Published: 11:19, 15 October 2019
| Updated: 13:17, 15 October 2019
More than 200 villagers came together as an action group set up to fight controversial plans for a garden community near Maidstone met for the first time.
Campaigners braved the rain on Monday night to discuss concerns over the council's proposals for 5,000 homes on land near Lenham Heath.
The scheme was discussed by the policy and resources committee last month, with the location kept confidential prior to and during the meeting, despite efforts from KentOnline for details to be disclosed.
Council chiefs said including this information could compromise the authority's financial position and this outweighed the public interest in disclosing the information.
Just 10 minutes after an article was published on KentOnline, stating that location details were not revealed at the meeting, a media statement confirming the plans for land east of Lenham was released.
Documents from planning consultants, Barton Willmore, seen by KentOnline, appear to suggest the scheme would be built on land in Lenham Heath and Lenham Forstal, stretching further into areas between Charing Heath to the east and Leadingcross Green to the west.
The council is acting as the master-developer for the project, which means it takes a controlling interest in the land, leads the design process, enables the required infrastructure, identifies suitable development partners and oversees the stewardship of the new community.
Leader Cllr Martin Cox said authorities were "working together for the long-term benefit of the borough".
However, opposition to the plans has proved strong already and campaign group, Save Our Heath Location (SOHL), convened at Charing Heath and Lenham Heath Memorial Hall to discuss its next steps.
Kate Hammond, from the group, said: "People have worked hard for their house and community in which they live.
"We do not understand Maidstone’s secrecy around the proposals and why anyone associated are sworn to confidentiality.
"Why is Maidstone Borough Council keeping residents in the dark? Why are they not sharing the details of the finances and how they propose to pay for the infrastructure for the garden town? Is this proposal politically driven by councillors?"
Lenham Parish Council has also raised concerns, after recently revealing it was not made aware of the plans until they were revealed in the Kent Messenger.
Chairman Richard Greenwood said: "This whole proposal threatens to undermine the significant amount of detailed work which has taken place to create our Neighbourhood Plan which is about to be finally submitted for scrutiny."
Barton Willmore's literature claims the creation of a strategic-scale, free standing garden village would "reduce the pressure to extend existing settlements, thereby helping to preserve their historic character".
In justifying the site selection, it argues the land is flat, away from an area of outstanding natural beauty and relatively unconstrained in heritage, ecology and flood risk terms.
Also included in the proposals appears to be three primary schools and a secondary school as well as open space, a "district centre" and areas dedicated for "employment".
More by this authorTom Pyman