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Network Rail confirms no budget for 5,000 home Lenham Heath development by Maidstone council opposed by locals

Campaigners have called into question the viability of a massive housing development after a key player declined to commit to it for at least five years.

Network Rail would be in charge of providing a railway station at Lenham Heath, the proposed site for 5,000 homes, to allow the scheme to proceed.

One of the many signs saying "no" to 5,000 homes at Lenham Heath
One of the many signs saying "no" to 5,000 homes at Lenham Heath

But bosses have indicated there is nothing earmarked for the project in the current budget, which runs until 2029.

In March, a government planning inspector passed Maidstone Borough Council’s (MBC) Local Plan for the next 15 years.

It included the green light for the massive Heath Lands development at Lenham Heath, on the condition there is a rail station to service the massive, new population.

Network Rail told members of the Kent Community Rail Partnership (KCRP) on April 23 that no money is set aside for the Heath Lands project.

The KCRP is part-funded by Kent County Council (KCC). Liberal Democrat KCC Cllr Chris Passmore was present.

Councillors Chris Passmore (KCC) and Cllr David Naghi (MBC)
Councillors Chris Passmore (KCC) and Cllr David Naghi (MBC)

The project was put forward by Maidstone Borough Council, initially as its master developer.

Heath Lands opponent and chairman of Lenham Parish Council John Britt said: “The whole project hinges on the railway station and we have asked time and again for the business plan for it and never got it.

“It has never added up. First it was going to be on the high speed line and then it was downgraded to a normal station.

“Now it seems the people who have to deliver the station have admitted they haven’t got any money. The whole thing is a complete and utter fantasy.”

The inspector, David Spencer, required the station as a key element of the project.

Lib Dem leader Clive English
Lib Dem leader Clive English

Mr Spencer said: “It will be necessary to modify the policy to confirm a railway station is to be delivered.”

He said this should come forward during the first phase of development, which he expects could be delivered by 2031.

MBC Liberal Democrat group leader Clive English: “Somewhere reality will collide unless Network Rail commits to it and I can’t find anyone there who says they will.

“The great fear is that if the whole thing comes crashing down the Local Plan will come down with it. I have always said the plan is unsound.”

There are two possible judicial reviews in the offing, one of which is being considered by Save Our Heath Lands, and Cllr English says they will centre around the project’s deliverability.

What an inspector might rule as a “reasonable assumption”, a judicial review may take a different view in terms of deliverability, he added.

Cllr David Burton said timescales are roughly the same
Cllr David Burton said timescales are roughly the same

MBC Conservative leader Cllr David Burton said: “The longest part of it (Heath Lands) will be in the planning.

“Health Lands is a 10 to 20 year project and I do not expect construction to start much before 2031 by which time the absolute deliverability detail of the train station would be on the table.

“What Network Rail is saying is broadly in line with time scales of the project.”

Network Rail would deliver the station but not the funding which will come from the Treasury via MBC’s partners Homes England and the sale of land.

Cllr Burton said landowners will profit from selling agricultural land worth about £10,000 an acre for roughly 10 times that figure. Developers would buy the housing land for around £1m per acre.

One of the many signs saying "no" to 5,000 homes at Lenham Heath
One of the many signs saying "no" to 5,000 homes at Lenham Heath

The “land value uplift” will provide the money to pay for infrastructure within the Heath Lands scheme, he added.

A railway station for a project as big as Lenham Heath could run into many tens of millions of pounds, said Cllr Burton.

Network Rail said: “We continue to work with our partners including Southeastern, Maidstone Borough Council, and Kent County Council as well as the Department for Transport regarding funding to develop rail provision in the Lenham area.

“While Network Rail is supportive of a scheme being progressed at Lenham, it would be the responsibility of the promoters of the Heathlands Garden Community to provide funding, now that the site has been adopted in the Maidstone Local Plan.”

Cllr English’s Liberal Democrats are standing against the ruling Tories at May 2’s local elections and may emerge as the biggest party in a new coalition. It is a contest some Tories have described as “challenging” and the Greens are hoping to prosper at their expense.

Chairman of Lenham Parish Council, John Britt, is a vocal critic of the Lenham Heath proposal (PIC: Simon Finlay, LDRS)
Chairman of Lenham Parish Council, John Britt, is a vocal critic of the Lenham Heath proposal (PIC: Simon Finlay, LDRS)

Should he end up as part of the top table, Cllr English said: “It’s not going to be easy - there’s a lot to put right.”

Fellow Lib Dem Cllr David Naghi said: “Everyone knows that we need housing but we need the right housing and Lenham Heath has never been the right place.”

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