In June 2020, a hybrid planning application was submitted to Sevenoaks District Council to bring forward a comprehensive mixed-use regeneration of the Fort Halstead site. The application reference number is 19/05000/HYB.
The Applicant, Merseyside Pension Fund (MPF) purchased the site in February 2017 from the site’s previous owner, Armstrong (Kent) LLP (‘AKLLP’). The Government’s Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (‘Dstl’) is the current main occupier of the site, alongside QinetiQ (‘QQ’), a defence technology company.
In 2011, Dstl announced its intention to relocate all of its operations from Fort Halstead to Porton Down and Portsdown West. As a result, an outline planning application (OPA) was subsequently submitted to Sevenoaks District Council (‘SDC’) and approved in December 2015 for the mixed-use redevelopment of the site to comprise 450 residential units, up to 27,000 sqm employment floorspace, a hotel, a village centre and a historic interpretation centre (application reference SE/15/00628/OUT).
Since planning permission was granted, the process of Dstl leaving the site has been ongoing, and they are now due to fully vacate by early 2022. MPF, as the new site owners, took the decision to review the planning position with regards to the masterplanning of the site, in parallel with SDC’s emerging Local Plan process. MPF has engaged in the Local Plan process, and the Submission Local Plan identifies the site for removal from the Green Belt allocated for a mixed-use development, including employment land, a Primary School and up to 635 new homes.
The submission of this hybrid planning application follows an extensive period of discussion with Officers at SDC, statutory and non-statutory consultees, residents and other local stakeholders, and a Design Review Panel conducted by Design South East.
The proposals will deliver the following vision for the site:
- Secure a viable, sustainable and vibrant long-term future for Fort Halstead that recognises its unique qualities and heritage;
- Regenerate a major employment site providing a range of employment opportunities and create a new village community which complements the existing network of surrounding settlements;
- Provide a range of high-quality new homes which respond to the District’s needs;
- Ensure development is sensitive to its rural setting and will not have an adverse impact on the natural beauty, character and tranquillity of the Kent Downs AONB;
- Achieve a balance of uses that will create a high-quality ‘place’ with its own identity, providing new homes, jobs, community facilities and open space to be enjoyed by the wider community.
The above vision for the site has been informed by the emerging allocation design guidance contained within the draft Local Plan, as well as the consultation process undertaken with key stakeholders and the local community.
The Design and Access Statement provides a comprehensive visual description of the proposals and their evolution.
This planning application is a ‘hybrid’ application, including both detailed and outline elements for approval. The description of development is set out below:
Hybrid planning permission comprising:
- Demolition of existing buildings;
- Change of use and works to buildings Q13 and Q14 (including landscaping and public realm);
- Primary and secondary accesses.
- Development of business areas (use classes B1a/b/c) of up to 27,659 sq m GEA;
- Works within the ‘X’ enclave relating to energetic testing operations, including fencing, access, car parking;
- Development of up to 635 residential dwellings;
- Development of a mixed-use village centre (use classes A1/A3/A4/A5/B1a/D1/D2);
- Development of a one form entry primary school;
- Change of use of Fort Area and bunkers to Historic Interpretation Centre (use class D1) with workshop space;
- Roads, pedestrian and cycle routes, public transport infrastructure, car parking, utilities infrastructure, drainage;
- Landscaping, landforming and ecological mitigation works.
The application has been submitted to SDC and is now available to view in full online at SDC’s planning portal, using reference 19/05000/HYB. You will be able to see all of the application documents, consultee and public comments, and add your own feedback to the application.
The proposals will retain QinetiQ, an existing employer on the site, within a secure enclave on site. They require a positive plan for when Dstl fully vacates, and needs sufficient time to implement their specific development requirements before that happens.
Two dedicated business areas are to be provided, enabling up to 28,000 sq m of B-class uses to be delivered through refurbishing existing buildings and developing new high quality development for a range of office, R&D and light industrial uses.
The proposals will involve the creation of a new village community within a unique location in the District. A community of up to 635 homes is proposed, including a balance of housing sizes and types to reflect a mixed and balanced community. On-site affordable housing will be provided, and is shown in the proposals as 25% of the total amount of homes provided.
A primary school has been identified as being needed at the site by KCC, and this planning application will allow this to be brought forward in due course by KCC.
Community, convenience retail, café, gym, healthcare and early years care space will be provided in the village centre, surrounding a village green and in the setting of retained listed buildings and the Fort Scheduled Monument. A fly-through of how this village centre could look and feel can be seen at the top of the page.
To support the new and existing community, the 431 bus will be diverted through the site, as well as a community bus provided. The proposals will integrate existing cycle and footpath connections within the wider area.