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Downswood residents group launches campaign to stop house-building at Bellway’s Parsonage Place

Residents have launched a campaign to try and prevent houses being built near their homes.

The Chapman Avenue Area Residents Assoications wants to stop more houses from Bellway Homes being built after plans for a new junction and lights in Willington Street, Maidstone, were scrapped.

The Willington Street junction with Deringwood Drive
The Willington Street junction with Deringwood Drive

The housing builder won permission for a 421-home development close to St Nicholas Church in Church Road, Downswood, in January 2021 at appeal after Maidstone council had first rejected the plan.

However, one of the conditions imposed by the planning inspector was that before any homes were built, the builder should pay for traffic lights to be installed at the junction of Willington Street and Deringwood Drive, Maidstone.

Without them, the inspector heard that the queue of traffic likely to build up in Deringwood Drive, waiting for the chance to exit into Willington Street, could extend to 200 vehicles in the morning rush hour.

Kent County Council (KCC) objected to the application on grounds of the congestion, but did not object specifically to the plan for traffic lights.

Subsequently, Bellway applied for and won a variance to the condition to allow the traffic lights to be installed before the occupation of the 100th house.

The Chapman Avenue Area Residents Association chairman David Hatcher
The Chapman Avenue Area Residents Association chairman David Hatcher

But last month, following a safety audit, KCC ruled the traffic lights at the junction could be dangerous and refused to permit them.

Many residents are now insisting Bellway should not be allowed to build and occupy more than 100 homes.

The Chapman Avenue Area Residents Association has even produced a video in which its chairman, David Hatcher, urges the 100 limit be enforced and encourages residents to check the stance of the local council election candidates before casting their votes.

Gordon Newton is the Independent councillor currently representing Downswood and Otham Ward.

He said: “Maidstone council needs to enforce this condition and KCC and Bellway need to get their heads together so that this can be moved on.

“The number of new homes must be limited until a solution is found – that’s if one is even possible.”

Cllr newton said it was a great shame KCC had not spoken out more strongly at the planning appeal.

He added: “They seemed to consider only the congestion aspect, and not the safety aspect.”

St Nicholas Church at Otham
St Nicholas Church at Otham

The junction falls on the boundary between Downswood and Bearsted Ward, where Val Springett (Con) is the borough councillor.

“I agree with the residents,” she commented.

“The planning condition should be enforced. The inspector imposed it for a reason.

“I agree with KCC that lights at this junction would be dangerous, but if they had said that at the start, the appeal might not have gone the way it did.

“I’m concerned that if these houses are built and motorists are not able to exit at the Deringwood Drive junction, it will have knock-on effects on Spot Lane and in other areas.”

Mr Hatcher said: “We told the inspector at the inquiry that lights would be dangerous.

”Needless to say, Bellway has gone full steam ahead and have now started building houses on the site.

“Bellway will doubtless apply for yet another planning variation, probably seeking to wipe out the need for junction control of any sort, that prevents them from building the planned 421 houses.

‘The planning condition should be enforced...’

“Without junction control to regulate traffic, the additional traffic from the Bellway site combined with existing Downswood traffic, will effectively lock existing and new residents on the estate at peak times.

“The Parsonage Place development site has demonstrated the madness of adding yet more houses to the overcrowded road network, under capacity sewage facilities and lack of social infrastructure such as doctors, dentists, schools, libraries, nurseries and community facilities.”

“These were all factors raised by objectors but seemingly ignored by planners”

Maidstone council has not responded to an inquiry about whether it intends to enforce the 100-home planning condition.

A KCC spokesman said: “We continue to assist the developer as they revise designs for the junction.”

Cllr Gordon Newton (Ind)
Cllr Gordon Newton (Ind)
Cllr Val Springett (Con)
Cllr Val Springett (Con)

While a Bellway spokesman added: “Discussions are ongoing between Bellway, Kent County Council and Maidstone Borough Council.

“However, it would not be appropriate for Bellway to comment further as highways matters are the responsibility of the county council.”

Maidstone council said the 100-home limit had not yet been reached by Bellway, but that it would be looking to enforce the limit if a satisfactory solution had not be found in the meantime.

The original Bellway planning application was opposed by a petition from 1,600 residents.

As well as traffic, objectors were concerned about the effect on the Grade I listed St Nicholas church.

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