Published: 12:16, 27 April 2020
| Updated: 13:46, 27 April 2020
A council has come under fire for using its first meeting since lockdown to discuss its own 5,000 home scheme for the countryside near Maidstone.
The next stage of the garden village development near Lenham will be discussed at Maidstone Borough Council's (MBC) first virtual meeting this week.
The council-led project wants to build the homes east of the village on Lenham Heath.
Original plans also proposed a new junction connecting it to the M20 along with a new high speed train station, however these have since been dropped.
The council sees the garden village as a way of meeting housing targets but the scheme has met opposition from residents worried about the loss of green space and additional traffic.
Protests by Save our Heath Lands (SOHL) were held outside Maidstone Town Hall in December.
The action group says MBC should be using the time to deal with emergency council matters and decisions in relation to the pandemic.
SOHL’s committee member Kate Hammond said: “Our action group has taken a respectful break given the emotional and uncertain times everyone is currently facing.
"We did not expect MBC to use this vacuum of public and political scrutiny to be a back door for officers to be working on their own agenda and push plans for their council-led garden community. At best it is insensitive to the Maidstone community, at worst it is a flagrant disregard of local democracy.”
The Policy and Resources Committee will dial in to a virtual meeting on Wednesday at 2pm.
The proposal was last considered by the committee in September. The latest meeting will look at the progress made since and invite members to move the project on to the next stage.
This would mean agreeing to further survey work and developing a revised masterplan at least until the next public consultation stage of Local Plan Review (LPR).
It will also look into whether the council should continue to explore potential partners for its role as master-developer.
A spokesperson for the council said: “The council’s Policy and Resources Committee received a report on this proposal in September. At that point it was agreed that an update report would be provided to the committee by the end of the financial year.
"While the report is one month later than envisaged, it is important that the committee is updated as to the progress made to date, and to assess and decide upon the different options available.”
Council officers have been working for the last few weeks on the technology and plans for how meetings will be conducted online.