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Marden, Staplehurst and Headcorn denied special planning status

By Alan Smith

The Low Weald is not to be given the extra protection against unwelcome development.

Councillors failed to convince the council's planning strategy committee that the area should become a Landscape of Local Value (LLV) in Maidstone council’s draft Local Plan.

A number of Weald councillors spoke strongly in favour of including the countryside around Headcorn, Marden and Staplehurst in such a designation to give it stronger protection against housebuilding in the area.

The Low Weald: Can its value be questioned?

Two weeks earlier, the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transport committee had agreed to the creation of four LLVs: for the Greensand Ridge and the river valleys of the Len, the Medway and the Loose.

"It would be perverse not to include the Low Weald in an LLV...” - Cllr John Perry

But inbetween times, the borough’s planning officers had decided that further LLVs were unnecessary, as a proposed policy known as SP5 would give a general protection to the countryside.

Cllr John Perry (Con) strongly disagreed. He said: “The Weald of Kent is a very special area. It is in many ways what defines Kent. It would be perverse not to include the Low Weald in an LLV.”

Cllr Paulina Stockell (Con) said: “If the Low Weald doesn’t meet the criteria for inclusion, then no areas do.”

Cllr Clive English warned that they were not just talking about the possibility of more housing, but protection against harm from intrusive solar farms, poly-tunnels or employment developments.

Cllr John Perry: We make the decisions
Cllr David Burton

However, the committee chairman Cllr David Burton (Con) queried whether the creation of Landscapes of Local Value was the right way to proceed at all.

He said: “This policy is by its very nature offensive to everybody whose bit of the countryside isn’t included. What we need is a policy wording that protects the whole countryside.”

The committee voted to keep the four areas already created, but decided not create a Low Weald LLV or indeed an LLV for the setting of the Kent Downs AONB, another proposal that had previously been on the table.

Instead, under the direction of Cllr Fran Wilson (Lib Dem), the committee rewrote the wording of the SP5 policy to make it tougher.

SP5 will be the replacement in the new Local Plan for ENV28 from the 2000 Local Plan.

Since the meeting, five councillors have signed call-in papers for the decision to be reviewed.

Cllrs Paulina Stockell, Louise Brice, John Wilson, Martin Round and John Perry have asked for the decision to be looked at again, this time by the policy and resources committee meeting on Wednesday.

Anyone can attend the meeting in the Town Hall which starts at 6.30pm.

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