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Last Friday, Cllr Stephen Paine, Maidstone Borough Council’s cabinet member for planning, insisted that residents’ fears were premature.
The land had been out forward in the council’s draft Local Plan as suitable for 35 houses, but Cllr Paine said the draft still had to go out to public consultation before being adopted.
Shortly afterwards, on Sunday, the furse and wildflowers on the site were grubbed up and a public footpath, KB9, blocked with the spoil.
It is believed the land is owned by the trustees of the John Best-Shore estate, but that Britain’s biggest house-builder Persimmon has an option on the site, which was home to a number of wildflowers, including orchids, sheep’s sorrel and common cudweed.
Campaigners said the plot was also home to viviparous lizards and slow worms.
Walker Tommy Long of Penenden Heath said: “Two weeks ago this was a vibrant wildlife habitat. For the developer to flatten it is a cynical act of environmental vandalism.
“This kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable and has totally undermined what little trust local people had in the development industry and Maidstone Borough Council as local planning authority.”
Cllr Tony Harwood (Lib Dem) said: “The shocking scene of destruction only serves to re-double the determination of local residents and their elected representatives to protect Penenden Heath’s last remaining open countryside and the foreground of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from ugly urban sprawl.”
The land lies between Shaw Close, Heath Wood and the M20, behind the Chiltern Hundreds pub.
Its name is derived from furze, the gorse that is a feature of the sandy landscape.
In its draft Local Plan, the borough council has identified a need to build 19,600 homes by 2031, but so far has only identified sites for 16,700.
A spokesman for Persimmon was unable at this stage to confirm whether or not the company was responsible for the clearance.
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