Response to Northern Sevenoaks Masterplan based on a Community Survey by Sevenoaks Liberal Democrats
Over the last few months we have spoken to hundreds of people face to face, and received well over 100 written responses to the Community Surveys distributed across every ward in Sevenoaks. We are therefore in a strong position to set out a response to the Masterplan, based on direct feedback from local people, and what matters most to them.
The interest these conversations and surveys have generated shows that the Masterplan has engaged people across Sevenoaks. Most – but not all – of the responses have been positive with support for most of the improvements in local facilities. However there are clear indications that local residents prioritise issues which the Masterplan does not address over some that it does. Also, our survey was the first many people had heard about it – even as late as April 2017.
Two thirds of people in Sevenoaks responding to the survey recognise the need for investment in the northern part of the town. That support extends across Sevenoaks, although it is strongest in the areas near and to the north of the A25. There is equal strength of opposition – around 70% – across most of the town to building on green fields north of the A25 round the Wildlife Reserve.
When asked what improvements residents want to see the most commonly supported changes are safer streets and less traffic in residential areas. These issues are twice as important as better sports facilities, more homes, better shops and more jobs. They represent a real concern over current traffic and street safety in Sevenoaks which needs to be addressed before development takes place, not after.
Most concern is focussed on the A25 itself, which runs the full length of the Masterplan area and dominates the lives of people within it. The problems range from:
– congestion, pollution and traffic noise at Riverhead Square
– pollution, noise and danger to people trying to cross the A25 from Shoreham Lane right through to Knole Academy
– traffic noise, speed, pollution, danger to school students walking to Knole Academy, and parking shortage caused by poor road design in the stretch of Bradbourne Vale Road past the Town Council offices,
– a major bottleneck at the A25 / Otford Road junction at Bat & Ball which blocks peak traffic in all directions, creates pollution and acts as a barrier to pedestrians and cyclists
– noise, pollution and road safety problems in the stretch along Seal Road, especially the lack of a safe link for children getting to Greatness Park at Mill Lane / Millpond Close
– a growing congestion problem at the Seal Road / Seal Hollow Road junction which will grind to a halt as the Trinity and Grammar schools fill up.
Some of these issues are mentioned in the Masterplan – but not all. However, unless they are all tackled it is difficult to see how local residents’ support for development will be sustained.
People who live in Greatness especially feel imprisoned by the congestion that blocks their way out of Sevenoaks – at Bat & Ball and Riverhead in the rush hour. A few years ago they could drive out of Sevenoaks easily to get to work, now they can’t. Also bus access to the secondary schools is already compromised by the inability of bus operators to cut through the traffic jams.
Our District and County Councils have in the past approved development without proper assessment of traffic congestion, hoping that it will ‘turn out all right’. This is no longer acceptable. A proper traffic plan, which looks at risks not just accident histories, and which improves quality of life in the area, is essential to sustain public confidence.
Now that the developments outside the Town Council boundary have been withdrawn from the Masterplan, the overall scale of new housing proposed approaches the range that many people think might be acceptable. Something like 1000 new homes might command majority support as long as all or most of it is on brownfield sites. In addition there is clear support for affordable family housing, prioritised strongly over executive homes, and with greater scope to enable people who work in Sevenoaks to live here.
Infrastructure and Environment
New homes will need to be accompanied by not only by a traffic plan, but also a new school and new medical facilities. Access to new school places has to be by safe routes or better bus services. Nobody who replied to our survey wants to see more school children brought by more private cars. People say that the congestion is already too great.
There is strong support (65% +) for measures to tackle air pollution especially from residents along the A25, and in Greatness, Bat & Ball and St Johns, but also in the Town Centre and in Eastern Ward. Alternatives to the car – including public transport, and more support for walking – have majority support.
Half of people responding support the new community centre – with a smaller number of vocal opponents. Plans for the Wildlife Reserve drew some negative comments based on concerns over the impact of more intensive use on conservation value.
Although we didn’t ask about this in our survey, several people wrote in their responses about the need to develop medical and care services at the Sevenoaks Hospital site. The scope to build on this major asset in the Town – especially the minor injuries unit and the recuperation / respite capacity which take the load off acute hospitals and serve the local community – should be developed as part of plans for the wider area. They will need to be accomodated in a wider traffic and access plan, like everything else.
The economic impact of the Masterplan and funds available for developing parkland around the quarry, a new visitor centre for the Wildlife Reserve, a school and medical centre, the new Community Centre as well as paths and cycle routes, will be positive. However this needs review after withdrawal of significant parts of it. If a major part of the proposed housing is genuinely affordable this will be especially true.
It is vital to recognise that the value created in designating land for over 1000 new homes at market prices could be up to £200 million. Given that the quarry site already has a planning conditions for restoration to recreation or wildlife use, much of this extra value needs to go towards local facilities, not just the limited figures implied by CIL calculations. Otherwise funding may flow out of the area in windfall profits rather than into it.
Sevenoaks Town Cllr. Tony Clayton