Published: 16:40, 26 January 2021
| Updated: 10:39, 27 January 2021
Landowners wishing to withdraw their land from council-led proposals for a huge development and who are already "sick with worry", are now fearful of a compulsory purchase orders or demolition.
Some 18 landowners are calling for their sites, which all together covers 63 acres, to be removed from Maidstone Borough Council's (MBC) plans to create a garden community of 5,000 homes next to Lenham. The local authority is acting as the master-developer for the housing project, which is called Heathlands.
They argue that their land was included in the plan without their agreement and commissioned a solicitor to send a letter of complaint to MBC. The council now says it is "mindful" of the landowners wishing to withdraw, and this will be "reflected" in an updated version of the Heathlands proposals, that will be published in April.
However, a letter from MBC's solicitor, dated January 7, discussing the issue has raised concerns by referencing compulsory purchases.
The document, sent by Pinsent Masons, reads: "Our client notes in particular your clients' concerns about the proposals for a new garden community and the impact this may have on them or their property.
"So that there is no further misunderstanding the council wishes me to reiterate that inclusion of land within the area proposed for the new garden community does not mean that all of the land within the identified area would need to be acquired from present owners.
"As noted in my previous letter, the council wishes to proceed so far as possible by agreement and to avoid acquisition and demolition of people's existing homes."
In a letter to MBC councillors, Kate Hammond, from Save Our Heathlands, a group which opposes the scheme, said: "It now appears in a letter recently received from MBC- appointed lawyers, Pinsent Masons, that compulsory purchase is being considered if agreement is not reached with landowners to part with their smallholdings to make way for this project.
"Lenham Heath residents have been given assurances up until now by MBC’s political and officer leadership that compulsory purchase would not be used on this scheme."
In a letter responding to the Pinsent Masons email, Ms Hammond said: "The stress caused as a result of the uncertainty is leading to some of our landowners having sleepless nights and to be sick with worry.
'The uncertainty to their property and livelihoods is not acceptable...'
"The uncertainty to their property and livelihoods is not acceptable."
A council report appears to create hope for the 18 landowners. A report compiled for the policy and resources committee on January 20 raised the possibility that the number of "landownerships" within the boundary of Heathlands could be reduced as the council considers development north of the railway line.
The report reads: "Indeed, in previous reports, this committee has been made aware that there are some (circa 18) landowners within the current redline who object to the current proposal, and so these changes...could bring benefits in this respect too.
"Regardless, officers are attempting to engage with the objecting landowners to understand their individual concerns and the extent to which these can be addressed.
"The third stage masterplan will refer to any remaining objections, and reasonable endeavours will be
made to keep these to a minimum."
A statement from MBC adds to these hopes. It reads: "the council is mindful of the wishes of those landowners that do not wish to participate in the proposal, and this will be reflected in the stage 3 masterplan that will be published at the end of the current financial year."
A council spokesman added: "Maidstone Borough Council has been on record from the outset of the project that it does not wish to see existing homes lost to make way for new development, and indeed the current masterplan shows all existing homes retained inclusive of a “green” buffer around them in order to manage the transition between the existing and proposed new community.”
A public consultation on the latest draft of the council's local plan review, which sets out where residential and employment sites should go up until 2037, concluded earlier this month.
The Heathlands proposal as well as a community in Lidsing, north of the M2, which could accommodate 2,000 homes are part of the local plan review.
A final consultation on the draft local plan is expected in June before going to an inspector.