Musings on Junction 8

Maidstone Borough Council has refused planning permission for the second time for Gallagher’s ‘Waterside Park’ at J8 of the M20. This is great news for all of us who have been fighting this development over the last two years.

Despite the Maidstone planners recommending approval, the planning committee was not persuaded that the changes made to the proposal would overcome the previous reason for refusal. This was the right and obvious decision. Gallaghers had been clearly told by the Council when they were first refused permission in February that “The application was considered to be fundamentally contrary to the provisions of the Development Plan and the NPPF, and there were not considered to be any solutions to resolve this conflict.”   

Given this clear message, we’re concerned that the officers saw the revised application, for the same development, as being acceptable. This really is difficult to understand, but at least common sense and consistency of decision making has prevailed, and the committee members are to be applauded.

The battle though is not over. Gallaghers have already appealed against the earlier planning refusal, which will mean another expensive Public Inquiry next year. More worrying though, is that despite removing proposals for development at J8 from the draft Local Plan earlier this year, Council officers now want them put back in the Plan. In a report to the Council’s Planning Overview and Scrutiny Committee next Tuesday (21st) planning officers are claiming that new evidence means that J8 is the only option for new employment development.  This does not bode well for how hard the officers will fight the planning appeal when they think that J8 is a good place for development.

Let’s hope that last night’s decision will make the officers think again, and finally accept that neither their own councillors nor local people want to see damaging development in the countryside at J8.

Council U-turn Criticised

A recommendation to approve plans for a business park at Waterside Park by Junction 8 of the M20 has astounded CPRE Kent as it is a complete U-turn on the part of Maidstone Borough Council.

We believe the planned development of warehouses, industrial premises and offices would be detrimental to the countryside setting of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the important heritage setting of Leeds Castle.

The council refused similar plans in February but now appears to have caved in after the developers made minor adjustments. The proposal, involving 16 hectares (39 acres) of prime agricultural land, is not identified for development in either the existing or proposed new Local Plan and breaches important national planning policies that seek to protect the countryside.

The officers’ report recommending approval will go to Maidstone’s Planning Committee on Thursday (16th October).  Although the planners still admit that “the development would cause significant harm to the countryside and setting of the AONB”, they consider that this harm is outweighed by the economic benefits.

CPRE Kent is just one of many organisations opposed to the scheme – there are also objections from Kent County Council, Natural England, the Kent Downs AONB Unit, the Kent Wildlife Trust, Leeds Castle, the Joint Parishes Group and many local people.

“We are amazed at this about turn,” said Brian Lloyd, Senior Planner for CPRE Kent. “This is greenfield land in the open countryside where development should not be allowed under both local and national planning policies.  We would seriously question the claimed economic benefits to Maidstone as it will just as likely attract employees from Ashford and other parts of the county with its proximity to the motorway.  There is no justification for developing in this location when considerable employment land has already been identified in area such as Ashford, Swale and Canterbury which would not impact on an AONB and one of the county’s prime heritage and tourist sites.”

We are calling on council members to stick to their original decision and adhere to their own Development Plan and national planning policy and refuse the plans.