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Maidstone's Local Plan has been adopted

By David Gazet

After years of examination, debate and protest Maidstone's Local Plan has been adopted.

Councillors voted in favour of divisive document this evening, which sets out sites for 17,660 new homes being built in the borough between 2011 and 2031.

The decision comes following a 11th-hour intervention by MPs Helen Grant and Helen Whately, who last month forestalled the vote by writing to Sajid Javid, the Minister for Communities and Local Government, asking him to issue a 'holding direction' to stop proceedings.

Maidstone's Local Plan has been adopted
Maidstone's Local Plan has been adopted

They were concerned about lasting damage to Leeds Castle and the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, questioned the sufficiency of proposed infrastructure and the impact on villages such as Headcorn, Harrietsham and Lenham.

Their concerns fell on deaf ears. Mr Javid said: “I am determined to ensure we support local authorities in bringing forward plan-led development rather than allowing the speculative development which causes communities concern."

Cllr David Burton (Con) proposed the motion to adopt the Local Plan, seconded by Cllr Matt Boughton (Con).

He said: "My understanding is the Local Plan was first discussed by the council in 2005 - that's 12 years ago.

"I am 24-years-old so this council has spent half of my lifetime discussing this plan. So the idea we had no chance to have a consultation about this is I am afraid absolute nonsense.

Cllr Matt Boughton, Con
Cllr Matt Boughton, Con

"It is time to make the most of this opportunity to provide certainty to taxpayers the borough. Every single one of us including me can find much in the documents we object to.

"The time for debate is over. The Government inspector found our plan to be sound and the argument over specific sites has been won and lost years ago.

"If we don't stop this plan now we all know what the future consequences will be. Not just for housing numbers but the ability to prevent future developments on unsuitable sites in the countryside."

A named vote saw 40 councillors approve the plan, with nine against and one abstention.

Those who voted against are Conservatives Louise Brice, Mike Cuming, John Perry, Shellina Prendergast, Denis Spooner Paulina Stockell and Nick de Wiggondene. They were joined by UKIP's Gordon Newton and Eddie Powell.

Liberal Democrat Brian Mortimer abstained.

The Local Plan was examined by an independent inspector who published his report in July.

He revised down the housing target from 18,600, excluded several sites such as New Line Learning in Boughton Lane and impressed the need to address problems with the sewerage capacity in Headcorn.

He also endorsed the expansion of Brewer Street Surgery, Bower Mount Medical Centre, the Vine Medical Centre and other GP practices.

However, many controversial factors remain in the plan, such as a controversial bus line in Sutton Road, as does the development of Woodcut Farm into homes and offices.

Leeds Castle Picture: Sarah Medway
Leeds Castle Picture: Sarah Medway

The council's adoption statement can be found here.

It reads: "The Local Plan was the subject of an independent examination conducted by Mr Robert Mellor, an inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

"Any person aggrieved by the adoption of the Local Plan may make an application to the High Court under Section 113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 on the grounds that the document is not within the appropriate power of the local planning authority and/or that a procedural requirement has not been complied with.

Red letter day

This is a red letter day for the myriad towns and villages in the borough.

The decision means the borough now has an agreed framework for development until 2031 and the policies within the plan will be used to make decisions on planning applications.

For some, the earmarked development will create new jobs, deliver vital new infrastructure and for the young - much anticipated affordable housing.

But opponents see the plan as an imposition which will change their communities beyond recognition, destroy the pristine countryside and place added strain on public services.

It is also an open secret the 17,000 new homes were just the beginning.The Department of Communities and Local Government is currently consulting on proposals to raise building targets to tackle the shortfall of new homes.

Maidstone council says it needs to build 883 homes each year; the government wants to raise this to 1,236 for each year to 2026. That's 7,000 extra homes.

For all its perceived faults, the adoption of the Local Plan locks in the building target until the next review in 2021.

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