National Trust plans to convert acres of the idyllic Green Belt countryside into expansive parking
Protesters are locked in a furious feud with the National Trust over plans to transform acres of the idyllic Green Belt countryside into a sprawling water castle parking lot.
Ightham Mote, near Sevenoaks, already has 232 parking spaces, but the charity wants to double its capacity by moving the parking lot to a nearby nature reserve.
A building permit filed by DHA Planning on behalf of the Trust with Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council states that the new parking lot will be in a field east of the existing area.
The National Trust also plans to restore the northern driveway, restore a walled garden, remove the temporary visitor reception building, and build a replacement reception, shop, greenhouse, and both with associated landscaping and drainage works.
Nearly 100 neighbors have responded online to the planning application for the Grade II listed mansion Grace I, which dates back to the 14th century and is located in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Doug Flint, 76, who bought his East Mote Oasts home on the Ightham Mote estate from the National Trust in 1982, said he bought the property because of the ‘beautiful scenery’ surrounding it.
But the three-year-old grandfather said he will now have a view of a “supermarket-sized parking garage,” said to be just 50 meters from his home.
The retired engineer said, “It is the local people who are outraged and strongly opposed to the plans, as a special area will be spoiled.
“We are really not happy, as we only discovered late last year. I just couldn’t believe they would do something like that.
‘Everyone thinks that the parking garage is wrong and the nail in the box is that they will use a beautiful field on the Green Belt to build a supermarket-sized parking garage. I know the number of visitors is increasing, but the roads are already full.
“We live about 50 meters from the proposed development and have been here for 37 years. Now we’re in our 70s, so we’ll probably be dead by the time they finish building.
“ We rely on the National Trust to give us access to the driveway and maintain the bushes, so whether we win or lose we are in trouble because they can make our lives a little bit uncomfortable because we are obliged to do them despite possession of the land.
Why can’t they find other places for the parking lot instead of a field that has recently been used for agriculture, for example the field currently used as an overflow that can be easily converted according to local builders.
“They obviously have a lot of money to help do all this work and friends in the different organizations, but I think the National Trust will be surprised by the negative reactions.”
Nick Davey, who started the campaign at Change.org, said, “To all the environmentalists out there, the National Trust plans to destroy good agricultural land near Ightham Mote and build a five-acre parking garage.
The field is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Green Belt country. This cannot be true from an environmental point of view, especially given its impact on climate change.
“We should discourage cars instead of luring more cars into an environmentally sensitive environment like Ightham Mote.”
Shipbourne Parish Council, a village less than a mile east of Ightham Mote, has requested that the application be rejected.
Councilors claim that it is not in line with planning policy and have expressed concerns about the ‘impact of the proposals on the local road network, the impact of the incursion into the AONB and the Green Belt and the enjoyment of the local, very good used footpath network ‘.
Cllr Jennifer Bate, of the Shipbourne Parish Council, believes that the parking garage “will not be in its vicinity, but will scream.”
She added, “Parishioners keep their surroundings close to their hearts and are upset with this proposal.
‘It not only has an impact on their fun, but also on the entire AONB.
“I fully agree with the position of the Parish Council and will be very upset if this proposal continues. As a frequent visitor to Ightham Mote, I appreciate its hidden nature and the proposals challenge this wonderful feature. ‘
Ightham Parish Council voted five to four for the development, stating that the estate is “a great asset to the village.”
The National Trust said they had to make the “difficult decision” because it is “the only one we can restore and protect the walled garden and North Drive.”
Developers believe that a case of very special circumstances, which is necessary to build on the Green Belt, has “been clearly demonstrated” to “enhance the historic setting” and “enhance the visitor experience.”
More than 178,000 people visited the mansion in 2018-19, a number of which, the Trust, who acquired the estate in 1985 and spent £ 10 million on restoration until 2006, predicts it will grow to 225,000 over the next ten years.
However, customers are confronted with an ‘impractical, limited, dispersed and confusing’ parking space that, according to the planning application, is ‘too small’ for the growing number of visitors.
A survey found 31 days out of the year, visitor demand exceeded supply and required the use of overflow parking with traffic running to the nearby Ivy Hatch village.
A National Trust spokesman said, “Our plans to move our parking garage in Ightham Mote from the 18th-century walled garden to a new location are part of a larger project to connect and preserve the medieval mansion with its natural environment for future generations.
“In order to do this we need to park and after considering several options, the plan we submitted to Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council is the only plan that will allow us to restore and protect the walled garden and North Drive.
“As a conservation charity, this was a tough decision to make, and we recognize the strong feelings for and against our plans.
‘We had a number of specialist studies carried out and if the planning request is approved, we are actively committed to reducing the effects on the landscape and nature, and to ensure that we use sympathetic materials such as grass and gravel instead of concrete and asphalt.
‘We will also look at increasing biodiversity in some areas, such as more trees and hedges.
“As part of the planning process, members of the public and key organizations such as Natural England, Historic England, the Environment Agency, Kent Downs AONB and municipalities have had the opportunity to share their views on our plans.
“The application now lies with the city council, which ultimately has the final decision.”