Published: 05:00, 25 May 2022
| Updated: 14:50, 25 May 2022
A developer has delayed its promise to install traffic lights on a "dangerous" road outside a busy park, which children and families fear for their lives when crossing.
Bellway Homes won permission for a controversial scheme to build 421 homes on fields around St Nicholas Church in Otham on appeal - its application had twice been rejected by Maidstone council, largely due to concerns over traffic.
Cllr Gordon Newton discusses the issue
Although the planning inspector granted permission last January, she imposed a condition that before any building above slab level, Bellway would have to put in traffic signals and an improved crossing at the junction of Willington Street and Deringwood Drive - immediately opposite an entrance to Mote Park used by families as well as children on their way to school.
But the company later applied to Maidstone council for that condition to be altered so that signals are only required after the first 100 homes are built and occupied.
Initially, Maidstone's planning committee was going to refuse the alteration, but planning officers warned they would lose the case and incur substantial costs.
Officers said Bellway had provided new traffic modelling since the planning inspector's decision that showed there would be no significant extra traffic caused by construction or the 100 new homes.
Officers said councillors' concerns about how dangerous and well used the crossing was were anecdotal.
But a few weeks before the meeting there had been a serious accident at the junction with a car ploughing through the safety barriers protecting the pedestrian refuge in the centre of the road.
Planning inspector Frances Mahoney sent this to the planning committee: "It was my view that the off-site traffic management measures should be completed as soon as possible before substantive deliveries of materials and construction works occurred.
"This was not an amenity issue, but a highway safety matter given the nature of the surrounding highway network."
Councillors were deeply unhappy, but nevertheless agreed to allow the delay after hearing KCC, the highways authority, raised no objection.
Cllr Gordon Newton (Ind), a visiting member without a vote on the committee, argued against agreeing the change, saying the inspector had realised that the original condition was necessary for safety reasons.
He said: "Any suggestion to delay signalisation is foolish and it's dangerous."
But Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem) moved acceptance of the proposal. He said: "We know it's the wrong thing to do, but since we have no support from the highways authority, we have to."
Cllr John Perry (Con) said: "We are in a ghastly position (having to approve). But since we are the custodians of the public purse, we have no option but to approve."
Cllr Martin Cox (Maidstone Group) suggested the council could actually go out and gather the evidence of pedestrian use itself.
Cllr Tony Harwood (Lib Dem) said: "It's true - you take your life in your hands crossing at the bottom of Willington Street. We could employ our own consultants ..."
The suggestion was not taken up. Instead the chairman Cllr Dennis Spooner (Con) reminded the committee it had been ordered to pay £120,000 in costs to Bellway when it won the first appeal.
The committee voted five in favour, none against and there were six abstentions.
The matter will be decided, however, by an appeal hearing, as Bellway complained the council had taken too long to determine it.
MBC could have costs awarded against it for wasting time, but it is likely to be a smaller amount.