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New consultation dates for Maidstone council's Heathlands Garden Village homes scheme at Lenham

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Homes England and Maidstone Borough Council are holding further consultation events over their plans to build 5,000 new homes at Lenham Heath after a blunder meant not all neighbours were notified of the initial round.

Fabrik, the publicity company handling PR for the Heathlands Garden Village scheme, was forced to apologise last March after it transpired that despite printing 6,500 leaflets advertising the public exhibition, not all were delivered.

Two new engagement events will be held at Lenham Community Centre
Two new engagement events will be held at Lenham Community Centre

The error prompted Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately to complain on behalf of residents.

The two authorities also put residents' backs up by staging the first consultation some eight miles away from the village, at the Great Danes Hotel in Hollingbourne. As a result, the event was largely boycotted, with fewer than 40 people attending the first day.

This time all the events are scheduled to take place within Lenham and Harrietsham, the two villages that will be most affected by the plans.

There has been considerable opposition from residents so far, but Homes England and the council hope that once they explain how their proposals will provide affordable housing and that 50% of the plot will be reserved for green areas, parks, community spaces and existing woodlands, the public can be won over.

The first event will be on Monday, May 23, from 2.30pm to 7.30pm in Lenham Community Hall off Groom Way.

Tom Hustler of Homes England: Waiting to meet residents
Tom Hustler of Homes England: Waiting to meet residents

The following day, Tuesday, it will be at Harrietsham Village Hall off Church Road from 2pm to 7pm.

Then on Thursday, May 26, it's back to Lenham Community Centre for an earlier session: 10am to 2pm.

Residents will have the opportunity to talk to representatives of both organisations, ask questions about the proposed development and "start to positively influence the vision for Heathlands."

They can also have their questions answered by viewing on online video webcast.

The previous events also came under fire for requiring attendees to book a place.

Cllr Eddie Powell: Tick-box exercise
Cllr Eddie Powell: Tick-box exercise

This time the consultations will be ‘drop-in’ events with no appointments required.

But Cllr Eddie Powell, the chairman of Harrietsham Parish Council, said: "They are only doing these consultations again because they got it so badly wrong the first time around.

"People will see it as what it is - a tick-box exercise so that Maidstone council can claim to the Government inspector looking at its Local Plan Review that it havs consulted with the community.

"In fact, these consultations will be after the deadline for public responses to the Local Plan Review, so whatever the public learns, it is too late for them to make a response."

Cllr Powell said: "I'm afraid people will approach these consultations in a cynical frame of mind, rather than an inquiring one, because the fundamental problem for Harrietsham remains - how can the A20 take the traffic from an extra 5,000 homes?"

Lenham parish council chairman John Britt
Lenham parish council chairman John Britt

Cllr John Britt, the chairman of Lenham Parish Council, said: "Actually Maidstone has been very careful to call this an engagement event, not a consultation. In a consultation you have to listen to what people say and make changes; they have no intention of making any changes whatsoever.

"One of the big answered questions for Lenham is what will happen to our rail station? And that will remain unanswered because it is not in the hands of Homes England or MBC, but rests with Network Rail."

Initially the Heathlands project was to include a new station, but when Network Raid seemed less than enthusiastic about that, it was suggested that perhaps Lenham's existing station could move to Heathlands.

Cllr Britt said: "Aside from Heathlands, Lenham has already been marked up for 1,000 new homes in the Local Plan, on the strength that the new residents would be able to walk to the station."

He said: "If the station is moved, where does that leave those people and the rest of Lenham's residents?"

He added: "People here are very angry."

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