The public inquiry into plans for an industrial and warehouse development at Waterside Park next to Junction 8 of the M20 is due to finish tomorrow (21st). The inspector has heard CPRE Kent evidence from witnesses including Maidstone Borough Councillor Tony Harwood on ecology and impact on the community; CPRE Kent Maidstone Committee Chairman gary Thomas on transport issues; the Chairman of Hollingbourne Parish Council John Cobbett on the local community impact; and CPRE Kent Senior Planner Brian Lloyd on the planning issues.
Feelings against the development on grade 2 agricultural land are strong, with 70 people protesting outside County Hall on the first day., including MPs, county, borough and parish councillors and residents.
CPRE Kent, in partnership with the Joint Parishes Group (a consortium of Parish Councils local to the area), submitted 10 witness statements detailing our reasons for opposing the scheme which would be detrimental to the countryside setting of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural beauty (AONB) and the important heritage setting of Leeds Castle.
We drew attention to the inspector’s report on the Kent International Gateway (KIG) inquiry in 2009 where permission was refused for a similar application. The inspector’s findings were supported by the Secretary of State. We will provide evidence from groups and organisations including the Ramblers, Leeds Castle and local businesses. See the link at the bottom of this article to read our opening statement.
We have also supported KCC, working with Natural England and the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), who focused on the impact on the AONB and the economic arguments.
The proposal, involving 16 hectares (39 acres) of prime agricultural land, is not identified for development in either the existing or proposed local plan. It was first rejected by Maidstone Borough Council planning committee in February 2014, and a revised plan was rejected in October. The developer, Gallagher Properties, accompanied by Automative Distributors Ltd (ADL) and Scarab Sweepers, has appealed against both decisions. ADL has since pulled out.
CPRE Kent’s main concerns include:
- The decision would pre-empt decisions that should be made through the local plan process and could set a precedent for further development along A20/M20. The case for the applicants appears only to consider sites within the boundaries of Maidstone Borough when there are opportunities within agreed sites, metres form the borough boundary.
- The diversion of a footpath crossing the site – the suggested route would be longer and very much less attractive, due to security fences, CCTV and lighting.
- The site is unsustainable. The interim sustainability report prepared for Maidstone Borough Council in 2012 concluded that there would be a ‘very negative’ impact on “land use, landscape and the historic environment”.
- The appeal site comprises grade 2 agricultural land in active arable production which is considered best and most versatile in quality and should therefore be preserved for food production.
- There is a risk that the accidental discharge of fuel oil or hazardous substances could pollute the water supply to people in the area and the River Len. Kent is the most water stressed county in the country and any loss of drinking water would have a serious effect on people living in the county. There are 22 groundwater abstraction points and a public water supply borehole within 2km of the site.
- It is unclear what sort of drainage will be used as the application form states the intention that foul sewage be dealt with by a cess pit. This is clearly inappropriate for a site population of at least 600.
CPRE Kent Director Hilary Newport said: “We worked very hard on our case to convince the planning inspector that any development on this site would harm the landscape, have an unacceptable impact on tranquillity, could lead to water pollution and would mean the loss of land needed for food security. We hope the planning inspector will reject the proposal because, if allowed, we fear it could set a precedent for development along the A20 and M20.”
You can read our opening statement by CPRE Kent Vice President Richard Knox-Johnston here.
You can listen to the BBC Radio Kent report of 12th May 2015 by clicking below:
Updated May 19th 2015.