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Environment Agency lays road across Teston Bridge Country Park

Dog-walkers and nature-lovers alike are furious after the Environment Agency laid a road across a popular country park.

The Agency needs to do work on the weir and gantry at Teston Bridge Country Park and to provide access for its machinery it has created a 3.5m wide track across the park and fenced it off from the public.

Teston Country Park now has a road running through it
Teston Country Park now has a road running through it

It has also sectioned off an overspill public car park for its contractors' vehicles and materials, and fenced off another area, which it is calling the crane pad, nearer the River Medway. Both have had their grass surfaces removed.

Maurice Chittenden, of Woodlands Close, Teston, is a regular park user.

He said: "It’s just like that Joni Mitchell song: 'They have paved over paradise and put up a parking lot'.

"How the Environment Agency has got away with building a serpent-like road across the green sward of the park is unfathomable.

"They have also flattened an area big enough for a boatyard next to the lock and covered a perfectly fine car park with lorry loads of gravel."

Earth spoil at Teston Bridge Country Park
Earth spoil at Teston Bridge Country Park

Signs at the park announce that the Agency's intention is to make the road permanent.

Chairman of Teston Parish Council, Peter Coulling, said: "It is a scar on the landscape.

"The Environment Agency has every right to carry out any works necessary to maintain the weir, but it does not have the right to make permanent changes. That requires a planning application.

"The parish council is totally opposed to this road becoming permanent and we will fight any application when it goes in."

It is understood that the Environment Agency has argued that making the road permanent would make for easier access for repairs in future.

Contractors' plant at the Teston Bridge Country Park
Contractors' plant at the Teston Bridge Country Park

It also wants to leave the "crane pad" to provide parking for two inspection vehicles, but Cllr Coulling said: "There really is no need for a permanent access. They don't need access that often. When they repaired the lock 10 years ago, they said it should be good for the next 100 years.

"In any case, driving over the grass, when it is dry, really doesn't cause that much damage."

The park is owned by Kent County Council, which will also have the power to approve any planning application.

The Agency posted warning notices at the park on September 2 and work began on September 27.

But Cllr Coulling said: "The Agency has carried out absolutely no consultation with local residents about making the changes permanent."

Councillor Fay Gooch. Picture by: John Westhrop...... (44676401)
Councillor Fay Gooch. Picture by: John Westhrop...... (44676401)

The Mayor Maidstone, Cllr Fay Gooch, is the borough councillor for Teston. She said: "It's such a shame, because in the past we've all had a really good working relationship with the Environment Agency.

"Now they're acting just like Big Brother.

"There's been no consultation at all. Not a sausage.

"Teston Bridge Country Park is a beautiful jewel in our local crown and the Agency just hasn't twigged the high value with which the public regard it. I've had no end of people contact me over this.

"It's so frustrating."

The lock and weir at Teston Bridge Country Park
The lock and weir at Teston Bridge Country Park

Simon Webb is the county councillor for Maidstone Rural West, which includes Teston. He said he "whole-heartedly" understood Mr Chittenden's anger and said had asked for an explanation of the enforced change.

KCC said the Environment Agency had said the current works were expected to last eight weeks and were in preparation for major work of the weir next spring. KCC confirmed that a bid to make the road permanent would require planning permission.

The Environment Agency said: "We are the navigation authority for the River Medway. The weir at Teston is a key asset along the river that maintains the water level for the boating community.

"Over the past couple of weeks we have been completing some site investigations at Teston to investigate the condition of the sluice as it is at the end of its design life.

"For us to carry out these works, we need an access track, crane pad and storage area which have been fenced off to keep the public safe. These measures will be necessary for the duration of both the site investigation and any subsequent work that is required.

"We aim to finish these site investigations works by the end of October. Only then will we know what future work is needed. Once we know what work is needed, we will inform the community and stakeholders of our plans and how long any works will take.”

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