W H E R A

The White Hart Estates Residents Association

2015 Newsletter

Do You Like Living Here?

In my first "Introduction from the Chair", I want to share my concern for our estate's future. Pippa and I are now pensioners but when we moved here as newlyweds, most immediate neighbours were the original owners of their houses. How things change!

Towards the end of the Eighties there was much concern over plans to increase the housing density here, especially with a development between Weald Road and Brattle Wood, plus proposals for an official Travellers' site close by. Thus WHERA was created to protect the quality of life locally.

After about thirteen years there was almost a complete change of committee and in a re-evaluation of purpose our objectives were defined as shown on page 3. Until changes are suggested and voted through, I shall take these as my brief from you.

Even twelve years ago, life for WHERA was calm by today's standards. There were three sub-committees, Amenities, Planning and Social, all of fairly equal activity.

There was little action required from the Planning Committee back then as most applications were reasonable home extensions and each seemed to be carefully considered at committee by our District Council before any permission was granted. Gradually developments increased in frequency and size until, in response to objections which could not be upheld without justification, various policies were developed and adopted to provide structure to preserving local character. Thus, amongst the others we defend, the Sevenoaks Residential Character Area Assessment (SRCAA) Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) was adopted in 2012.

However, I believe that our environment is under greater threat now than ever before.

Recently distress to neighbours has arisen from a series of developments being approved despite objections demonstrating failure to comply with local policy. Some are built without, or in excess of, permission. The consequence is that the estate is beginning to lose its character. If this continues it will not be long before our neighbourhood is unrecognisable. WHERA's committee is presently asking all our elected councillors to explain their involvement in these processes.

Please be warned; often the first that neighbours know of such plans is when their WHERA road representative asks their opinion. This is because advertising of applications is now minimal. I urge you please to make yourself aware of the current Planning Process, as deadlines are too tight to allow you to learn as you go. Unfortunately, the process is now very different from before and often residents learn this too late to preserve our immediate environment and street scene.

We monitor applications, so if you supply us with an email address, we can alert you promptly to any nearby which seem contentious.

My first active involvement with WHERA came as a Speed Watch volunteer. You may have seen us on Weald and Tonbridge Roads. Our purpose is purely educational but we have evidence to show that regular activity did reduce the numbers of speeding vehicles at least for a few weeks. We have had much less volunteer availability than previously.

The Good News is that, arising from our efforts, we have an offer from Mrs Margaret Crabtree, our Kent County Councillor to use part of her Kent budget to pay for a "VAC" (Vehicle ACtivated sign) on Tonbridge Road this year, and contribute towards one on Weald Road next financial year. There will be a survey of speeds on Tonbridge Road in September and depending on the results, we may get a sign. Next year we might have to find some funds to make up the cost if we want one in Weald Road.

All three levels of our local government are under ever increasing financial pressure and Inevitably this impacts on our services. There seems to be a tendency to try passing responsibility to a different administration, see the information about verges on page 5.

Much remains to be done to protect our estate and while the present executive group assisted by the road representatives are very willing and able we are nonetheless understaffed by at least 4 people. All assistance would be welcome but we would especially like interest from individuals able to help with the website.

Three years ago the association made a call for new volunteers and we recruited 2 new road representatives, (now your Planning Officer and Chair). Then we sent out an invitation to residents to meet with members of the executive in the White Hart Pub for a drink and we now propose to repeat this exercise. If you are interested in joining us, with your first drink being on WHERA, then meet us from 8 pm, Thursday 12th November in the White Hart.

Finally, it would be useful if you would share your email address with us. You can email me at or the membership secretary at . We operate by consensus to represent all residents so please let us know your views. I promise not to bombard you with emails.

Thank you for your support,  

Jonathan Drury.

Whera`s Objectives

To safeguard the residential character of the area and to conserve its amenities.

To secure, as far as possible, the safety of its roads, unobstructed footpaths and litter-free environment.

To liaise on these matters with the appropriate authorities and especially with our local councillors.

To bring to the attention of WHERA members any proposed developments which might detract from the environmental quality of the area.

PLANNING

The SDC planning policies, which can be seen on the Planning Section of the SDC website www.sevenoaks.gov.uk, are listed below and guide us in all planning situations.

SP1 and SP2 from the Core Strategy adopted in February 2011;

EN1 and EN2 from the Allocations and Development Management Plan adopted in February 2015;

Sevenoaks Residential Extensions Supplementary Planning Document (SRESPD) adopted in 2009;

Sevenoaks Residential Character Area Assessment (SRCAA) Supplementary Planning Document adopted in 2012.

The most relevant part of the latter document for us describes most of our area as follows;

“Individually designed mostly 2 storey detached houses are set well back along wide avenues with wide grass verges and pavements and are visible above walled, hedged and treed front boundaries. Houses are set on a regular building line behind landscaped front gardens with gaps between buildings. Houses are generally not built up to the side property boundaries resulting in landscaped space between buildings.”

Most planning applications are fairly straightforward. However, in the past year there have been a number of contentious planning issues and in these we have presented our case against approval based on the existing SDC policies indicated above.

In three of these cases permission was refused and in a further three cases permission was granted. The cases which were granted reveal, in our view, that the existing policies are inadequate in their capacity to provide clear unambiguous parameters against which a judgement can be made in the following areas:

Overdevelopment: There are no size criteria dimensions set out in any SDC policy (for example, floor area/ plot size or footprint/plot size) against which potential overdevelopment can be systematically compared. The only consideration which is used is the frontage of the development compared with the width of the plot;

Privacy: The only specific privacy criterion with respect to rear gardens is the protection of the 5m amenity stretch at the rear of a dwelling, which should not be overlooked. As a result, in three recent applications, full width of house rear balconies (2x) and Juliet balconies (2 in same property) have been accepted.

We hope to discuss these issues with councillors and planning officers soon.

Construction noise: There have been a number of complaints in the White Hart area about construction work and associated noise at weekends and Bank Holidays.   The rules are that such commercial work is usually limited to weekdays from 8am to 6pm and Saturdays 8am to 1pm with no working on Sundays and Bank Holidays (for obvious reasons of peace and quiet for residents at these times). However, work can be undertaken on Sundays and Bank Holidays, unless specifically prevented in the Grant of Planning Permission, providing there is no disturbance by way of noise. Any undue noise should be settled first by approaching the relevant neighbour. However, if this is not possible, then the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) should be informed (tel: 01322 343160) or in off peak times the Duty Officer at Sevenoaks District Council (tel; 01732 227000). We understand that, in extremis if the noise becomes a statutory nuisance, an Abatement Notice can be issued by the EHO under the Control of Pollution Act or the Noise Act. To date, to our knowledge, all disturbance noise at these out of hours times in our area has been settled amicably (as one would expect).

Bonfires: One other aspect of building work that needs to be monitored is the burning of commercial waste on building sites. This can become a serious nuisance. To date, as with noise pollution, all burning issues have been settled amicably as far as we know. Ultimately, if there is a serious issue concerning commercial bonfires that cannot be resolved amicably, residents can have recourse to the EHO.

Peter Kinsler, Planning Officer

AMENITIES

These are factors in the public sector, which we rely upon for the maintenance of our pleasant surroundings, such as roads, pavements, lighting, drainage etc.

We have road representatives in all roads who, with your help, monitor these amenities.

Many of us will soon have less brittle gas mains under our footways. WHERA was able to assist the contractors to find an alternative location for their compound to that specified by KCC highways.

We are disappointed that not all of our footways have been fully resurfaced yet and we continue to press KCC to complete the work as soon as possible.

Debate about the street lighting "experiment", especially on Tonbridge Road continues to be complex. KCC has a grant to replace the existing provision with LED lighting. We have been unable as yet to elicit if we shall benefit.

The rules governing licences to place skips on the highway include protective cones, lighting and covering. If you can't find these on KCC's website, ask your road rep who has a copy.

There are other general problems which we, as residents, can do something about.

Parking

Please do not park on the footway. The footway is for people. Apart from the fact that it is a nuisance to pedestrians and it damages the path, it contravenes the Highway Code which says drivers “should not park partially or wholly on the pavement” (Rule 244). We must be careful how we discourage non-residents from doing this. Please consult your road rep if you wish to join those progressing more localised problems.

Grass Verges, Hedges and Crossovers

The Sevenoaks Residential Character Area Assessment (SRCAA) SPD referred to above describes most of our area as a “Formal Avenue” area. The introduction to this part of the SRCAA draws attention to the importance of the verges and hedges:

“There is a verdant character to the roads created by the grass verges, boundary hedges, mature trees in the verges or front gardens and woodland or open space. The hedged and treed boundaries on both sides of the road contrast with the built form and soften the townscape. The mature native trees provide historic links back to the original farmland and make a significant contribution to the character of this area.”

The grass verges are well defined in most parts of the neighbourhood. Contrary to previous understanding, we have discovered that these DO NOT belong to Kent County Council Highways, but are registered to Sevenoaks District Council. We have demonstrated this to SDC who had previously excused themselves by alleging KCC's ownership. We await information as to how SDC may exercise this responsibility.

Please remember that the owner of property fronting a verge, is not entitled to take over the land comprising the verge. However, we do encourage residents to cut theirs when the grass gets too long between the occasional times they are cut for us. Footways should always be kept clear for pedestrians by ensuring that hedges are cut back to the boundary where they border the footway. Local Authorities have the power to cut back overgrown hedges and to recover costs from the resident.

Kent County Council Highways have overall responsibility for the creation of crossovers. Thereafter the on-going condition of vehicle crossovers into the drives of properties is the responsibility of the owners.

Crossovers are required to be of a substantial hard mix in order to bear the load of vehicles (footways are not designed to bear the weight of vehicles, so are weaker, a very good reason not to park on them). Some crossovers in the area are in poor condition (particularly after redevelopment) and if an injury to a pedestrian occurred, the property owner could be held liable.

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH

Neighbourhood Watch exists to help us to help ourselves. It not only deters crime but it fosters a spirit of co-operation between residents when we keep an eye on our neighbour’s property as well as our own.

In 2014 in our area there were five burglaries and one attempted burglary. Two cars were stolen and there were three thefts from sheds. The total number of incidents represented a welcome reduction of 30% on 2013 but they continue to remind us that we need to remain vigilant at all times. The police have told me  the main means of entry for burglaries is through unlocked doors and windows.

If you have an intruder alarm it is recommended to set it whenever the house is left empty even during the day. We have had cars stolen during the day when thieves were able to extract keys from view in the hallway so it is best not to leave keys visible.

Co-operation with neighbours is recommended. When going on holiday if you let your neighbours know they can be aware not only of anything untoward happening next door but could help remove some of the clues by clearing post from the front porch etc.

Knowledge about local crime is a first step. As Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator, I can forward to you by email information I receive from the police about local crimes, warnings about criminal activity, including financial scams of all sorts and sometimes requests for information from the public. I can be contacted at . There are usually only one or two messages a week so your IN box will not be overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, detailed information about us leaks into the wider world and criminals try to take advantage of this with a variety of scams intending to persuade us to part with our money for nothing. If you get an offer through an unsolicited phone call, email etc. that looks too good to be true then it probably is too good to be true. Never be persuaded to release your account numbers or PINs to anyone else. A good motto for us is “Be aware and take care”.

Please see our website at www.whera.org.uk for more information about Neighbourhood Watch.

David Wigg, Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator

SPEEDWATCH

This year our volunteer team have not been able to perform as many Speedwatch checks at our sites on Weald Road and Tonbridge Road as previously.

Speedwatch is about educating drivers. Despite KCC publication to the contrary it is neither enforcement nor a KCC initiative. We are trained volunteers who use a screen in approved locations to show oncoming drivers their speed. A speeding vehicle`s details are passed to Kent Police who issue advice letters for repeated incidents and speeds over 50% above the limit. We welcome volunteers and suggestions.

As a result of our activity and as reported above, there is a possibility of fixed VACs for Tonbridge Road this year and Weald Road (subject to extra funding) next.

OTHER WHERA ACTIVITIES

Road Salt

Road salt had been distributed to residents who had volunteered to spread it where it would be most effective (eg. on slopes and bends). As this has not been required for two winters we hope that this salt will still be available should it be needed. Please consult your road rep to locate your nearest supply.

Public footpath in front of The White Hart

Following KCC's refusal of our application for a Right of Way across the White Hart forecourt, discussions were held with the company owning the White Hart for installing a pavement to link the existing pavements on either side of the pub.

The owners agreed to cede the necessary stretch of land to KCC free of cost provided KCC paid for the work to be carried out. This proposal was put to KCC Highways through our County Councillor Margaret Crabtree but as yet we have no response.

Website

Residents with access to the internet are encouraged to visit the WHERA website at www.whera.org.uk which contains information about the following:

  • Home - Introduction
  • Planning
  • Amenities
  • Road Representatives
  • Neighbourhood Watch

The following information is available to residents after registration:

  • List of Executive Committee
  • List of Road Representatives
  • Accounts

Information and Contacts Card for Residents

A card with local information and contacts was distributed to residents in 2012. A revised version is planned.

Membership

There are 360 households in the estate and all residents are automatically considered to be members of WHERA.

WHERA Subscription

The voluntary subscription this year remains at £3 per household for the year and will be collected by your Road Representative when the newsletter is delivered. Income exceeds expenditure but the funds available to us (under £5,000 – about £13 per household), though growing slowly, would not be adequate to meet any serious expenditure that might arise.

New date and location for the AGM?

The last AGM was held on a weekday at 8.00pm in April 2015 at Weald Memorial Hall. The meeting was followed by a Wine and Cheese evening. Attendance was disappointing. Please suggest how we may make this more accessible so you would come along and share your thoughts and ideas with other residents. Maybe a different place, time of year, day of the week, or time of day would be more attractive.

Officers of the Committee

Jonathan Drury (Chairman and SpeedWatch Team)

Peter Kinsler (Planning Officer)

David Lewis (Treasurer)

David Wigg (Membership Secretary and Neighbourhood Watch Co-Ordinator)

Your Road Representative is:

Contact:

Neighbourhood Watch

Neighbourhood Watch

Neighbourhood Watch Description

Amenities

Amenities description

Road Representative

Road Representatives

Road Representatives Description