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”.
A scheme for 440 homes in Otham has been backed at appeal by a planning inspector. The greenfield site had been allocated in Maidstone Borough Council’s 2017 Local Plan “as a strategic development location for housing growth with supporting infrastructure”. However, in July the local authority’s policy and resources committee voted to reject the project, west of Church Road next to St Nicholas Church, after it had already twice been rejected by the planning committee. Council officers had recommended the development be approved, fearing that, with the site included in the Local Plan, developer Bellway would win an appeal. And last week the Planning Inspectorate announced that inspector Stephen Normington had allowed Bellway’s two appeals, which he had considered jointly. The first related to non-determination of an outline planning application for 440 homes, with the second coming after MBC had refused an application for a revised project of 421 units. Mr Normington’s report concluded there was “no demonstrable evidence” supporting one of the council’s reasons for refusal on highways grounds. The council had cited the impact of the development on traffic congestion in Willington Street and highway safety at Church Road. The county council had also raised highways objections. Although he said there was “no doubt in my mind that the appeal proposals will contribute to the congestion already experienced on Willington Street to a degree”, the inspector continued: “Whilst this would undoubtedly cause driver inconvenience, I have no substantive evidence to suggest that this would cause a highway safety problem.” Further, he did “not consider that the proposed developments would demonstrably cause worsening safety issues on Church Road to the south of the site to the extent that both these appeals should be dismissed”. He also added “significant weight” to the fact the development would “include affordable housing to meet a demonstrable housing need on an allocated housing site”. Mr Normington made a partial costs award against MBC, concluding it had “behaved unreasonably” in reaching its decision on its first reason for refusal. CPRE Kent was represented at the appeal, arguing that Bellway had failed to demonstrate how Church Road could be modified safely and that the impact of the proposed development on the Grade I-listed church and nearby Grade II-listed buildings was unacceptable.
Proposals by the council to build a new town at Lenham Heath have been stalled by advice from Natural England regarding water quality. The government body has said “an appropriate assessment” must be carried out before the council agrees any new development likely to have “a significant adverse impact on water quality” in the River Stour catchment. The assessment must include any necessary mitigation measures. With the source of the river system of the Stour Valley catchment being in Lenham, and part of the upper section of the Great Stour lying in Maidstone borough, the council says there will be “an immediate impact” on planning applications for new homes in and around both Lenham and part of Boughton Malherbe parishes. The advice aims to ensure new residential development does not cause further deterioration of water quality at Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve in terms of nitrate and phosphate discharges. Maidstone council says it is “investigating possible solutions” and has “identified a way forward for larger housing sites”. It is, though, “taking a precautionary approach and will require appropriate assessments for any planning applications including those not yet determined”. The Lenham Heath development had originally been set at 5,000 dwellings but since cut to 4,000. Nothing has yet been passed by any committee.
Similar concerns led to revised plans for the 4,000-home Mountfield Park development at Canterbury being pulled from the city council planning committee’s agenda in October. Planning permission for the huge scheme had already lapsed after legal challenges, meaning it will need to be decided upon again.
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.