Published: 21:53, 30 November 2017
There will be an extensive office, warehouse and light industrial development at Woodcut Farm near Junction 8 of the M20, after Maidstone's planning committee approved an outline application from Roxhill Developments.
But approval was not won easily, with parish councils and visiting ward councillors queueing up to speak against the scheme in a debate that lasted two hours and 50 minutes.
Around 50 members of the public were in the gallery to hear the debate, and councillors arriving at the Town Hall were greeted with a picket of placard-waving protesters.
The eventual vote was seven in favour and five against, after two earlier motions to refuse permission, one from Cllr Denis Spooner (Con) on the grounds that the scheme did not meet the Local Plan's ambition to achieve development in a spacious parkland setting, and one from Cllr Eddie Powell (Ukip) on the grounds of the adverse effect on air quality both failed to get a majority.
Many councillors spoke of their reluctance to see development at the site, but spoke of having "their hands tied" by the site's allocation in the recently adopted Local Plan.
Charles Blake, a director at Roxhill, assured members it would be a first class scheme and that the air quality impacts would be "negligible". He said it was a "21st Century plan."
He pointed out that the application was for less floor-space, lower roof heights and a greater overall proportion of office space than the first application that members had refused last April, and which was currently the subject of an appeal.
Cllr TonyHarwood (Lib Dem) cautioned against refusing the application and forcing the applicant to proceed with the appeal application, which was worse, and spoke of the inevitability of losing at appeal.
Cllr Patrik Garten said the council was under no obligation to approve anything now, despite the site being in the Local Plan, because the planning inspector had regarded its inclusion as a "safeguarding" of office space for later if needed.
Cllr Valerie Springett (Con) said the Local Plan had sought to achieve a Kings Hill-style parkland development, and not the "large clump of warehouses that was being put forward."
But officers insisted that since the application was outline only, any objections on design or spacing could not be entertained, and insisted that what was proposed was in-line with what was included in the Local Plan.
They suggested 50 conditions to be attached to a grant of approval to ensure that what came forward from the company at the detailed stage reflected councillors' wishes for a high quality parkland setting.
At the start of the meeting, councillors heard that the Campaign for Rural England had lodged a pre-action letter warning that they might be lodging an appeal for a Judicial Review of the Local Plan at the High Court, but the council's legal officer Russel Fitzpatrick said councillors should pay no regard to that.
He said: "There is no current challenge to the Local Plan. It is a threat of an action and not a commitment to undertake proceedings."
He said if CPRE did proceed with a challenge, Maidstone council intended to defend its Local Plan in the courts.
Visiting members Patrik Garten (Con), Valerie Springett (Con), Mike Cuming (Con), Gordon Newton (Ukip) and John Perry (Con) all spoke against the plan, but had no vote.
Those on the committee who voted in favour were: Cllrs Tony Harwood (Lib Dem), Bryan Vizzard (Lib Dem), Matt Boughton (Con), Steve Munford (Ind), Martin Cox (Lib Dem), Brian Clarke (Lib Dem) and Clive English (Lib Dem).
Those who voted against were Cllrs Denis Spooner (Con),Paulina Stockell (Con), Shellina Prendergast (Con), Martin Round (Con) and Eddie Powell (Ukip).