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Battle over the Somme

Known by locals as the Somme, this land should be a play area
Known by locals as the Somme, this land should be a play area

EVERYONE living nearby knows it as “the Somme”.

But the churned-up, weed-ridden land is supposed to be the centrepiece of Barming’s new Beechwood estate – a scenic grassy area with a fenced-off children’s play area.

The building next to it would be the Beechwood community hall, were the community allowed to go inside it.

After months of waiting, Persimmon Homes has now assured villagers that the work will be completed by the end of August.

Edward Owens, managing director of Persimmon Homes South East,“We are also awaiting a decision from Maidstone council regarding the location of the play area and look forward to completing this at the earliest opportunity.”

But that hasn’t stopped “the Somme” becoming a key battleground in Maidstone council’s campaign to ensure that housing developers fulfil the funding of community projects.

Persimmon Homes was contracted to provide the hall and play area under a legal contract known as a Section 106 Agreement, drawn up when the firm was given permission to build the estate near Maidstone Hospital.

Residents say work stopped at the hall in January, with the job far from complete.

Persimmon said it has been involved in complex negotiations with Maidstone council over the hall, which has caused delays.

This week, Maidstone council leader Cllr Chris Garland (Con) pledged to write to the firm to demand the hall is finished quickly.

It is part of a general crackdown on Section 106 agreements, sparked last month when Allington residents won their bid to get grass cut on a local playing field.

A managing committee for the Beechwood Hall was set up earlier this year, in expectation of receiving the keys in April.

Its chairman, Bill Moss, who is also Maidstone’s town centre manager, said frustration was building over the long wait.

He said: “We have formed a limited company to run the hall, we have applied for charitable status and we have secured a £20,000 grant from Maidstone council to fit it out.

“Everything is on hold because we do not have the hall.”

He added: “The main square is supposed to be a play area but it is just mud.

It is like the Somme. Cars, lorries and vans drive straight across it.”

And he said more work needed to be done to stop motorists using the estate as a rat run between Queens Road and Hermitage Lane.

The council and Persimmon have also been in talks over the size of the play area, which has caused further delays.

Ward borough councillor Julia Batt (Lib Dem), who lives on the estate, has called on the council to put pressure on Persimmon.

She also referred to the play area as “the Somme”.

“The council is doing everything we can but we are beholden to Persimmon,” she added.

In a statement, Mr Owens said: “We acknowledge and sympathise with the frustration of the residents at the old Oakwood Hospital development. Unfortunately, completion of the Section 106 agreement has been delayed by matters outside Persimmon’s control.

“We have been working closely with the local authority for the past two years to agree the specification of the community centre, to ensure the end result is a facility that meets the demands of the whole community. We are pleased to report that the building will be completed and decorated by the

end of August.”

Cllr Garland said he would take a “robust stance” against developers who were slow to fulfill their commitments.

He said in some cases across the borough developers were trying to blame the housing slump for delays to community projects.

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