Published: 06:00, 31 January 2021
A halt must be called to the “march towards overdevelopment” which risks leaving communities swept up into ever-expanding urban sprawl.
Helen Grant and Tracey Crouch are set to convene what they describe as an emergency meeting to discuss the ongoing development of land close to Hermitage Lane.
Both MPs have been vocal in their concerns about further construction work in the area, having last year appealed to the Secretary of State for Housing for “an urgent moratorium on all future house building” in Barming after a series of huge sinkholes opened up in the area.
Their intervention comes shortly after Maidstone Borough Council approved a controversial application by developer Taylor Wimpey to construct 181 homes in Barming on land off Oakapple Lane known locally as the pea fields.
In a joint statement they said: “We continue to be flabbergasted by the amount of development approved in the area around Hermitage Lane.
“It is unfathomable that further housing is planned for a part of our community that is already saturated with development and where the local infrastructure, from roads, to GPs surgeries, to public open spaces, is creaking at the seams. The recent sinkholes in the area are also extremely worrying for families who live nearby.
Residents in Barming fear they'll lose their homes after another sinkhole appears
“Quite frankly, people in the west of Maidstone and Aylesford have had enough of having their very legitimate concerns about the impact of this development ignored again and again and again.”
The pea field plans had been met with fierce objections from people living nearby, who are concerned about a risk of sinkholes, more traffic and the loss of wildlife and much-valued open space for recreation.
Despite community objections, on January 21 the Maidstone council's planning committee voted to approve the proposed development on the condition a working group is formed to address the issues of open space within the estate and the access available for the emergency services and bus links.
Jo Griffin, who lives in Rede Wood Road south of the pea fields site, says the area has changed dramatically since her family moved to Maidstone from London seven years ago.
“In those seven years Maidstone, and Hermitage Lane specifically, has changed beyond recognition,” she said.
“The traffic level is way above what the area’s small roads were built for, the doctors, dentist, hospital and local amenities are dangerously over-subscribed, you literally can’t get a doctors appointment even if you tried and good luck getting a referral at the hospital within six months.
“But yet more and more houses are being built in a tiny corner of Barming without any consideration to those of us who live here.
“Yes we need to build houses but do we really need to concentrate all those developments on or surrounding one road, which is the only route into Barming as well as housing the only entrance to the area’s main hospital?
“Once all these houses are finished and occupied the area will be a huge concrete jungle.”
These concerns are echoed by Cllr Fay Gooch, who represents Barming on the borough council and is chairman of Barming Parish Council.
She said: “It’s very disappointing all round.
“The north west of Maidstone really is so full of traffic, the congestion is really heavy. We are in strange times because of Covid, but in normal times we have serious traffic issues here.
“The pea fields used to be green, open space and it’s not going to be that any more.
“Where is our identity as Barming? We have been the rural edge of Maidstone and have been proud of that for decades, and now we are just going to be urbanised. I fear we will lose our identity, I really do.”
Cllr Gooch leapt to the defence of the council’s planning officers, who are in most cases obliged to recommend the approval of new housing developments in line with the local plan to meet targets for new homes.
'The cumulative effect is huge - on traffic movement, pollution and general infrastructure...'
She said: “I have to give credit to our planners. They do their best in difficult situations, but the government says ‘tough, sort it out’.”
The issue of controversial development is far from unique to Barming and the area around Maidstone, with plans also in the pipeline for huge housing developments in other parts of the county too.
Developers have unveiled a vision for a new 1,750-home village called Winterbourne Fields between Canterbury and Faversham, which would cover 178 acres of farmland off the A2 close to the existing communities of Dunkirk, Boughton and Selling.
A short distance away outside Canterbury the 4,000-home Mountfield Park scheme - the biggest plan ever proposed for the district - will be built on 550 acres of farmland south of the city.
Last year the Against Lidsing Garden Development pressure group was set up to fight proposals by Maidstone Borough Council to designate a large area in the parishes of Boxley and Bredhurst for a garden village of 2,000 homes in its Local Plan Review.
And outside Folkestone the district council has snapped up the former Folkestone Racecourse as the site for a planned 'garden town' of 10,000 homes to be called Otterpool Park.
People living close to the pea fields site in Barming, which has for years been used for exercise and dog walking, formed a pressure group called Give Peas A Chance (GPAC) to fight the plans for the land, which include an additional application for a further 118 homes on part of the field which falls under Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council’s jurisdiction.
GPAC member Sarah Jones says she believes it would be better for applications for the site to be able to be considered together to weigh the combined impact on the neighbourhood.
She said: “We are bitterly disappointed that approval can be given when there is no agreement on the issues of open space and traffic flows yet, and that items as major as ground investigations and drainage systems can be left as conditions.
“Particularly disappointing is that all the applications are considered separately when the cumulative effect is huge - on traffic movement, pollution and general infrastructure. The hospital wasn’t even mentioned at the planning committee.
“And added to the extra domestic, utility and delivery traffic resulting from these houses will potentially be the extra 200 or 300 lorries for the quarry and traffic to and from the new Tonbridge and Malling council recycling centre at 20/20.”
Land around Hermitage Lane is earmarked for thousands of new homes.
These include a Gladman Homes scheme of 840 homes at Whitepost Field, the more than 300 homes envisaged for the pea fields, 500 homes at Blue Bell Wood, 249 at Orchard Fields opposite the hospital, 208 at Preston Hall and the 69-apartment Edge estate which replaced the old nurses’ home near Oakapple Lane.
Earlier this month we reported opposition to plans for a further 330 homes close to Barming Station, and next to the proposed Hermitage Park development of 500 houses.
Objectors have labelled the new site the ‘Hermitage Park Expansion’ and a protest group called No To Hermitage Park Expansion has been formed to fight the plans.
Transport campaigner James Willis is angry that plans for more homes threaten to remove the last traces of open countryside in the area.
He is calling for parcels of land in between developments to be safeguarded to create nature reserves, linked together by footpaths.
The former Maidstone councillor said: “We really need to look at Maidstone and Tonbridge and Malling councils joining up and working together to protect this area for walkers and cyclists.”