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Campaign to Protect Rural England reports says Maidstone left open to pressure without five year land supply or approved Local Plan

By Ed McConnell

Maidstone is at risk of being strong-armed into overbuilding in rural areas by central government, according to a recent report.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England claims that strict criteria local plans must meet is opening the door to major housing developments in the countryside.

The report shows that planning inspectors overturned the decisions of local councils in 72% of cases where there was no approved plan.

Residents argue the construction of 1,745 new homes in Lenham will change the village beyond recognition

Residents argue the construction of 1,745 new homes in Lenham will change the village beyond recognition

The National Planning Policy Framework requires councils to demonstrate a five year supply of land to build on in order to have a local plan approved.

Councils without this supply, such as Maidstone Borough Council, are powerless to decide where developments go and could face the punishment of having to find an extra 20% of land.

John Rowley, from CPRE, said: “The figures show that current policy is encouraging unnecessary house building in the countryside against the wishes of local people.

“The government should remove that automatic presumption for development where there is no five year land supply. It should also immediately stop demanding an extra 20% housing requirement for councils already struggling to meet targets.”

Hugh Robertson has come out against Maidstone Borough Council's Local Plan at an appearance in Lenham

Hugh Robertson has come out against Maidstone Borough Council's Local Plan at an appearance in Lenham

MP for Mid Kent and Faversham, Sir Hugh Robertson, has publicly spoken out against MBC’s development target of 18,600 new homes by 2031, including thousands in outlying villages.

Speaking in Lenham, which has been earmarked for 1,745 homes, Sir Hugh said: “These are vast numbers and there is no way that the infrastructure in this part of Kent can cope with this level of development.”

Adding that the discrepancy between MBC’s figures and the small Swale Borough Council target needs explaining.

Council leader Annabelle Blackmore

Council leader Annabelle Blackmore

Cllr Annabelle Blackmore, leader of Maidstone Borough Council, said: “We don’t believe a plan that ignores the objectively-assessed housing need will stand up at an inquiry. Without a Local Plan, we leave the borough open to uncontrolled development, which we are not prepared to do. These are tough decisions but we must make the right choices and not just popular ones.

Responding to comments from secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles, that housing allocation is in no way dictated by central government, Cllr Blackmore said: “Given the difficulties the assessed need figure has given the council, and the additional work it has created, surely the figure would have been dramatically decreased if we were truly able to dictate the number?”

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