Published: 21:54, 13 July 2020
| Updated: 10:03, 14 July 2020
A controversial 421-home development in Otham has been rejected by Maidstone Council, despite warnings from officials that the fightback from developers could cost the local authority up to £165,000.
Acting as the planning referral body, the policy and resources committee met tonight to discuss proposals to build hundreds of dwellings around the Grade 1 listed St Nicholas Church, off Church Road.
The plan has faced heavy criticism from residents and parish councils over traffic and road safety concerns.
The application has twice been denied by the council's planning committee, and it was then put to the policy and resources committee for determination, "given the significant risks of costs", associated with the rejection.
This is the council's final stance on the matter, and the proposals will not go back to the planning committee.
Council officers recommended the application be given the green light, fearing that the developer, Bellway, will appeal to the planning inspectorate, a Government agency, and likely win.
In a previous planning committee meeting, members, giving their first reason for refusal, said the proposed traffic lights at the Deringwood Drive and Willington Street junction will result in severe traffic congestion on Willington Street.
The purpose of the lights is to mitigate traffic congestion on Deringwood Drive.
However, officers said the traffic lights would result in a significant improvement and reduce maximum queuing length.
The site is earmarked for development in the council's adopted 2017 Local Plan, which will make the council's stance trickier at an appeal, officers said.
A report ahead of tonight's meeting said: "The grounds put forward by planning committee do not explain what is different in 2020 from when the council decided the site was suitable for 440 dwellings in 2017, and it is advised that there is not a defendable reason for reaching a different decision on traffic congestion."
In their second ground for refusal, members argued that the proposal will result in worsening safety issues on Church Road, to the south of the site, which have not been addressed in the application.
Councillors pointed out that Kent County Council (KCC) Highways have objected to the plans.
KCC argue the access point along Church Road is not suitable, and the development would pose hazards to drivers using the narrow country lane.
Maidstone Council officers again pointed out that the site was adopted in the local plan, and no widening of Church Road was then agreed.
A report prepared for this evening's meeting by officers said that both reasons for refusal are unreasonable and "cannot be sustained at appeal".
Reason for refusal one is "highly likely" to result in significant costs awarded against the council, whereas there is a lower risk of costs being awarded against the council, in regards to reason two.
If the planning inspector rules in Bellway's favour, the council could pay £95,000 of the developer's legal costs and £70,000 of its own legal costs.
Tonight, the planning and resources committee gave the same reasons as the planning committee for refusal.
The motion to reject the application was passed with 11 for and four against.
In mid-June, Bellway lodged an appeal with the planning inspectorate over non-determination of an outline application for the same site.
This means that application is now out of the council's hands and the appeal is likely to take the form of a public enquiry.
However, the policy and resources committee were still asked to advise the planning inspectorate if it would have rejected or accepted the outline proposal.
The motion to reject the outline application was passed with 11 four and four against.
The reasons put forward this evening will form part of the council's defence in the appeal.