Published: 17:05, 27 November 2020
| Updated: 17:06, 27 November 2020
Members of Maidstone's planning committee have declined to greenlight an application for 18 holiday caravans at a site off Stilebridge Lane in Marden, despite their planning officers saying they should, instead deferring a decision.
The councillors had in fact approved the scheme once - back in December last year - but that was after planning officers told them that they couldn't take into account the design of the caravans - which will be weather-boarded so as to present the appearance of a "lodge."
That advice was wrong in law and after a Judicial Review brought by Patricia Shave, the 69-year-old widow who lives next door to the site, the High Court quashed the decision and the application process had to begin again.
At Thursday's meeting, planning officer Kathryn Alteri said the previous grant of approval still remained a "material consideration" and it would be "unreasonable" for the members now to consider anything other than the design condition.
Visiting councillor David Burton (Con) disagreed, saying that since the application was first heard new living accommodation had been built on the site next to the proposed holiday park and it was right that the amenity of that residence should now be taken into account.
He also pointed out that under the council's own policy, holiday parks such as was being proposed should now all include low emission charging points for vehicles - something that had been overlooked at the December meeting.
But Ms Alteri said that although not then built, the fact that planning permission for the new accommodation was already existing when councillors granted permission in December was something they were assumed to have already taken into account and so could not be a new material consideration.
Ms Alteri made no apology to the councillors - nor to Mrs Shave - for the previous unlawful advice they had been given. The error had resulted in the council being ordered to pay nearly £19,000 towards Mrs Shave's legal costs, as well as paying its own costs for the court hearing.
On design, Ms Alteri said the applicant had provided an indicative image of what the 'caravans' would look like, and had stated they would all be weather-boarded, but had not supplied any detailed design.
Cllr Paul Wilby (Lib Dem) declared himself "not happy" that there was still no detail.
The council' development manager James Bailey said it was difficult for the applicant to give details because it was the owner's intention to sell five of the plots to outsiders who could bring on their own caravans, and he couldn't know what design they might be.
But committee chairman Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem) said: "It must be possible for us to have a template of designs to consider."
Two councillors, Eddie Powell (Ind Maidstone) and Keith Adkinson (Lab) raised the question of the alleged holiday use of the site.
Council officers were suggesting a condition that only required the occupants of the caravans to maintain a permanent residence elsewhere but put no restriction on how long they stayed in the caravan at Marden - which could be all year round.
Cllr Adkinson (Lab) suggested a better condition would be that the park was closed for one month each year.
But the chairman Cllr English shut down any discussion of that issue by saying that: "Generally speaking, that's not how the Government planning inspectorate wants you to deal with that sort of thing these days."
There are two other holiday park sites in the borough - at Pilgrims Retreat in Harrietsham and at Little Venice in Yalding - where a number of residents have bought their homes intending to use them as their permanent residence, only to discover later they were technically in breach of the law.
The committee voted unanimously to defer the application for further details of caravan design and on electric charging points.
Matthew Shave, son of Mrs Shave, said the committee had still failed to take into account new evidence about flooding on the site, and had failed to give proper consideration to how the outdoor uses of a holiday park - music, barbecues etc - would likely impinge on neighbours.
He warned: "If the council does grant permission it will be opening the floodgates to many similar applications. There are many sites closer to settlements with existing facilities which are not on very narrow country lanes like Stilebridge Lane and they would be much more suited to a development such as this.
"Granting permission for this application will provide a back door for landowners to develop agricultural property and urbanise the countryside. "
Planning application 19/500271 refers