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M20 Junction 8 scheme thrown out

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Councillors have rejected plans to build a large commercial complex near Junction 8 of the M20.

Members of the planning committee last night went against their officers’ advice to refuse a bid from Roxhill Developments for a mixed scheme of warehousing, light industrial units and offices across 19 hectares of land at Woodcut Farm off the A20 at Hollingbourne.

The site formed part of the former failed Kent International Gateway site, on which the borough had spent £1.7m opposing at a protracted appeal.

Part of the proposed development site
Part of the proposed development site

Visiting Councillor Mike Cuming (Con) said the fact that that officers were now recommending approval on the site was “mind-boggling “ considering it was so close to the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and to the Waterside Park development on the opposite side of the A20, which had also been refused permission by an inspector at appeal.

The applicants argued that the development would bring £47m of investment to Maidstone and could create 1,400 jobs, but visiting councillor Valerie Springett (Con) described the proposal as “an ugly blot on the landscape” and said it was premature to consider the proposal before it had been tested by an inspector’s examination of the Local Plan.

Cllr Eddie Powell (Ukip) warned of the traffic chaos that would ensue on the single-lane A20 and Cllr John Perry (Con) pointed to a discrepancy in the advice given by the borough’s own conservation officer - that harm to nearby listed buildings would be only “serious”, whereas KCC’s officer had described the harm as “significant.”

Cllr John Perry: We make the decisions
Cllr John Perry: We make the decisions

Planning officers repeated pressed the committee to accept the scheme, to the point that the chairman Cllr Perry eventually had to rebuke them, saying “I’m sorry, it is the members who make the decisions.”

The vote was close, with seven members for refusing the application and six voting against refusal.

Although the planning process is supposed to be entirely non-political, there was a party consistency in the voting.

Those for refusal were:

Cllr Matt Boughton (Con)
Cllr Paulina Stockell (Con)
Cllr Martin Round (Con)
Cllr Shellina Prendergast (Con)
Cllr John Perry (Con)
Cllr Michael Hemsley (Con)
Cllr Eddie Powell (Ukip)

Those against refusal:

Cllr Brian Clarke (Lib Dem)
Cllr Martin Cox (Lib Dem)
Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem)
Cllr Tony Harwood (Lib Dem)
Cllr Michelle Hastie (Lib Dem)
Cllr Steve Munford (Ind)

It is expected that the developer will appeal against the decision, but if the appeal process follows its normal length of time, the hearing is unlikely to be heard until after the determination of the borough’s Local Plan.

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