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Heath Lands homes site could have treasure trove under it, says archaeologist Lesley Feakes

Land where a local authority is planning 5,000 houses could be a trove of undiscovered archaeological treasures.

Local expert Lesley Feakes says the importance of the site at Lenham Heath could halt Maidstone council’s massive Heath Lands development scheme.

Lesley Feakes says there could be hidden treasures
Lesley Feakes says there could be hidden treasures

The 81-year-old former teacher, a stalwart of the Lenham Archaeology Society (LAS), has just published a 24-page booklet, Discovering Ancient Lenham, detailing some of the finds already unearthed.

She wrote: “It seems preposterous that Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) plans to build a new town of 5,000 houses - some five times the size of present Lenham - on farmland that covers a wealth of archaeology and wildlife.”

It has significant activity from the Iron Age - a period spanning nearly a millennium - when settlers were attracted to the area.

But she believes the Roman and Saxon periods which followed may have left behind even more exciting prospects for archaeologists.

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

Mrs Feakes says there could be a military presence and even an amphitheatre left behind by the Romans.

She fears her community could lose its “identity as a village, becoming more like a suburb of Maidstone”.

Mrs Feakes added: “My goal now is to encourage newcomers to reveal the wealth of history surrounding our village and impress on everybody how much more is waiting to be found.”

Much of the work LAS has completed has been close to the area MBC plans for the massive development.

MBC has included Lenham Heath in the recently-passed 15-year Local Plan but the planning inspector attached some serious caveats to it, including the need for a railway station.

Network Rail recently told the Kent Community Rail Partnership - backed by Kent County Council - there is currently no budget allocation for the station at Lenham Heath.

Cllr Dennis Spooner agrees there could be lots to discover
Cllr Dennis Spooner agrees there could be lots to discover

Recent chairman of MBC’s planning committee and a former town planner, Cllr Denis Spooner, said: “Realistically, lots of archaeological finds are made when large-scale developments are planned or undertaken and they are mainly fairly insignificant.

“But if something massive or significant is discovered, work may have to halt in order to assess what has been found. It may or may not affect the whole development depending on how big it is and how far it extends.”

There are precedents where significant remains have been unearthed, are preserved in sand and then covered before work carries on, added Cllr Spooner.

Newly-re-elected chairman of Lenham Parish Council John Britt said: “There is some depth in what Lesley Feakes says. There have been settlements here right through the ages largely because of the water sources.

“There are elements of archaeology scattered around Lenham in some intensity. Lesley has been quite right to highlight this.”

Lenham could be hiding some secrets below ground
Lenham could be hiding some secrets below ground

The May 2 elections saw the ruling Conservatives lose control of MBC with a new partnership of The Green and Independent Alliance and Liberal Democrats now in charge.

Whether Heath Lands will survive in its present form remains to be seen as many of the new executive have grave reservations that the scheme is viable.

Two of the project’s sternest critics are the independents Cllrs Tom and Janetta Sams.

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