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Parish council angry at lack of consultation on Heathlands garden village proposal

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Frustrated and annoyed, that's how the chairman of Lenham Parish Council said he felt when learning of Maidstone council's plans to build a 5,000-home garden village in his parish.

Richard Greenwood said: "We had just spent two years preparing our own Neighbourhood Plan and carefully deciding how the village could absorb the 1,000 new homes the borough wants us to take under its current 2017 Local Plan when we heard."

Lenham parish councillors John Britt and Richard Greenwood
Lenham parish councillors John Britt and Richard Greenwood

Cllr Greenwood said that despite being the elected representatives for Lenham, the first time the parish council knew about the garden village scheme was when they read about it on KentOnline.

Cllr Greenwood said: "The borough council kept the whole thing secret. They even took the landowners they were talking to away to Ebbsfleet for their discussions so that no-one in the village would find out. There was no consultation until after it was leaked to the press."

Lenham's Neighbourhood Plan is now at the Regulation 16 stage - a final opportunity for villagers to comment on the proposals before it is later put to a referendum and - hopefully - adopted.

But Cllr Greenwood said: "Now some villagers are saying to us 'What's the point now they are dumping these 5,000 homes on us?'"

The 5,000-home garden village - which the borough is now calling the Heathland Garden Community - is not part of the Lenham Neighbourhood Plan and is bitterly opposed by the parish council, with Cllr Greenwood pointing out that it would start only half a mile from Lenham's historic Norman church.

St Mary's Church in Lenham dates in part from the 1100s
St Mary's Church in Lenham dates in part from the 1100s

His colleague Cllr John Britt was sceptical of the "bonuses" being promised with the garden community proposal - which included a new junction on the M20 and a station for the high-speed rail line.

He said: "The whole point of the high-speed trains is that they don't stop. They won't want to build another station just minutes away from Ashford."

He also said that although large, the proposed 5,000 homes would be nowhere near enough to finance all the promised infrastructure improvements.

He said: "The new M20 Junction 10A cost £110m. Will the development generate anywhere near that money?"

In any case, the typical wait for a motorway junction from design to completion was 10 years which, he said, was plenty of time for it to be cancelled along the way.

Is there money for another motorway junction at Lenham?
Is there money for another motorway junction at Lenham?

Meanwhile said Cllr Britt there was an urgent need to crack on with Lenham's Neighbourhood Plan.

He said: "Once passed it will at least help control development in the village until the borough completes its Local Plan Review - and we are still having applications come forward that are not on our preferred sites."

An application for 15 new homes in the village that had been opposed by both parish and borough was recently approved by a planning inspector on appeal.

The Neighbourhood Plan is being fully supported by Save Our Heath Lands (SOHL) a residents' protest group set up to fight the garden village proposal.

Spokesman Kate Hammond said: "We fully support Lenham Parish Council’s Neighbourhood Plan as it does not include provision for the borough-led garden community."

Lenham: Can it stay this rural?
Lenham: Can it stay this rural?

She said: "The Neighbourhood Plan takes back control of strategic planning for our village.

"Lenham is already agreeing to provide for up to 1,000 more new homes in the next ten years which almost doubles the size of our village.

"Residents have solid reasons why they do not want the 5,000 home garden community and Maidstone council needs to start listening to the parish council and residents."

There will be an open day to discuss the Neighbourhood Plan from 11am to 3pm at Charing Heath Memorial Hall. All welcome.

Meanwhile, William Cornall, the borough's director of place and regeneration, has been put in charge of the Heathlands project.

William Cornall is in charge of the Heathlands project
William Cornall is in charge of the Heathlands project

In a newsletter to the village, he said: "We have received a high number of garden community proposals and it is important to make clear that Heathlands is only one of those currently under consideration and it is still at an early stage.

"No decision has yet been reached on which, if any, proposal to take forward as a draft allocation in the Local Plan Review."

He said that decision would be made in October.

Mr Cornall said: "If the proposal for Heathlands progresses, the council will later this year engage a specialist firm of high-quality design and master planning consultants to further develop the vision.

"An essential element of their brief will be to consider the potential impact of a new garden community on local residents and the relationship between the existing and new communities. "

Save Our Heath Lands protesters outside theTown Hall
Save Our Heath Lands protesters outside theTown Hall

The public consultation on the Lenham Neighbourhood plan runs until 5pm on March 27.

Comments can be emailed to neighbourhoodplanning@maidstone.gov.uk

Or sent by post to Strategic Planning, Maidstone Borough Council, Maidstone House, King Street, Maidstone, ME15 6JQ.

If you wish to comment on the borough's Heathland Garden Village proposal, you can email Heathlands@Maidstone.gov.uk

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