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Decision deferred on 421-home Bellway development in Church Road, Otham after Maidstone Borough Council meeting

Councillors have voted against a controversial 421-home development on agricultural land, but the overall decision has been deferred over cost and legal concerns.

In a virtual meeting, Maidstone Borough Council's (MBC) planning committee refused the full detailed plan, raising concerns it would severely impact traffic, heritage and the environment.

The site for the plans submitted by Bellway Homes
The site for the plans submitted by Bellway Homes

Bellway Homes wants to build the dwellings around the Grade I listed St Nicholas Church, off Church Road, Otham, near Downswood.

At last night's planning meeting, Cllr Robert Eves suggested the plans are thrown out. He said Maidstone council had a duty to enhance and protect the heritage and character of the area and the historic church and said hundreds of homes was not consistent with this policy.

The site is one of six in the Sutton Road area already allocated for development in Maidstone's adopted Local Plan.

But Cllr Eves said: "Just because something is in the Local Plan does not mean it should be developed."

After a lengthy discussion an amendment was carried to refuse the scheme, going against officer advice to approve, and a second vote confirmed the committee's refusal by nine votes, to three, with one abstention,

St Nicholas Church, Otham
St Nicholas Church, Otham

However the council's head of planning, Rob Jarman, issued a costs warning over this decision, amid fears Bellway had submitted a detailed planning application and the committee's reasons for refusing the plans were not detailed enough.

The fear is the decision could be overturned by an inspector at a developer's appeal and there is a significant risk the costs of any appeal would have to be paid by taxpayers.

This meant the two votes were considered an 'indicative refusals' and the meeting was told under the council's constitution, the entire decision was deferred to the next planning meeting, as part of a 'cooling off period'.

KCC Highways objected, saying the access along Church Road is not suitable.

It added the development would have a severe traffic impact and pose hazards to drivers using the narrow country lane.

David Hatcher, Chairman of the Chapman Avenue Area Residents Association
David Hatcher, Chairman of the Chapman Avenue Area Residents Association

However planning officer Richard Timms addressed these concerns saying while the road is narrow in places, it has a good track record and has not presented any issues.

Historic England also raised concerns saying building on the land around the Grade I listed church could harm the area's heritage.

However the company says it would remove objections if it can bring greater heritage benefits in the form of a dedicated car park.

The Chapman Avenue Area Residents Association - a group campaigning against the plans - has also submitted a petition with more than 1,300 signatures.

The chairman of the association David Hatcher said the outcome of the meeting is a step in the right direction.

He added: "It's reassuring that the representatives of the community have taken the wider impact of the application by Bellway Homes into account.

"The thousands of objectors who have made their views known on this application are grateful to those councillors who have done their duty in seeking to protect Maidstone from the blight of this additional site."

The council will discuss the next stage on June 4.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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