Published: 16:06, 09 August 2018
| Updated: 16:18, 09 August 2018
Medway Council has refused to sell a piece of land which would facilitate a controversial development in Hempstead.
The majority of cabinet members agreed on Tuesday that disposing of a “ransom strip” to provide the main access for the Gibraltar Farm development in Ham Lane, Hempstead, would be bad for local democracy.
Councillors had previously rejected the Attwood family’s proposal for the near 60-acre plot in 2016, but the decision was overturned last year by central government.
The parcel of land – a “leftover” from an abandoned highways scheme – was the developer’s preferred vehicular entrance for the 450 homes planned for the site.
Council documents suggest the authority could have received “several million pounds” by selling the land or granting rights to use it, but most cabinet members were unmoved by the cash.
Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), council leader, said: “Some may say that people who work with finances – as I do in my portfolio – know the price of everything and the value of nothing. To me, the greatest value that elected members have is keeping faith with their electorate.
“I think it’s one of the shames of modern-day politics that politicians all-too-often say one thing at election time, and something different later on. I could not look my electorate in the eye with a clear conscience if I voted in favour of selling this piece of land.”
Cllr Jarrett had previously campaigned against the development as ward councillor, alongside Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch (Con).
Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con) added: “We must not be seen to, in their eyes (the public), to accept a sum of money which will be interpreted by them as the developer having paid – virtually buying – planning permission.
“That is a very serious consideration because we would lose faith in the eyes of the public if we accepted this payment.”
Concerns were also raised about how the access point could lead to even more houses being built on the Capstone Valley, which was described as “a lung” for the area.
Although the cabinet has refused to sell the land, the Gibraltar Farm development still has planning permission and developers may now look at alternative options for vehicular access.
Not all cabinet members agreed with the decision, with Cllr Phil Filmer (Con) keeping his constituents in mind when voting against the refusal to sell.
He told the meeting: “To look at the electorate in the eye where I am – out on the Peninsula – and to keep faith with them, I have to support selling this off.
“If there is any chance this jeopardises the building of 400-odd houses, the people on the Peninsula – with the amount we’ve got coming in the Local Plan – I’d have the same problem (as Cllr Jarrett).”
Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), who brought forward the recommendation to sell as portfolio holder, also voted against – adding he “fundamentally disagreed” with colleagues.
As part of the vote, cabinet also agreed to “use its best endeavours” to protect the Capstone Valley from further development.
More by this authorDean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter