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Builders bypass council over plan for Maidstone School of Science and Technology

By Natalie Tipping

The decision on whether the County Town will get another secondary school now lies with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, not the local planning authority.

BAM Construction, which applied for permission to create the Maidstone School of Science and Technology on behalf of the Valley Invicta Academies Trust (VIAT), filed for non-determination two days before the latest planning committee meeting, saying a decision had not been made in time.

It means secretary of state Sajid Javid will have the final say on the Valley Invicta site, off New Cut Road, rather than Maidstone council.

An artists' impression of the Maidstone School of Science and Technology

An artists' impression of the Maidstone School of Science and Technology

Plans were submitted in March, and had last been deferred in August due to councillors’ concerns about landscaping and transport issues.

Councillors still spent close to two hours discussing the application during the latest meeting.

Cllr Tony Harwood (Lib Dem, North ward) said: “The established planning framework is that dialogue should take place to overcome concerns and problems arising from the application.

“It’s very, very unfortunate this applicant has chosen not to negotiate on issues raised.

“They do not want any conditions, what they want is the application that’s on the papers, but this falls short in many respects, particularly in terms of landscape.

“They’re taking out trees that are many, many hundreds of years old, and are saying it’s three new trees for one old tree, but it’s not like for like.”

Cllr Tony Harwood

Cllr Tony Harwood

Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem, High Street ward), committee chairman, echoed Cllr Harwood’s sentiments.

He said: “I have been on this council and Tovil Parish Council for a long time, and I’ve never met a more hostile applicant.

“They have absolutely refused to discuss anything, down to the colour of the render on the building, and have appealed at literally the last minute before we were actually quite likely to grant consent, because they did not want any conditions imposed or any negotiations, that’s been quite clear all along.”

Despite their frustrations, councillors decided with necessary conditions, they would have approved the application.

VIAT has confirmed that due to delays, the school, which would cater for 1,200 students and was due to open in September 2018, will now not open until the following year.

A date for the final decision has not yet been set.

Cllr Clive English

Cllr Clive English

Parties involved with the application, including BAM Construction, the Valley Invicta Academies Trust, and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, released a joint statement explaining their decision.

“The application process has been lengthy, and whilst the team has provided additional information and made significant changes to the proposal to respond to concerns raised, the process reached an impasse.

“The deferral on August 24 led to further delay as the reasons for deferral were dealt with in pre-application discussions or the submission.

“We also discussed draft planning conditions, and although some amendments to these sought by the committee are considered to be excessive, it has always been agreed permission would be subject to reasonable conditions.

"It's very, very unfortunate this applicant has chosen not to negotiate on issues raised" - Cllr Tony Harwood

“We have no intention of bypassing these, but do wish to ensure that any imposed meet relevant legal tests.

“After much debate and consideration, along with legal advice, we decided to appeal against the council’s failure to determine the application.

“Whilst the council’s decision is welcomed, we do not consider it would have been reached without appeal, given the same scheme was deferred in August.

“Had an approval been secured without appeal, it would have remained uncertain that the conditions or the legal agreement could have been agreed.

“It is therefore with regret that the applicant considers there to be no reasonable prospect of planning permission being delivered in a timely manner, and has turned to the planning inspectorate for an independent decision.”

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