Published: 21:43, 07 January 2021
| Updated: 14:32, 08 January 2021
Maidstone Borough Council's (MBC) decision to reject plans for more than 400 homes in Otham has been overturned by a government inspector, leaving the authority potentially with a costly bill.
A planning enquiry in November jointly considered two appeals by housing developer Bellway: one an appeal for non-determination of an outline application for 440 homes, and the other a refusal by the council of a detailed application for 421 homes, both on land west of Church Road, next to St Nicholas Church.
The authority backed residents who raised road safety concerns, but there had always been fears that with the site in the Local Plan, the rejection would be challenged and Maidstone would be at risk of paying costs if any appeal went against it.
Today, the planning inspectorate, a government agency, announced that the inspector Stephen Normington had ruled in Bellway's favour and granted planning permission for both applications.
Mr Normington also ordered MBC to pay partial costs, by covering the expense incurred by Bellway in fighting one of the council's reasons for refusal. It is not decided yet how much that will be.
In July the council's policy and resources committee voted to reject the scheme, despite a warning it could face paying £165,000 if the developer successfully fought back. The scheme had already been rejected twice by the planning committee.
Officers recommended the plans be approved, fearing the developer would likely win an appeal.
But councillors said the proposed traffic lights at the Deringwood Drive and Willington Street junction will result in severe traffic congestion on Willington Street.
They felt the proposal would result in worsening safety issues on Church Road which had not been addressed in the application.
The site was earmarked for development in the council’s adopted 2017 Local Plan.
But even when this discussion was being heard, an appeal was already secured.
In mid-June Bellway lodged an appeal with the planning inspectorate over non-determination of an outline application for the same site, which meant the application was already out of the council's hands. It's discussion could only go forward as advice to the planning inspectorate.
During the appeal, Bellway's barrister Hashi Mohamed said highways objections raised by KCC were “unreasonable” and suggested the authority should have done more to improve congestion already.
He criticised local councillors for not fully understanding their own Local Plan and was particularly harsh about Richard Knox-Johnston, who had given evidence for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, saying: “Mr Knox-Johnston will no doubt complain that councillors and local people know best; well we know if they had their way, not a single house would be built, and generations left without an opportunity to have a home.
“It is this general attitude, sadly, which informs the opposition to this proposal.”
He declared the highways objections raised by KCC were “unreasonable,” and said that in fact KCC “is really part of the problem” in not having spent the contributions it had already obtained from other developers towards improving traffic flows on Willington Street.
For Maidstone council, Megan Thomas said the applicants had admitted that if the housing went ahead it would be necessary to construct traffic lights at the junction of Dering Wood Drive and Willington Street, adding to delays to a “commonly used cross-town route.”
She also argued that the developer, who was now agreeing to widen Church Road along the part it controlled to 5.5m wide, could not make the whole of the narrow road safe for two large vehicles to pass because it did not control the length of the road.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England argued Bellway had failed to show how Church Road could be modified safely and described the effect of the development on listed St Nicholas Church as a “tragedy.”