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New school supporters scent victory

ONE side has secured a crucial stage in the fight for a controversial new school.

Secretary of State Stephen Byers has approved the scheme to move Harrietsham Primary School to Tong's Meadow, West Street, on the edge of the Maidstone area village.

Mr Byers' decision not to call in the plans agreed by Kent County Council came as a crunch moment in the 30-year struggle to replace the cramped existing school on the A20 Ashford Road in the centre of the village. The scheme will now go before Maidstone Borough Council for detailed planning consideration, possibly next month.

But those against the new school hope that with a petition of more than 600 signatures from villagers, they can block a scheme vital to the funding of the new school project.

The organisers of the new school project have yet to win planning approval for a plan to sell off Booth Field recreation ground and build houses there.

Many Harrietsham people want to keep Booth Field, which they see as an important wildlife habitat and a vital asset for village activities - sport and relaxation.

"We are very disappointed with the Secretary of State's decision," said Guy Smith, a member of the Friends of Booth Field. "But we are going to fight on and continue to lobby the council."

Those for the new school believe that contractors could move in as early as the autumn. Mr Byers' decision, delighted Einir Roberts, vice chair of governors at Harrietsham Primary School. "This is good news for the many in our community who appreciate the desperate need for a new school," she said.

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