Published: 14:56, 07 January 2020
Campaigners opposed to proposals for a 5,000-home garden community have slammed the appointment of a senior council boss to oversee the project.
Director of Regeneration & Place William Cornall is understood to have been asked by chief executive Alison Broom to continue to develop the controversial plans, dubbed Heathlands, and proposed for near Lenham.
Mr Cornall is also tasked with ensuring there are no conflicts of interest between the council's role as master-developer and as the local planning authority.
In literature produced by planning consultants Barton Willmore, a host of different services and facilities are proposed as well as the homes, including a four hectare mixed-use district centre, a new high-speed railway station and motorway junction, a secondary school, four primary schools and an extensive country park.
However, the Save Our Heath Lands group has voiced strong opposition to the scheme, arguing there would be a loss of green space, more local disruption and claims too many discussions have been held in secret.
Kate Hammond, from the group, said this week: "News of William Cornall's new appointment is hardly surprising for SOHL although we are disappointed that he did not inform us of these latest intentions when we met him just before Christmas.
"This is just another example where Maidstone Council have failed to be open and transparent with their residents.
"The council's management of its Garden Community Proposals has been widely criticised by many across the Maidstone borough area to date.
"Mr Cornall's apparent new role is perhaps only paper thin as again we expect there to be little transparency.
"This clearly demonstrates the borough council's ruthless determination to drive this scheme forward with total disregard for public opinion."
Cllrs Tom and Janetta Sams, who have also raised concerns in recent months, added: "We believe that this new post does not change the situation in terms of conflict of interests for councillors and officers pushing forward the scheme.
"It is a great shame that we are travelling along a path that already feels predetermined and residents, their lives turned upside down are understandably upset."
A local authority spokeswoman said: "Maidstone Borough Council continues to explore the possibility of acting as the master-developer for a (council-led) garden community in the Lenham Heath area.
"As Director of Regeneration & Place, William Cornall will help to develop this proposal and will continue to carry out all his other responsibilities within his role, apart from overseeing the Local Plan Review process."