Published: 14:23, 23 August 2019
| Updated: 14:36, 23 August 2019
Furious councillors bemoaned a decision to delay a final vote on a proposal to demolish the old KCC reference library in Maidstone and replace it with 170 apartments following an extraordinary intervention from a committee chairman.
The chairman of the borough council's planning committee, Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem), personally intervened to halt a heated discussion at Maidstone Town Hall last night.
His interjection came following an hour-long debate over Peker Holding's proposal to demolish the library in Chatham Road, Springfield, and replace it with dozens of flats in a staged development rising from six to 16 storeys, which would be one of the tallest buildings in the town.
The Maidstone councillor said further delay was necessary due to the absence of "significant" pieces of information, which he thought was needed to enable the committee to reach a verdict.
Several members were left visibly furious by the chairman's decision, including Shepway councillor Alan Bartlett (Con).
The frustrated Conservative told his colleague: "We have just spent about an hour discussing this and now you are telling us to defer it.
"Why can't we just go to the vote now?"
Several other members also attempted to protest the chairman's decision, but an angered Cllr English responded: "I am not going to entertain, either officers or members, speaking in favour of the application or refusing at this point.
"Is that clear?"
When the deferral vote came, the committee was split down the middle, with seven members voting in favour of delaying a decision on the application and six voting against.
The meeting's climax capped off an emotionally charged discussion over the proposed development, which was been an ongoing issue for the council for the last 24 months, but was talked up by the agent of the applicant, Liam Nellis, at the start of the meeting.
He told the committee the regeneration of the former KCC library would have a "positive" effect on the community as he pledged to invest around £600,000 for off-site affordable housing and £500,000 for a community centre and off-site open space area.
One of the main supporters of the scheme, Cllr Tony Harwood (Lib Dem), who represents the area, said residents in his ward had been living next to a "demolition site" for 20 years and they wanted change.
He said: "We have had generations of residents living amongst dereliction and partly demolished buildings."
However, other members were minded to follow the recommendation of officers to refuse the application due to the lack of affordable housing and concerns over the project's scale, density and design.
Coxheath councillor Lottie Parfitt-Reid (Con) told the committee she was appalled by the design and questioned whether the town would want the tower block in 40 years time, saying: "This is not a structure that should be gracing the banks of the historic River Medway."
Staplehurst councillor John Perry (Con) said the high-rise developments may work in London, but not in Maidstone, adding: "I'm not prepared to stick my neck out on something I do not like.
"Our riverside has suffered over the years from rather strange decisions and I just do not want us to add to it."
The vice-chairman of the committee, Cllr Martin Round (Con), added: "I like high rise (buildings) if they are iconic, well engineered and designed but I do not think this is it."
However, as the debate drew on, issues began to surface around the absence of key pieces of information leading to Cllr English's intervention to put a motion of deferral forward.
As a result of the deferral vote, council officers have now been tasked to acquire more information to help the committee reach a verdict.
This includes acquiring a "viability assessment" from the applicant, a document which will detail how feasible the project is, which will be widely circulated to elected members and the public on the council's website.
Officers have also been told to compile a list of existing collective section 106 funding towards community facilities in that part of the town to see how much the local planning authority has in reserve and is able to spend.
Section 106 agreements are conditions which are attached to a planning permission, negotiated by the council, which must be adhered to by the developer before carrying out its development.
Maidstone council's next planning meeting is scheduled to take place in a month's time on September 26.