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Maidstone Borough Council holds call for sites meeting about thousands of homes in private

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Discussions about the building of thousands of new homes were kept secret after councillors agreed to hold their meeting in private.

Last night, members of Maidstone Borough Council's Policy and Resources Committee met to talk about the authority's 'call for sites,' where it searches for new land for development as part of its review of the Local Plan.

The call for sites, launched in march, could result in thousands of new homes built in addition to those already in the plan.

Maidstone Town Hall (8147892)
Maidstone Town Hall (8147892)

As the meeting began, council leader Martin Cox proposed the session be held in private to keep discussions confidential.

However, this was opposed by a number of councillors including Jonathan Purle.

"This is clearly a matter that will be of concern to my constituents," said the Tory councillor for Bridge Ward. "It also concerns a number of sites that are not confidential as they’ve already appeared on the front page of the Kent Messenger.”

He was supported by Conservative Councillor Patrik Garten and Conservative Group Leader John Perry.

“I am very concerned that we are going down this road,” said Mr Perry.

Cllr Jonathan Purle
Cllr Jonathan Purle

However, Maidstone Borough Council Chief Executive Alison Broom insisted she would not share information with councillors unless the meeting was in private.

Although she stated properties mentioned in the report owned by the council and those subject to regeneration could possibly be mentioned in public, talking about an ambiguous "third category" could be damaging.

"We need to establish with you a principle about that third category," she said. "If your view is not to pursue that idea, I'm choosing my words carefully, then the likelihood is that the information will never go into the public domain because you would say we don't want to do this.

"If you decide you do wish to pursue the idea then we will need to work very carefully with other people in order to manage how that information does go into the public domain."

"This council has signed non-disclosure agreements with some of the landowners to whom these sites refer. I am not prepared to provide advice to you on those items in public.

Maidstone Borough Council Chief Executive Alison Broom
Maidstone Borough Council Chief Executive Alison Broom

After the meeting Jonathan Purle, who was particularly opposed to the decision, said: "Residents in my part-of-town are rightly concerned about plans revealed last summer for another 1,100 flats being crammed into our ward. They see our roads gridlocked and local services stretched to breaking point.

"They look at all the recent mistakes, from the ghastly Travelodge to all the extra housing rammed in recent years into Allington, and wonder what malevolent scheme the council's planners will inflict on them next.

"But absurdly, I'm not allowed to tell them what was discussed last night, what was decided, whether they were betrayed again and if so, who by.

"I can only tell them that I remain opposed to these huge housing numbers here and will continue work for a positive and balanced regeneration of Maidstone's riverside that includes decent facilities for the people who live here already.

"The people of Maidstone will never forgive the council if they mess this up yet again. If this council wants nothing more for this town than more high-rise blocks to accommodate London's housing overspill, and for every last postage-stamp of land to be crammed with housing, local residents will rightly hold them in contempt.

"And if the LibDem-led council insists on making these decisions behind closed doors, they will only make local people all the more angry."

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