Published: 12:00, 04 June 2020
| Updated: 12:27, 04 June 2020
A controversial council meeting has prompted widespread calls from residents for an inquiry.
Members of Ashford Borough Council’s planning committee met last month to discuss the 725-home Conningbrook Park - or Large Burton - application in Kennington.
Having been amended five times, the Quinn Estates plan would see a primary school, bowls club and community centre constructed alongside the homes.
But the scheme - which would be built on Grade 1 arable land opposite the Little Burton estate - received more than 1,100 objection letters compared to 75 support comments.
It was passed by eight votes to seven with one abstention, with all the approve votes coming from Conservative councillors and the opposition parties all moving against the proposal.
This divide - along with Cllr Gerald White (Con) not being allowed to stand in for the absent Cllr Bernard Heyes (Con) and an issue of unbalanced party membership on the committee - has prompted requests for an inquiry into the use of the party whip.
Led by Kennington residents, an email campaign has been initiated to encourage ABC’s CEO Tracey Kerly to investigate.
In response, an ABC spokesman said: “Our acknowledgement letters say we aim to respond in 10 days and they started to go out late last week.
“Therefore we anticipate responding to those residents who have made representations towards the end of this week.
“We are satisfied that all representations of support and objection, including some personally spoken representations, were brought to the attention of the committee and properly taken into account.”
Further emails were sent by residents to the leaders of Ashford’s political parties, those being Noel Ovenden for the Ashford Independents, Brendan Chilton for Labour and Mandy Rossi from the Greens.
Cllr Chilton said: "I'm concerned to hear that allegations have been made that the ruling administrative group whipped its members on the planning committee at the last meeting - it's of course not appropriate if that did happen."
Ashford Independents leader Cllr Ovenden noted residents' displeasure at the result.
He added: "Planning is often a contentious issue – and never more so than this application.
"Some people have suggested that all consideration of planning applications should be paused until the effects on the local economy and the demand for housing can be ascertained.
"There is merit in this argument.
"Unfortunately, it is also an undeniable fact that the government is determined to once more drive economic recovery through building and infrastructure; their every comment indicating that the pressure on local councils to fulfil their housing delivery will continue to be unrelenting."
Ms Rossi shared residents' feelings on the plan's approval, writing: "Naturally I was disappointed that it went through but I think it was very unlikely that it wasn’t going to.
"I can’t comment on whether or not the whip was used – I have no idea if they did or didn’t – all I would say is that pressure from national government on councils to deliver on house building doesn’t help."
The Ashford Conservative Association did not respond to a request for comment.
More by this authorCharlie Harman
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