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Maidstone planning committee misled over police advice on Lenham play area behind Loder Close

By Alan Smith

Members of Maidstone council's planning committee were misled into believing Kent Police had no concerns over the location of a children's play area. In fact, they hadn't been shown the designs to comment on.

The discovery has exasperated newly elected Cllr Robert Eves (Con) who was attending his first planning meeting when proposals for a 53-home housing development in Lenham were discussed.

Cllr Eves told the committee that although he was not opposed to the application per se, he was concerned about the location of a children's play area, on the edge of the site, close to the homes of existing residents.

Cllr Eves, who was a serving policeman for nine years between 2006 and 2015, warned that in his experience, play areas often became a magnet for anti-social behaviour, especially in the evenings. He urged that the application be returned for a redesign.

But he was over-ruled, because as Cllr Paul Wilby (Lib Dem) told him, Kent Police had raised no objections.

Since then, Kent Police have written to Maidstone council to say: "Since our initial response in January, there have been a number of revisions to the plans which we have not been asked to comment on."

PC Adrian Fromm said the new location of the play area "may have an impact on existing residents from a privacy and crime prevention aspect."

He continued: "Had we been asked to comment on the play area in this location, we would have advised that it be located elsewhere."

Cllr Eves said: "I knew from my own experience that the position of the play area would be a problem.

"Unfortunately, play areas can become a meeting points for youths, especially after dusk, meaning it’s very important that these are not built right next to people’s properties.

"It’s rather exasperating to have been ignored and had my concerns dismissed, and then to find out that the police had not actually been consulted properly.

"How can the planning committee represent the best interests of the community if we are not given all the facts?"

He said he believed that if the committee had known the police would object they would have reached a different conclusion.

Cllr Eves said the experience would make him doubt the advice given to the planning committee on future occasions.

He said: "I will wonder whether we are having the wool pulled over our eyes."

*The planning application concerned was already controversial. Although the site - open fields west of Loder Close and Westwood Close - was likely to go to housing eventually, Lenham residents had been promised in Maidstone council's Local Plan that the village would not have to take any more housing until "post April 2021."

The Local Plan also promised: "Master planning of the area will be essential to achieve a high quality design and layout, landscape and ecological mitigation, and appropriate provision of supporting physical, social and green infrastructure." No such master-planning has been carried out.

Pleas from Lenham Ward councillors Tom and Janetta Sams (who do not sit on the planning committee) that the application should be rejected on grounds of "pre-maturity" were ignored.

Cllr Wilby said: "At the time the papers we had said that Kent Police had not objected so advice. I will be seeking clarification from the officers regarding why Kent Police had not been informed of the design change."

Maidstone council said: "Kent Police did not object to the principle of the open space in the position proposed nor to the location of the footpath as originally proposed.

"Their comments were: 'The low height and type of existing fencing does give me cause for concern, should the proposed new footpath run directly against the existing fence. I suggest that defensive planting mentioned above, be conditioned as part of any planning consent and that this planting be protected by additional temporary fencing until it has become mature and fully established.'

"This suggested improvement to the rear boundary treatment suggested by Kent Police was secured and is detailed on the landscape masterplan. In addition, the footpath was also relocated (which was over and above what Kent Police suggested).

"Kent Police were not re-consulted with the introduction of the play area but it was the case officer’s view that as the suggested defensive planting and temporary fencing had been secured, that would be adequate to deal with concerns with crime prevention from the juxtaposition of Open Space to neighbouring gardens."

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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