On Monday night (March 21), Maidstone councillors will be asked to agree to proceed with a Plan for another 17,746 houses in the borough, 82 per cent of which are to be on greenfield sites.
Except they won’t be asked. They are being told they have no option but to.
CPRE Kent considers this to wrong. This is not just because we think the Plan is fundamentally flawed (which we do) but because councillors also clearly have the option to halt or pause the process if basic legal requirements are not being met – and it seems that the speed at which the Maidstone Local Plan is being put together is leading to such flaws.
For example, we have had to point out to Maidstone Borough Council this week that it forgot to include or analyse certain representations we made on the previous formal consultation. This is a basic requirement of the Local Plan regulations. Maidstone council has now acknowledged the error and confirmed that it is to send an urgent update to the committee members ahead of Monday’s meeting.
The point is, if it missed our representations, what other representations have been missed?
In a similar vein, we and others have been raising significant concerns that the council is not meeting the legal Duty to Cooperate requirements. It is failure to meet this requirement that has seen the demise of both the Tonbridge and Malling and Sevenoaks Local Plans in recent years.
Only yesterday (March 17) the Tunbridge Wells Local Plan examination was paused owing to Duty to Cooperate concerns, which include the engagement between Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Maidstone council . In pausing the examination, the Tunbridge Wells Inspector has remined the council that Duty to Cooperate issues must be resolved before a Local Plan is submitted as he does not have the power to rectify after it has been submitted.
Given outstanding Duty to Cooperate issues facing Maidstone, particularly with respect to Medway Council’s objection to the Lidsing Garden Settlement, it is difficult to see how councillors can come to the view the Local Plan is ready to be submitted.
For these reasons, we would call for Maidstone councillors to think hard as to whether to agree with the plan.
No doubt they will be warned that if they don’t just nod the preferred option through, they will be punished with having to meet even higher housing numbers. This simplistic argument fails to mention the likely refinement of the numbers throughout the Local Plan process, regardless of what week it is submitted.
It fails to recognise the clear indication from government that the standard method for calculating housing need is shortly to be revised to factor in local constraints and alignment with the levelling-up agenda. It does not mention the growing number of councils, particularly in the South East, that are choosing to pause their Local Plans in anticipation of these changes.
We tried to warn Swale Borough Council of similar concerns with its Regulation 19 version of the Local Plan April last year. It chose to ignore us, only to backtrack when challenged by a third party in court, putting the Local Plan process back by at least a year in doing so.
 https://tunbridgewells.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/413090/ID-06-Request-for-Further-Hearing-170322-v2.pdf  www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1750034/expect-levelling-bill-policy-changes-spring  www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1748725/councils-abandoned-paused-delayed-local-plans-last-six-months