Astonishment as councillors now asked to support development at Junction 8

We are astounded that Maidstone councillors are being recommended to approve the principle of development at Junction 8 of the M20 just weeks after spending hundreds of thousands of pounds fighting a planning appeal at the site.

The result of the public inquiry into industrial development at Waterside Park at Junction 8 is not known yet.  CPRE Kent, 16 parish councils, Kent County Council, Natural England, Leeds castle and the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Unit all opposed the plans which would have harmed the countryside setting of the AONB and the important heritage setting of Leeds castle.

Photo by Stephen Sutherland

Photo by Stephen Sutherland

Now Maidstone Borough Council’s Policy and Resources Committee is being recommended on Wednesday (June 24th) to approve an Economic Development Strategy supporting development at Junction 8.  We have written to the council demanding that the report be removed from the agenda.

The officers’ report says: “The strategic case for a new employment site at Junction 8 has been established and its development is critical to ensuring that the principle aim of the Strategy is achieved i.e. the creation of 14,400 jobs by 2031 in a range of sectors and occupations.”

This is despite the “acknowledged sensitivity of the landscape in the J8 location and that that development at J8 would cause substantial landscape harm” as well as “the limitations of the location in terms of public transport connections and relative separation from the centres of population”.

Richard Knox-Johnston, Vice President of CPRE Kent, said: “It is extraordinary that after a three week public inquiry at which Maidstone Borough Council spent hundreds of thousands of pounds fighting development at Junction 8, councillors are now being asked to pre-empt the planning inspector’s decision and ignore all its own arguments against development, as well as everyone else’s concerns, and promote development there.

“We think the council departments are failing to communicate.  With the council’s planners refusing planning permission at Waterside Park, it is baffling to now see that the Economic Development Manager is recommending that development at Junction 8 should go ahead.  His report doesn’t even mention the three week planning Inquiry that was held in May.

“Why is this report being considered now?  Surely they need to wait for the inquiry decision before making any further recommendations on potential development at Junction 8. The council also needs to work with neighbouring authorities to consider strategic sites for employment, such as the newly vacant Aylesford Newsprint site just over the border in Tonbridge and Malling, but very much part of the Maidstone employment catchment area.  His report makes no mention of this opportunity.”

The Inspector’s decision on the Waterside Park site is expected by the end of July, and we are hoping that she will agree that development should not be allowed because of the considerable harm to the landscape it would cause, especially on the important national heritage site of Leeds Castle.

June 22nd 2015

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