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Packed planning inquiry into Croudace's plans to build 500 homes off Hermitage Lane in Maidstone gets going

By Kent Messenger reporter

A planning hearing into 500 homes that could be built on ancient woodland has proved so well attended that organisers have had to find a bigger room.

Developer Croudace wants to build 500 homes on farmland off Hermitage Lane in Allington, prompting concern about the loss of greenfield land, the extra traffic, and damage to Bluebell Wood, an alleged ancient woodland.

Maidstone council rejected the application, but Croudace, which argues the development would help meet Maidstone’s housing shortage, has appealed. It points out the scheme would also provide over five hectares of public open space.

People gather outside the public inquiry into 500 homes

This afternoon when people watching events applauded a statement by the borough council's barrister Megan Thomas, the planning inspector Paul Clark issued a warning: "There may be moments of high drama, but we are not in a theatre and we will have no applause. "

Maidstone council agreed to organise a coach to take people to the first day of the planning inquiry at the Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel in Hollingbourne

The threatened woodland

This unusual move came after complaints from New Allington Action Group, who have been campaigning to keep the woodland, that the hearing was too far away from affected residents.

The free transport picked up people from Howard Drive, Allington and the Sir Thomas Wyatt and will ferry people back at lunchtime and at the end of the day.

The inquiry had to be adjourned while organisers found a bigger room at the hotel.

Opening statements have centred on whether Bluebell Wood is an ancient woodland and will weigh up the economic benefits of new homes, versus the impact on the environment.

Mr Clark said the key considerations would be the effects on landscape and ecology and the impact on existing and any potential residents.

Christopher Boyle, QC, for Croudace, said in his opening statement: "We do not accept that it is ancient woodland, but even if it were you need to weigh up the clear benefits arising from the development of the whole site compared with the very minor impact on the woodland."

New Allington Action Group chair Barbara Woodward with a 300-signature petition against two new applications to build on homes near Bluebell Wood.

Speaking for the New Allington Action Group, who are being represented at the inquiry, chairman Barbara Woodward said that an oak tree felled already on the site by the developers had been shown to be 380 years old.

Campaigner Diana Lewins said: “We need everyone to join us to show we are serious about saving Bluebell Wood.”

The inquiry is scheduled to run until Wednesday, June 10, but with no hearing on Monday, June 8.

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