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No viable alternative site in mid-Kent, Waterside Park inquiry hears

By Alan Smith

The planning inquiry into proposals to create an industrial and warehouse development off the M20 continues.

The Gallagher Group, the developers behind the Waterside Park scheme near Junction 8, has appealed against Maidstone council’s refusal to grant permission for its scheme and the appeal is being argued before a Government inspector at a public inquiry at Sessions House in Maidstone.

The inquiry is now in its third week and it has been the turn of Gallagher Group to introduce its witnesses to support its case.

An artist's impression of one of the proposed new buildings at Waterside Park

An artist's impression of one of the proposed new buildings at Waterside Park

Planning consultant Michael Alderton of Jones Lang LaSalle took the witness stand. 

He said that in his view Waterside Park was the only suitable site for such a development in the mid-Kent area.

Other industrial sites such as those available at G-Park at Sittingbourne and at Kingsnorth on the far side of the Medway Towns had been considered, but were unsuitable chiefly because of their poor transport links.

Asked whether he had considered sites on the Isle of Sheppey, he said: “You do not locate on the Isle of Sheppey.

"The bridge is very often closed for all sorts of reasons. There is a good reason why they build prisons there.”

Gallagher Group had originally lined up two major tenants for its buildings, Marden-based firms Ferdinand Bilstein, formerly known as ADL, and Scarab.

Ferdinand Bilstein pulled out before the inquiry began, and Mr Alderton was cross-examined by Richard Knox-Johnston of the CPRE on the strength of Scarab’s commitment.

Michael Alderton, a director with Jones Lang LaSalle

Michael Alderton, a director with Jones Lang LaSalle

Mr Alderton agreed there was no binding legal agreement between Gallaghers and Scarab, but said there would have to have been so many caveats in such an agreement, because of all the uncertainties surrounding the planning permission, that such an agreement would be worthless.

He said: “It would simply be an option; it would be worthless. Gallagher and Scarab decided they didn’t need to do it.”

Mr Knox-Johnston asked: “So there is no guarantee that Scarab would occupy the site (even if planning permission were granted)?

Mr Alderton said: “There is no guarantee, but Scarab has shown a significant level of commitment to the development.

Mr Knox-Johnston pressed Mr Alderton to agree that made the whole scheme “speculative”, but Mr Alterton would not concede the point.

Richard Knox Johnston

Richard Knox Johnston

Mr Knox-Johnston also took Mr Alderton to task over his assertion that there were no alternative industrial sites available in mid Kent.

Aylesford Newsprint had recently gone into liquidation, Mr Knox-Johnston said. It was a 95-acre acre brownfield industrial site, close to the M20 and with a ready workforce.

Mr Alderton said he was aware of the site, but pointed out that it was not available.

Economist Ellie Evans

Economist Ellie Evans

The next witness appearing for the appellants was Ellie Evans, a specialist economics consultant, who argued the borough council had grossly under-estimated demand for industrial land and over-estimated available sites.

She said she had examined analysis carried out by consultants GVA on behalf of the borough council and questioned three assumptions used. If she corrected the assumptions, the outcome was very different, suggesting there was a demand for 15.2 hectares of industrial land in the borough, not the 5.1 hectares identified by GVA.

She also suggested the figure for the current supply of land had been over-estimated, because insufficient account had been taken of the quality of the land.

Site of proposed Waterside Park off the A20 Ashford Road, Hollingbourne

Site of proposed Waterside Park off the A20 Ashford Road, Hollingbourne

Three of the largest potential sites were in the “rural south” of the borough, and hampered by poor transport links.

She said she supported Gallagher Group's appeal because of the economic growth it would attract to Maidstone. She said: “Without it, the borough will continue to fall behind the wider region.”

Mrs Evans was not subjected to cross examination by either the barristers representing Maidstone council and Kent County Council, nor by the CPRE.

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