Published: 05:00, 06 January 2022
| Updated: 14:49, 06 January 2022
The future of fishing in Kent is being put at risk by a proposed garden village in Maidstone.
That is the view of Fish Legal, a law firm representing the interests of anglers.
The group argues that Maidstone council's plan to create a settlement of 5,000 homes at Lenham Heath is jeopardising the lives of wild brown trout, sea trout and protected white clawed crayfish that live in the River Stour, all of which are particularly susceptible to pollution.
Their objection is one of more than 2,000 responses which the borough has received as a result of the public consultation on its Local Plan Review, which - once approved - will direct development in the borough for the next 15 years.
Fish Legal says the use of rural land next to "the ancient village of Lenham" is "inappropriate and unsustainable."
It argued that the plan had not adequately considered the environmental impact, especially on fish, and protected species and habitats in the River Stour downstream of the site.
Dr Justin Neal said the consideration of the issues could not be left to a planning application stage, but rather he urged the Planning Inspectorate not to accept the borough's draft plan in its current form.
Fish Legal is a not-for-profit organisation of dedicated lawyers who use the law on behalf of anglers to fight polluters and others who damage or threaten the water environment.
In particular it represents the Ford Mill Fishery, the Upper Stour Syndicate, the Stour Fishery Association, the Tonford Fly Fishing Club and the Canterbury and District Angling Association, all of whom believe the Heathlands garden village will harm fishing downstream of the development site.
Dr Neal said: "We can understand that Maidstone Borough Council is obliged to create more housing in its area.
"But this is the wrong place to construct a new settlement and the consequential direct and indirect pressures on the river could be catastrophic.
"Take for instance the drainage into the river or the increased levels of sewage and abstraction of water."
He said: "The River Stour will simply not be able to cope with the increased pollution from such a development. But the council has not properly considered the impacts in terms of water and sewage provision and the potential impacts on the river.
"For that reason, the draft plan should not be accepted in its present form by the Planning Inspector or Examining Authority.”
The Ford Mill fishery is located on the Great Stour at Little Chart. The fishery includes parallel lakes fed by the river.
The Upper Stour Syndicate controls the fishery at Godinton Park Estate.
The Stour Fishery Association holds the fishing between the villages of Wye and Chartham Hatch.
The Tonford Fly Fishing Club controls the water from Chartham downstream to Thanington on the outskirts of Canterbury.
The Canterbury and District Angling Association holds fishing on most of the Great Stour downstream from Canterbury.
Dr Neal described the Local Plan Review consideration of potential pollution as "too vague."
The Great Stour, one of the tributaries of the Stour, rises near to the village of Lenham before meeting the East Stour in Ashford where it becomes a chalk stream.
Most chalk streams in England are already failing to meet Good Ecological Status under the Water Framework Directive due in most part to pollution from wastewater treatment and diffuse pollution from farming.
Additionally, the chalk aquifers of Kent are heavily abstracted by the water companies and, in times of low-flow, there are increased concentrations of nutrients in the Stour leading to algal blooms and damage to the sensitive chemistry and the downstream protected sites.
Dr Neal said: "This river is already compromised and even small impacts from development are likely to cause serious further deterioration."
A spokesman for Maidstone Borough Council said: “At this stage in the process, we are assessing all the responses we have received to the Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation. Therefore it would be inappropriate to deal with any of these on an individual basis.
"Ultimately all of the representations made about the plan will be considered in due course and will be provided to the inspector accompanied by our response to these.”