Published: 10:03, 13 June 2014
Councillors have rejected proposals for a new out-of-town shopping centre at Newnham Court in Maidstone.
The proposal put forward by Land Securities would have seen an £85 million investment on the site, near J7 of the M20.
It would have created an enlarged Notcutts Garden Centre and introduced a Waitrose supermarket, Debenhams department store, along with 17 other stores and several restaurants.
But members were fearful of the effect on the town centre and critical of the adverse impact on the adjacent Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the local road network. They rejected it by nine votes to three.
Cllr Malcolm Greer, who had already firmly committed himself in favour of the proposal in advance, spoke for the application but had to abstain from voting.
Officers recommended refusal of the scheme saying the applicants had not followed the government's "sequential test", which required them to consider all available town centre sites first.
It was not in accord with the council's own development plan, which sought new retail development in the town centre in the vicinity of Maidstone East Station.
Officers suggested the proposal would have a "significant" adverse effect on High Street traders and on the Mid-Kent Shopping Centre.
Medway Council also objected to the scheme, fearful of the effect on its own High Street.
There were also objections from Boxley and Detling Parish Councils, the borough's heritage and landscape officers, Kent Wildlife Trust, Maidstone Town Centre Management, and the owners of The Mall Chequers, Fremlin Walk, Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce and Kent Federation of Small Businesses.
The owners of a number of town centre sites who believed their premises should have been considered as part of a sequential test - including the owners of Haynes, Len House and Granada House - were also against the idea.
Cllr Tony Harwood (Lib Dem) proposed the motion to reject the scheme, saying it "could not be any more gruesome or any more over-bearing."
He said: "It would totally change the feel of north Maidstone."
Cllr Ian Chittenden (Lib Dem) seconded the motion, pointing out that it relied on the use of the nearby Park and Ride site, whose future was uncertain.
Cllr Paulina Stockell (Con) reminded members that planning permission had only been granted for the existing Notcutts many years ago, in the vicinity of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as it was, because it was a garden centre, not a retail site.
“This is a lost opportunity for Maidstone... That is a great shame...” - Land Securities' Lester Hampson
However, Cllr Mike Hogg (Con) spoke in favour of the scheme, partly on the grounds of the extra business rates it would bring the town.
Planning officer Peter Hockney reminded members that business rates were not a planning issue.
Cllrs Dennis Collins (Con) and Cllr Malcolm Mackay(Lab) voted for the scheme.
The council's newest member, Cllr Christine Edwards-Daem (UKIP) joined the ranks of Lib Dems, Independents and some Tories who voted the scheme down.
Land Securities' head of retail development Lester Hampson says he is bitterly disappointed at the decision.
He says the FTSE 100 company is not ruling out appealing the decision to central government.
He said: “This is a lost opportunity for Maidstone.
"Together with the Maidstone Medical Campus project on adjoining land, our two schemes would have created around 4,000 new jobs for the county town but councillors have turned their backs on that. That is a great shame.
“We will now take time to consider our options before making any final decisions on the redevelopment of Newnham Court Shopping Village.”
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