Trudy Dean, chair of West Malling Parish Council, a member of the society, writes of the threat to a magnificent local open space.
Forty Acres is a beautiful open area of gently rising farmland to the south of the A20 London Road in the Parish of East Malling and Larkfield in Kent. Confusingly running to almost 60 acres, it lies between and separates the historic settlements of West Malling, East Malling, Larkfield, and Leybourne from the new village of Kings Hill. It is crossed by very two well-used public rights of way, MR 119 and 120, between the villages which serve commuters to West Malling Station, shoppers and walkers. The paths also feed into one of the few areas nationally of designated ‘quiet lanes’, prioritising walkers, riders and cyclists, immediately to the south.
Forty Acre fields have been cultivated for grain crops for as long as anyone can remember, and were part of the extensive estates of the nearby eleventh-century Malling Abbey built by Bishop Gundulf for Benedictine nuns still in occupation in West Malling.
In 2016 Forty Acres was included within a parcel of land proposed to extend the Metropolitan Green Belt eastward in the Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council draft local plan, due to begin its final stage of examination before inspectors in October. An extension of the green belt would not only protect the setting of West Malling with its Conservation Area but also prevent the joining up of East and West Malling with Leybourne/Larkfield to the north and Kings Hill to the south. The network of rural lanes and footpaths would be protected as well as the setting of many listed buildings.
Wates developers have applied for planning consent for 250 houses on Forty Acres and have now appealed against the borough council’s failure to decide the application within six weeks.
The surrounding parishes of East Malling and Larkfield, Leybourne and West Malling are crowdfunding to raise the £60k estimated to be needed for legal representation at the appeal and local plan inquiry. We are using a team of lawyers who last year successfully fought off Bellway house builders on fields up against the walls of Malling Abbey.
This is probably the last chance we shall have to defend this open space. Please help if you can by making a donation here.