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FOI reveals controversial £20m business park meetings

Villagers have unearthed details of meetings between Maidstone council and the developer of a controversial business estate.

Hollingbourne parish council discovered at least 18 formal and informal discussions took place between March 2011 and July this year, about the £20m proposal for a manufacturing, warehousing and distribution complex off Junction 8 of the M20 (Leeds Castle).

The sessions were between council officers, members and representatives from Gallagher Group – the driving force behind the development called Waterside Park.

The proposed site of Waterside Park - close to the Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel at Hollingbourne
The proposed site of Waterside Park - close to the Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel at Hollingbourne

The details, published in a five-page response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, includes correspondence from Scarab Sweepers Limited and Automotive Distributors Limited. They are hoping to move from their Marden bases to the new site.

The meetings include site visits, presentations, pre-application discussions and public exhibition.

Pat Gallagher
Pat Gallagher

A lunch also took place in January, involving Gallagher’s chairman Pat Gallagher, Alison Broom, Maidstone council’s chief executive and the then Mayor of Maidstone, Cllr Rodd Nelson-Gracie.

Parish councillors requested further documentation showing the number of emails, text messages and letters between interested parties but were told there would be a fee for research.

Chairman Mike Bedwell said: “We submitted the FOI out of pure curiosity to establish the closeness of Maidstone and the Gallagher Group. The results will be discussed at the next meeting of the parish council in September.”

Some have raised concerns about turning the farmland, next to the Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel, into business use.

Maidstone council said the contact was normal before any planning submission and that all applications would be judged objectively.

Alison Broom
Alison Broom

Nick Yandle, chief executive of Gallagher Group said regular meetings were an integral part of consulting and engaging on projects.

Pre-application discussions are encouraged by the government’s National Planning Policy Framework.

Mr Yandle said: “The Waterside Park team has consulted directly with local parish councils and three detailed briefings have been undertaken with representatives from Hollingbourne Parish Council over the past three months.”

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