform many of the fields on “green belt” land between Tonbridge and Southborough into new housing.

The land in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) that is currently centred on the historic Mabledon Farm (see red circle below) and Nightingale Farm between the A26 and Vauxhall Lane has been identified by the Borough Council as suitable for a “mixed use” development of between 50 and 120 housing units.

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Mabledon Farm map

The mayor of Southborough, Councillor Alain Lewis (below) told Southborough News that the Town Council has expressed its concerns about the plan.  Cllr Lewis said: “We mess around with these things at our peril. It is a bit of a time capsule. Is a fine example of medieval countryside.”

Cllr Lewis continued: “If this development goes ahead, the potential is that we could end up building on the whole of the area. The A26 cannot sustain any more traffic – there are already too many cars on that road. Air quality is already poor along the A26.”

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In the Local Plan section on the land around Mabledon Farm, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council says: “The properties and the wider surrounding agricultural land are in a single ownership offering an opportunity to develop an exemplar scheme inspired by the underlying historical character of the High Weald.”

The Draft Plan continues: “Planning an enlarged settlement here that reflects the historical evolution of farmsteads, hamlets, and small villages, and which remains connected to the surrounding land and its management, has the potential to demonstrate a new sustainable approach to development in the High Weald, making strong and positive contributions to the objectives of the AONB Management Plan.”

In addition there is a plan to develop Mabledon House to the west of the A26, which is a listed Grade II mansion (see below) associated with Decimus Burton, who was an important figure in the evolution of Tunbridge Wells. The house is set within a Grade II Historic Park and Garden that includes pleasure grounds, a cottage garden, and a quarry, although it is shielded from the A26 currently by trees and currently little known to residents.

Mabledon House

The Local Plan says of Mabledon House: “The proposal for the whole site, which this policy supports, is for the development of a luxury hotel up to a maximum of 200 rooms and leisure development with spa and conference facilities, set within a restored historic park and garden and wider attractive landscape.”

For its latest Local Plan, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has been told by central government to build 13,500 dwellings by 2036. This could increase the population by a quarter, so  worsening further road congestion and resulting in significantly reduced green spaces.

The village of Capel and town of Paddock Wood are likely to be worst hit with 4,500 additional houses planned to replace productive farmland. Capel residents have been protesting outside Council meetings and in the town for the past year (see below)

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Objectors need to contact Tunbridge Wells Borough Council by November 15th and refer to site AL/SO3 when discussing the Mabledon Farm proposal.

A local group, Hangman’s Hill Residents Association, has set up a Facebook page to post the latest news:

For more details on the pressure to build new housing on green belt land in the south east, here is a useful piece from the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Click here: https://cprekent.org.uk/planning/massive-increase-in-housebuilding-a-developing-tragedy-for-the-tunbridge-wells-countryside/?fbclid=IwAR3H0hxxlKVnGtlwpoq2VuXK0fbRsghB6GrhYLiCRSDnWXOJwPxRAOe2Vzk

Meanwhile, the Conservative leader of Sevenoaks District Council, Peter Fleming, appears to be refusing to build all the housing central government has ordered.  Sevenoaks has promised only 9,410 new homes – almost 2,000 fewer than the 11,312 homes they have been told to build by 2035.

Secrets of Southborough Common Revealed

A strong turnout of around 50 local residents came out on Saturday for a hour long guided tour of the “Secrets of Southborough Common” led by Ian Johnstone (pictured below) of the Kent High Weald Partnership.

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The overcast weather didn’t deter residents, who were rewarded with insights into what the recent clearing of the common has revealed about the history of the land.

Ian Johnstone led residents to where a windmill once stood, the remains of a charcoal platform that may go back to medieval times, as well as a grove of Scots pine trees, known as “The Pineys”, which is thought to have been planted as a Victorian feature to soar above what was then mainly open heathland on the common.


The picture above shows the eager walkers setting off for the tour with most having been briefed with a display of information inside St Peter’s Church organised jointly by the Kent High Weald Partnership, Southborough Society and the archeology group, SHAAS.

A grant from the National Lottery is being spent in part on slowly clearing some of the holly and laurel that has overgrown what had been a much clearer outlook for Southborough Common in Victorian times (see below).


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The Southborough Society also has funds to digitise its extensive archive – a programme that is now in its advanced stages.

Ian Johnstone explained that the section of Southborough Common to the north west – known as Whortleberry Wood – was once isolated from the rest of the Common.  The trees in this area appear to be mainly beech, with some mature beeches appearing to be around 200 years old.

It is likely the beech trees were grown for timber or coppicing, so big ditches were dug all round this section to keep animals out. These are still visible today (see below) and there are also remains of rusted Victorian iron railings to be found next to the ditches in some places.


Whortleberry Wood was enclosed from the neighbouring pasture to prevent grazing animals from browsing on coppiced woodland. The enclosure dates from the early Medieval period (AD 410-1066). Whortleberry is another name for bilberry (or huckleberry) – a berry rich with Vitamin C – which grows well on the sandy sloping soils in the wood.

Maps were provided and Ian Johnstone declared that this was the largest turnout so far for his tour after expensive publicity in advance from the organising groups.


Ian Johnstone took the tour to one site where it is possible the horse fair was once held which featured in a famous painting (below) from 1857 called “An English Horse Fair on Southborough Common” by John Frederick Herring Snr.


The Kent High Weald Partnership have been carrying out management work of the common with the help of volunteers since 2012. Their website is: http://southboroughcommon.co.uk

The Southborough Society report on the event is at:



Greg Clark Will Be Conservative General Election Candidate

The current MP for Southborough and Tunbridge Wells Greg Clark has survived a selection meeting of his local party and will be the official Conservative candidate at the December 12th General Election.

Some Conservative members wanted Greg Clark (below) to be dropped after he lost his membership of the Conservative party in parliament following Mr Clark’s decision to support the opposition parties over the so-called Benn Act. The Benn Act was passed in September and scuppered Boris Johnson’s plan to leave the EU with or without a deal at the end of October.

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But Mr Clark was brought back into the party in the Commons in the last week which meant he was eligible to stand again as the local Conservative candidate.

He was endorsed at a meeting of the Tunbridge Wells Constituency Conservatives last night (Tuesday).

The Chairman of the local Conservative party, Joe Simmons, told Southborough News this morning that Greg Clark’s reselection was now “a done deal”.

Mr Clark is understood to have given assurances to local party members last night that he would fully support Boris Johnson’s election manifesto, with members concluding that “what is the past is in the past”.

But in the coming weeks, Brexit enthusiasts in Tunbridge Wells are likely to look for assurances that that Mr Clark’s support for the leadership’s policy would continue if he is re-elected and if the Conservatives take the UK out of the EU in January but UK-EU trade talks fail to come up with a tariff free agreement by December 2020 (after the transition), so risking a so-called “no deal” type departure again.

Mr Clark is known to believe in close EU-UK alignment of rules post-Brexit.

In a tweet published overnight, Greg Clark said it had been the the privilege and honour of his life to represent Tunbridge Wells since 2005 and he was extremely grateful to his Conservative Association for choosing him again as their candidate.

At the recent European elections in May the Conservative vote in Tunbridge Wells collapsed with the party ending up fourth with only 10 per cent of the vote behind the Greens.

The Brexit Party won most votes with 32 per cent in May. But this time the Liberal Democrats are likely to feel they have a strong chance, as Brexit supporters may well divide their votes more evenly between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party.


The Brexit Party has announced it will not be standing in any seats the Conservatives won in 2017, including Tunbridge Wells.

The Liberal Democrats came a close second in the European elections – also with 32 per cent.

Ben Chapelard

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Tunbridge Wells is Ben Chapelard (above), who’s chances will have been enhanced by the withdrawal of the Green candidate thanks to a pact between the Greens and the Lib Dems.

Labour’s candidate is Antonio Weiss (pictured below) – Labour came second in 2017.

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Nominations close at 4pm on 14th November.


The deadline for nominations has passed and there are 5 candidates. There are no UKIP or Brexit party candidates. But there are two independents in addition to Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat.

The two independent candidates are Christopher Camp and Nigel Peacock, who worked for many years in the radio industry in Kent.