Published: 12:54, 30 April 2020
| Updated: 13:57, 04 May 2020
A council says a new motorway junction on the M20 between Ashford and Maidstone could still be feasible, even though plans for the transport link as part of its 5,000 homes scheme have fallen through.
It comes as Maidstone Borough Council held its first virtual meeting to discuss the future of the Lenham Heath garden village development.
Joe Coshan from KMTV reports
The council-led scheme could see the homes built on the countryside east of Lenham.
In a report to the council's policy and resource committee, officers said building a new motorway junction and high speed rail line were no longer feasible.
But, in his opening statement to the committee, director of regeneration and place, William Cornall, stated this idea is still on the table.
Mr Cornell said: "The case of a motorway junction could still be made if it could be linked to other larger scale developments either in Maidstone or perhaps in Ashford too as each authority's local plans continue to evolve."
Given previous decisions, Cllr Jonathan Purle (Con) described the council's position on this proposal 'as clear as mud'.
David Smith, from Hubbard's Farm, owns part of the land the council needed to build the original junction.
The 61-year-old previously said he has turned his back on selling because he doesn’t want the area turned into ‘another Ebbsfleet’.
He said: “I don’t want anything to do with this plan, I think it’s disastrous for Lenham Heath.
“I completely accept houses have got to be built for local people and for a local need, but if you build a town in the middle of nowhere it’s essentially a commuter town for rich people to go to London. That’s not what Maidstone needs.
“I have said to the council, if they need the land for affordable houses for local people, I would sell a modest amount. I would even fund this development myself.”
Mr Smith added: “My wife and I could probably walk away from this much in riches but I would hang my head in shame until the day I die. It’s morally wrong.”
A council spokesman said: “The appointed transport consultancy suggested a focus on sustainable transport measures, to include improving access to, and infrastructure for public transport, and an emphasis on walking and cycling infrastructure within the new community.
"The transport advice given has not been informed by the willingness, or not, of any of the landowners to participate in the overall proposal.”
In response to yesterday's meeting, Helen Whately MP (Con) for Faversham and Mid Kent said she feels the council has chosen to ignore people’s concerns to endorse this unpopular plan.
“The decision rides roughshod over local views. Lenham Heath is completely the wrong place to build 5,000 new homes. The development would destroy a beautiful area of farmland at the foot of the North Downs and put huge pressure on local roads and services.
“I’m grateful to those councillors on the committee who raised concerns about the development and voted against the proposal.
“We need to reduce traffic on our roads and build homes nearer to local jobs - this development will not deliver either of these objectives. It risks becoming a London commuter village, which is not what local people need or want.
“It’s incredibly frustrating that legitimate concerns from residents have not been listened to.
“I’ll continue to work with the parish council and the Save Our Heath Lands (SOHL) campaign to fight this development every step of the way.”
In the search for the new location, chairman of the committee and council Leader, Martin Cox (Lib Dem), said despite concerns he believes this would be a good thing for climate change.
"I think there are quite a number of people who, when driving down the M20 heading east, suddenly through some distraction, do not get off at Leeds Castle and therefore have to go all the way to Ashford. This is just adding to the carbon footprint and I'm sure that’s not the only view for supporting it."
Kate Hammond, committee member at the action group SOHL said she was disappointed by this comment.
"The motorway and the high speed station were taken out because it wasn't viable, but now the council has turned around and said no we've got to have it.
"I don't feel the councillors are holding officers to account."
The group previously criticised MBC for choosing to discuss this topic at the first meeting during a health pandemic.
A council spokesman said: “The council’s policy and resources committee received a report on this proposal in September 2019. At that point it was agreed that an update report would be provided to the committee by the end of the financial year. Whilst the report is one month later that envisaged it is important that the committee is updated as to the progress made to date, and to assess and decide upon the different options available.”
The deliverer of the new junction would be Highways England. If the council can get it to support the idea, highways bosses would take the lead in terms of location.
In yesterday's meeting, the committee voted in favour of the recommendations which means Mr Cornell was granted authority to enter into renewed lockout agreements with the residual landowner group.
Despite three members voting against the plans, the council can now continue to explore potential partners for its role as master-developer.