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Lenham residents angered by Maidstone Council's plans to split their village in two in boundary review

Lenham residents are not happy. In fact, they are furious.

Apart from Maidstone council seeking to impose a 5,000-home development on them at Lenham Heath, the village could now be split in two.

Kate Hammond: This is bullying
Kate Hammond: This is bullying

The Local Government Boundary Commission is carrying out a review of the ward boundaries in Maidstone and, as part of its consultation, has asked the local authority to submit its own proposals.

The purpose of the review is to equate as far as possible the number of electors per councillor, with ideally no variance greater than 10% from the average.

Boundaries have to be moved in any case, because the commission has decided to reduce the overall number of councillors from 55 to 48 when the changes come into effect in May 2024.

Maidstone duly drew up its proposals which would see changes to every ward boundary in the borough except Staplehurst.

One part of the commission’s mission is to ensure that naturally cohesive communities are maintained, which is where the borough is accused of failing.

Lenham parish chairman Cllr John Britt
Lenham parish chairman Cllr John Britt

The borough’s plan proposes cleaving off part of the village south of the railway line and adding it to an enlarged Headcorn Ward.

Lenham resident Kate Hammond, who is chairman of the Save Our Heathlands group, told a meeting of the full council last week: “The changes before you are for no other purpose than to divide the Lenham community.

“It is discrimination. It is bullying.”

Referring to the fact that Lenham has been consistently represented by two Independent councillors for the past seven years, she claimed: “We are being treated differently to other areas of the borough because we are represented by strong Independent councillors.

“This targeted assault on the Lenham community has been constant over six years. We’re not going to stand for it.

Cllr Tom and Janetta Sams, Independent councillors for Lenham
Cllr Tom and Janetta Sams, Independent councillors for Lenham

She added: “This proposal will do nothing less than tear a close-knit community apart. This is a purely political move.”

Cllr John Britt, chairman of Lenham Parish Council, presented a petition signed by 700 Lenham residents urging the council to re-think.

He said: “That we achieved that many signatures in just a week ought to tell you something about how the people of Lenham feel about the treatment we have been subjected to over the past couple of years.”

He said: “Perhaps the kind of hostile suggestion you have made about dividing Lenham in two is something you might have discussed with us?

“One of the key criteria for the boundary review is, I quote; ‘the need to reflect any local community identities and interests.’

Headcorn is seven miles away
Headcorn is seven miles away

Cllr Britt said: “Clearly the MBC response does not meet that criteria.”

He added: “Lenham is a proper community with purpose and cohesion.

“The borough’s proposal to divide it arbitrarily along the railway line is seen for what it is - a bad idea, poorly researched and totally impractical.

Cllr Britt continued: “This is not the first time the folk of Lenham have felt they are being done unto.

“There is also the Heathlands proposal and the way that Lenham perceives that whole project has been totally mismanaged."

Cllr Valerie Springett: Not political
Cllr Valerie Springett: Not political

He said: “You cannot continue to launch these intimidating acts on our parish and expect us to not to react.”

He warned: “Do not think you can continue to ride roughshod over our community.”

He asked the council to send the Lenham petition to the commission alongside its own submission.

In response, Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem) said that the current boundary proposal had not been the borough’s first response, but that drawing up a scheme had proved extremely difficult.

Cllr Tom Sams (Ind) who represents Lenham said: “More than 700 residents have said: ‘We are not Headcorn.’"

Lenham Square
Lenham Square

He predicted that the proposal would fail when it was seen as what it was - “a politically motivated attempt to crush the spirit of a rural community.”

Lenham’s second councillor Janetta Sams pointed out the houses south of the rail-line were 100 metres from Lenham Square, the centre of the village, but 11,025 metres from Headcorn. She warned: “Residents are very, very angry.”

But Cllr Valerie Springett (Con) said: “This wasn’t done for political reasons. We had long discussions and I don’t think many of us are happy with what’s come out, but we had no choice.”

A vote was taken to submit the Maidstone proposals without alteration and without including the Lenham petition.

There were only two votes against: Cllrs Tom and Janetta Sams.

Those in favour raise their green voting cards
Those in favour raise their green voting cards
Only two councillors voted against the proposal - the two Lenham councillors Tom and Janetta Sams
Only two councillors voted against the proposal - the two Lenham councillors Tom and Janetta Sams

However, that does not mean the changes are a done deal.

The commission will look at the council’s submission along with all the others it has received and it has the ultimate say. Cllr Brttt said he was confident the commission would do the right thing.

Ironically, Maidstone council’s proposal does not meet the key criteria of voter equality. Two of their proposed 25 wards fall outside the 10% margin sought by the commission.

They are a new ward called The Suttons, which falls 13 % below the average, and one ward that was 11% above the average, meaning its voters would be effectively under-represented compared with others - that was Lenham.

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