Henny Shotter, chairman of Maidstone CPRE, reports on a protest against deeply unpopular plans for so-called garden town
People flocked in their droves to Lenham Community Centre to object against plans for a ‘garden town’ of at least 4,000 homes. The garden town is essentially an urban extension to Lenham. The historic village, with its medieval market square, is two miles away and Lenham Heath, in Lenham parish, is designated to form part of this absurd idea. ‘Absurd?’ you might ask. It is absurd that the place that scored worst in Maidstone Borough Council’s sustainability analysis has been chosen as a development hot-spot. It sits right on the border with Ashford district and will impact badly on the network of narrow lanes, services and infrastructure, not only in Lenham but also in villages like Egerton, Charing, Pluckley and the Kent Downs AONB. A sustainability cop-out!
After the success of our first netwalking event last month, we are making plans for our next, which will start in Lenham on Friday, October 29, at 2pm. Places are strictly limited to 15 walkers – if you would like to attend, please email firstname.lastname@example.org We have planned a four-mile walk that will take us up the steep slope north of Lenham and on to the Pilgrims’ Way – we will walk a circular route, taking in the views of the site of the proposed garden village settlement at Lenham Heathlands to the south, and return back to the village, where we will enjoy a heritage trail through Lenham. At a leisurely pace, we’ll probably be out for two hours. These walks will be undertaken at your own risk – we’ll ensure that we have forward and back markers, so you can walk at a pace that’s comfortable for you. You will need to wear a pair of sturdy shoes and bring wet-weather gear and water to drink – you’ll also need to be prepared to walk on uneven (and rising) ground and climb over stiles.
CPRE Kent is dismayed to learn of a decision by Maidstone Borough Council officers, outside the scrutiny of elected councillors, that results in a loss of £469,000 necessary infrastructure funding promised to a local community. The story began when MBC approved the building of 53 houses on the non-allocated greenfield site of Loder Close, Lenham, back in 2019. Concerns were raised at the time by the county council and residents that this development would place unfunded pressures on local infrastructure. These concerns were dismissed, with elected councillors being promised within the cabinet report that the development “will provide reasonable and appropriate contribution to other infrastructure by CIL payments”. Except it turns out this advice was wrong. Fast-forward to March 2021 and, after a change of developer, the plan had now changed, with more affordable housing being provided. The new developer asked MBC whether it would require a new planning application. Amazingly, it was told it did not. This is amazing is because it exempts the developer from making any infrastructure payments. This includes £159,00 the county council said was required for additional primary-school places and £197,000 it has identified as necessary for new secondary-school places, as well as contributions towards community learning, youth services, the library and social services. This included up to £50,000 that would have otherwise come to the local parish to spend on a much-needed and now-delayed pre-school. While CPRE Kent clearly supports the need for genuine affordable housing, we ask ‘Won’t those future occupiers also require doctors, school places and other community facilities?’. With the rights and the wrongs of this decision remaining open to debate, CPRE Kent is heartened to see Lenham Parish Council continuing to challenge MBC on this. There is, however, a much wider picture to be addressed. That is development being forced on communities without the necessary community infrastructure being secured or provided. That is plans being changed that clearly impact on communities, though without further democratic input being sought from that community. That is the fact that current rules allow for any type of residential development being approved without having to make a fair contribution towards already overstretched community facilities. Overall, Loder Close represents a clear example of why communities do not trust developers or councils when they promise future infrastructure impacts will be “mitigated”.
Flower-rich grassland is a scarce habitat today following the ‘improvement’ of so much grassland for agriculture. But some residents on the Kent Downs in Lenham were fortunate – they had such a beautiful meadow just next door. They treasured the meadow and for many years looked after it for the elderly neighbour who owned it. At some stage it was used as grazing for rare livestock and for traditional haymaking. When a new individual bought the house and the meadow, he wanted to pull down the house and replace it with an ‘eco-house’. The neighbours were supportive. They are people who have the environment in mind. However, they were not prepared for the beautiful meadow being turned from THIS:
The new owner dumped tons of excavated spoil on the meadow. Such an action is illegal and would require permission from the county council to open a site for the disposal of inert matter. It also is a breach of the planning permission granted by Maidstone Borough Council for the construction of the eco-house. Sadly, enforcement officers were slow to act. To add insult to injury, the developer put in a planning application to turn the spoil into a pond. In the opinion of Henny Shotter, of CPRE Kent’s Maidstone committee, who got involved in the matter, the application was an attempt to legalise the status quo of the site. Fortunately, the borough council acknowledged that a pond on a hillside meadow in the AONB is a feature alien to the character of the landscape and refused planning permission. CPRE Kent hopes the council now takes enforcement action and asks the developer to restore the meadow. If this does not happen, a dangerous precedent will be set that undermines completely the effectiveness of the planning authority.
Almost 70 members and supporters gathered at Lenham Community Centre on Friday (November 22) for CPRE Kent’s AGM. Sadly, our president Graham Clarke couldn’t make the event and delight us with his wonderful poems and anecdotes, but we were more than compensated for with a richly varied and engaging series of presentations. County director Hilary Newport delivered her annual report, chairman John Wotton gave a thought-provoking talk and vice-president Richard Knox-Johnston presented The Climate Change Challenge… but not before guest speaker Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive, had updated us on progress made by the national organisation. Such events wouldn’t be the treasure they are without fine food and drink, of course, and most indulged in a splendid lunch and no small amount of conversation to round off a thoroughly satisfactory event. Minutes of the meeting will appear on this website soon, but in the meantime you can enjoy the presentations here: Director’s Report Chairman’s Talk Chief Executive’s Speech The Climate Change Challenge Monday, November 25, 2019
Gagging orders on borough councillors and landowners, the threat of compulsory purchase orders, secretive meetings in Ebbsfleet, non-consultation with parish councils and communities… Maidstone Borough Council was accused of all these and more during a heated meeting last night (Tuesday, October 15) on proposals for a Lenham ‘garden town’. The hall at Lenham Heath was not large enough to accommodate everyone who had come to this first protest meeting against the potential new town. People stood outside and listened to claims of misbehaviour by the council in relation to the plans. None of the parish councils of Egerton, Charing, Boughton Malherbe, Harrietsham or Lenham had been consulted on the garden-town proposal. County councillor Shellina Prendergast and a representative for local MP Helen Whateley confirmed they too had only learnt from the media what was ‘planned for’ Lenham. Tom Sams and Janetta Sams, who had organised the meeting, stated that they could disclose everything they knew on Monday, November 4, but not before. They and fellow independent councillor Eddy Powell were challenged over supporting the proposals from the council, where the Liberal Democrats rely on the support of the independents for their controlling administration. Much emphasis was put on whether MBC was within its rights to behave in the way it had done, while it was accused of predetermining a process that should be decided democratically. Henny Shotter, a CPRE Kent member, said at the meeting: “The whole proposal is bonkers. No roads, no sewage infrastructure, this proposed development is the furthest possible from any employment centre in Maidstone, Ashford, the Medway Towns or Tonbridge and Malling. “The suggestions to build a high-speed railway station so close to Ashford or a motorway interchange are financially unrealistic. They just cloud the fact that the proposal, as far as we know it, is completely and irredeemably unsustainable.” If you want to support the action group, please get in touch with Kate Hammond on 07925 607336.
Our president Graham Clarke with one of his wonderful poems at last year’s AGM (pic Paul Buckley)
This year’s AGM will be held on Friday, November 9, at our usual venue of Lenham Village Hall.
After positive feedback from last year, we will hold it once again in the morning, starting at 10.30am and ending after lunch, which will be served at 12.30pm.
As well as our usual presidential address we will be hearing from our keynote speaker, Rt Hon Damian Green MP.
This is a chance for you to meet the team in person and find out more about the wonderful work that CPRE Kent is doing.
We hope you will join us.
Please let us know if you would like to appoint a proxy to vote if you are unable to attend, or if you would like to join us for lunch after the meeting (the charge for lunch is £12 per person, cheques payable to CPRE Kent, please, to be received no later than Wednesday, October 31, or via BACS payment at the details in the invitation form posted below).
About 60 people gathered at Pope’s Hall to learn about possible lorry park plans
Some 60 people gathered in the rain (an incredible event in itself this summer!) near Lenham on Friday (July 20) to air and share their worries that a giant lorry park could be built in the area.
The meeting had been organised by landowners Kenneth and Sally Alexander in response to a letter from Highways England (HE) telling them an ecological survey was to be carried out on their land near Boughton Malherbe in relation to its potential as a site for such a development.
Helen Whately, Faversham and Mid Kent MP, was there to take questions and tell people what she knew about HE’s possible plans.
In truth, she revealed, that wasn’t very much as the process of finding a solution to congestion at the Channel crossings and on the M20 was only in the early stages, with HE simply going through the process of contacting landowners along the motorway route.
The concern of those who had turned out at Pope’s Hall, Sandway, was clear, with many fearing the ‘site’ – which lies south of the M20 roughly between Platt’s Heath, Boughton Malherbe and Bowley Farm – had been shortlisted for a lorry park.
However, Mrs Whately said she did not believe there was a shortlist, a view supported by county councillor Shellina Prendergast (Maidstone Rural East), who said HE had been in touch with a number of landowners, and indeed some landowners had contacted the agency about a possible lorry park.
She said HE expected to publish the results of its investigative work in November or December. There was a range of factors to be considered in addition to the ecological findings, most notably access, while it was not even known how much land would be needed.
Mrs Whately stated that Operation Stack had held back some 6,000 lorries at its peak, and that figure would need to be catered for.
She added that options outside Kent were being looked at, while it wasn’t certain whether one large holding park was the best option, as opposed to multiple smaller sites. There were also on-road solutions such as a moveable barrier to consider, as well as the matter of the M2/A2 corridor.
Some 150 parcels of land were being surveyed but, as some of these were conjoined, that didn’t equate to 150 sites.
Two representatives of CPRE Kent were present, one of whom, vice-president Richard Knox-Johnston, blasted the “appalling” communication from HE.
He highlighted the fact that a new range of properties were now blighted by the agency’s investigations and would be until a decision was made. HE needed to work to a strict timeline, he said.
Mrs Whately said she completely agreed.
Mr Knox-Johnston also said that the problem of lorry freight was a national problem and was not just to be dumped on Kent – HE should understand that.
Mrs Whately replied: “Yes, they should. It’s absolutely a national problem and should be recognised as such.”
While there was widespread acceptance that Kent would have to provide part of the solution, the idea that locations elsewhere in the country should also contribute drew perhaps the greatest showing of support of the meeting.
“Perhaps that what you should take away from here – this isn’t just about Kent,” said one gentleman.
No one disagreed.