Published: 17:00, 11 February 2016
The future of a former Army camp still hangs in the balance as a public inquiry into plans for the site, including 5,000 new homes, has been delayed for a third time.
It has been almost 18 months since Medway Council approved plans to develop Lodge Hill but the final decision lies in the hands of the government.
A public inquiry was due to take place this summer but the Ministry of Defence, the applicant behind the plans, has asked to delay the start again to allow more time for environmental surveys to take place.
A MoD spokesman said: “The MoD is continuing to work closely with the Planning Inspectorate, Medway Council, and other interested parties to consider the most appropriate timing for the inquiry.
“We have recently put forward a proposed alternative timetable to allow updated ecological surveys to be carried out so the most accurate and up-to-date information can be considered by the inquiry.”
The area was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England in 2013, and opponents of the plans say building there would set a precedent for developers to build on similar protected sites.
As well as the homes, the plans include three primary schools, a secondary school, medical facilities and leisure and shops, said to provide up to 5,000 jobs.
Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester and Strood, said she is deeply disappointed at the planning inspectorate’s decision to postpone the inquiry again.
She said: “I feel the reasons for the delay were avoidable at a much earlier stage in the process, with the result meaning an unnecessary delay to both this inquiry and the progress of Medway’s Local Plan.
“I remain determined to make sure any future development of the Lodge Hill site takes into full consideration the need for a real infrastructure strategy, particularly if we are to see an increase of households in the area.”
The plans were called in by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in February 2015 – a power only used in exceptional circumstances, less than 1% of all planning cases.
A spokesman for the Planning Inspectorate said additional environmental surveys that had been requested would not have been ready by the inquiry date. A new date is expected to be announced at the end of the month.
Work began on the plans in 2008 with developer Land Securities, an application for outline planning permission was submitted in 2011 and Medway Council’s planning committee approved the plans in September 2014.
A year later, Land Securities pulled out of the scheme despite having spent £11.3 million on it.
Since then control of the site has been handed back to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which is responsible for the Army’s estate.