An MP says a borough’s residents are “suffering from an infrastructure deficit”.
Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately made the comment in her last-minute submission before the deadline for people to comment on changes suggested by a government inspector to a key planning blueprint passed.
Hundreds of responses were received by Maidstone council on changes to its Local Plan Review (LPR) proposed by government inspector David Spencer, following a series of hearings at the Town Hall.
The LPR will shape development in the borough for the next 15 years, deciding where to allocate commercial and gypsy sites, as well as 19,669 new homes.
Mrs Whately’s submission to the “Main Modifications Consultation” before its Monday 5pm deadline said: “I understand the pressure the council is under to deliver housing.
“I receive correspondence both from constituents struggling to rent or buy homes they can afford, and correspondence from those expressing concerns about the level of development taking place.
“It is important to strike the right balance between house building and protecting the countryside.”
But she said: “Residents in the borough are already suffering from an infrastructure deficit. Infrastructure has to be built before homes, particularly roads.”
She went on to talk specifically about the two garden villages proposed in the LPR – 5,000 homes at Heathlands near Lenham and 2,000 at Lidsing.
She is concerned the settlement at Heathlands “may not have access to public transport, requiring residents to have cars and to use unsuitable narrow country lanes, while adding to traffic on the already busy A20”.
Although the plans now included a new railway station, she said: “I see no guarantee that this will be built.”
Even if it were, she said it might result in the closure of either Charing or the existing Lenham Station, which she said: “Is not a solution I could support.”
In any case, she said: “Development would be better in a location that is well served by buses and close enough to existing urban centres for some residents to be able to walk or cycle to access amenities.”
With regard to Lidsing Garden Village, Mrs Whately said: “This risks merging distinct villages into one large urban conurbation.”
She added: “People write to me every day about the inadequate local road infrastructure. I am not convinced the local road network will be able to cope with the new development, even with the sustainability plans and modifications to improve the highways.”
The Maidstone Liberal Democrat Group also made a detailed response to the main modifications consultation.
Acknowledging that the consultation was not an opportunity to rehearse all the previous arguments, it stuck rigidly to addressing the inspector’s changes – the vast majority of which it agreed with.
The Lib Dems wanted changes to his wording regarding open space at the proposed Invicta Park Barracks site, down for 1,300 homes, stressing it should be natural or semi-natural open space – as opposed to (perhaps) formal gardens or play areas.
With regard to Heathlands, it wants reference to a county park changed to Local Nature Reserve in order to “move the focus from a ‘sterile’ visitor attraction to an ecologically beneficial land-use”.
On Lidsing, they wanted the location of and extent of areas of open space identified on the site map, and again the designation to be one of Local Nature Reserve.
They were also concerned that there was not enough being done to direct traffic from the new village away from Boxley and Bredhurst, saying that the traffic it generated must access the main road network and not country lanes.
When it came to the list of highways and junction improvements set out in the plan, the Lib Dem group wants wording added that such schemes must “guarantee delivery of effective mitigation of harm to landscape and biodiversity”.
One change made by the inspector was “wholeheartedly welcomed” by the Lib Dems, and that was the removal of the draft ‘safeguarding’ policy for the Leeds – Langley corridor, which they described as a “stealth housing allocation”.
However, they felt that the inspector had not gone far enough, and his reference to there being the possibility of a bypass funded by enabling development, still left the area blighted.
They also objected to an increase in the housing allocation off Pested Bars Road, from 196 to 300 homes.
They said a late increase of more than 50% after all the previous rounds of public consultation on the lower figure was “totally unacceptable”.
All the comments received by the council will now be relayed to the inspector who will make final adjustments to the Local Plan before the council adopts it early in the New Year.