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Canterbury’s Kingsmead Field will remain undeveloped following a shock u-turn by council leader John Gilbey today.
The Tory revealed he and the council’s ruling executive will no longer support the building of houses on the controversial piece of land in Kingsmead Road.
It had been earmarked for development after the council agreed to sell it off to raise much-needed capital cash in the face of dwindling government funding.
But Cllr Gilbey says he had a change of heart following the release of ambitious plans last week for the Kingsmead area, which include a new supermarket, cinema and restaurants.
He said: “I immediately initiated a review of the future of Kingsmead Field - a matter of some contention for a considerable period of time.
“I have to emphasise that I reject the view that the council has no need of capital receipts as our ability to forge capital programmes is diminishing rapidly and virtually disappears in 2017.
“Council bank accounts are no different to those of a private individual, in times of crisis you make cutbacks or find ways to generate additional income.
“However, after reviewing the progression of the proposed development of the field, assessing the open situation with regard to the village green application, the difficulties in even limited building, the opposition to any development and the need to uphold our commitment to replace any open space swallowed up by the new development proposals, as portfolio holder I will be asking the executive this week to agree that we do not proceed with the proposed development of Kingsmead Field.”
Cllr Gilbey had faced accusations that he was ignoring public views by pressing ahead with plans to develop the field.
Campaigners had accused him of being undemocratic and even launched a bid to get Kingsmead Field classified as a village green – protecting it from future development.
Cllr Gilbey said: “Despite cries of protest that I have ignored public opinion on this matter, nothing could have been further from the truth.
“My primary concerns were preservation of our reserve capital and utilising the housing allocation as agreed in the last Local Plan.
“However, I do feel that we would be taking the right decision on seeking to preserve the Kingsmead field and this is now to be discussed with those concerned.”
That's what a Conservative council can do - it listens and makes sensible, considered decisions #Kingsmeadfield— Simon Cook (@cooksimon) February 3, 2014
Save Kingsmead Field campaigner Sian Pettman says she is "stunned but delighted" following the announcement.
She added: "The council's insistence that the field must be developed has caused a lot of damage to public relations and we would appeal to the council that it now also registers the field as a village green.
"We would then look forward to working with the council to preserve and enhance it as public open space for future generations."
Cllr Gilbey says he is still unsure how the decision will affect the village green application, which is set to be decided later this year.
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