Published: 11:53, 03 November 2020
| Updated: 14:33, 03 November 2020
Plans to create a garden village at Lenham Heath have taken a blow after a rebellion by some of the landowners involved.
The scheme - designated as Heathlands - was to have amalgamated land currently owned by a diverse range of freeholders to create a village of 4,000 homes (initially 5,000), complete with a new school and other amenities.
But now some landowners have expressed outrage that the land was included in Maidstone council's masterplan without their prior approval or agreement.
They have commissioned Knights solicitors to represent them and a letter of complaint has been sent to the council.
Without the 63 acres that they own between them, the masterplan would be possibly up to 990 homes short of the target, which opponents to the scheme are hoping may make the plan unfeasible.
The council had previously indicated that at least 3,000 homes were needed to make the scheme viable.
Three of the eight large landowners, initially approached, had already withdrawn from the scheme forcing the revision from 5,000 homes down to 4,000 homes.
A spokesperson for Save Our Heath Lands Action Group, Kate Hammond, said: “The small landowners have been treated disgracefully by the council.
"It is clear MBC has been negotiating with a handful of large landowners for the last two years, but failing to engage with the small landowners is a massive oversight and could threaten the viability of the scheme.
"It is appalling that the council went ahead and published its Heathlands Garden Community masterplan without first speaking to or seeking consent from the small landowners to include their land in the proposal.
"These landowners are learning about it only through reading the council’s published masterplan that they may now have a new road, cycle route, school or business centre effectively in their back garden.
"They are rightly deeply distressed and upset that the council has presented it as a ‘done deal’ and the public will assume that the small landowners have already consented to hand over their land, which is far from the truth."
She added: "This has blighted their homes."
The council could seek to use compulsory purchase powers if it can't get the consent of the landowners involved, but that puts the matter in the courts, which will be expensive, time-consuming and has an uncertain outcome.
The council is due to discuss the scheme at a meeting of the strategic planning and infrastructure committee on Thursday.