Community call on Council leader to step down over ‘Heathlands’ public consultation fiasco

05 / 03 / 22

Maidstone Borough Council’s (MBC) handling of the ‘Heathlands’ 5,000-home new town project for Lenham took another turn this week as local community group, Save Our Heath Lands (SOHL) called on the Council’s leadership to resign following the latest scandal to hit the beleaguered development. Following the recent announcement to hold in-person community engagement events on the
‘Heathlands’ proposal by an external PR firm – We are Fabrik – on behalf of MBC and Homes England (HE), the government QUANGO MBC has partnered with, residents from the parish have been shocked to hear that tickets are required to be booked in advance for a 10-minute slot. This follows recent borough council meetings where it was learnt that originally the engagement
events were not to be held in Lenham following concerns for the safety of borough councillors and council staff. Cllr Janetta Sams, independent ward councillor for Lenham and Harrietsham said, “This situation is getting ridiculous. For those having to make the trek to the Mercure Great Danes Hotel in Hollingbourne, it is going to take longer for residents to get to the event than the time they will be
allowed to see the proposal.” Cllr Tom Sams, independent ward councillor for Lenham and Harrietsham commented, “The
Heathlands project has been billed by MBC for over two years as their flagship development for the next few decades and they are only allowing affected residents to see it in pre-booked 10-minute slots. It’s shocking, perhaps it’s because they have very little to say! MBC and HE are claiming Covid-safety as the reason for the heavily regulated attendance approach but it’s not about controlling the spread of Covid at all. This is more about running a tick-box exercise and controlling Lenham residents’ opportunity to comment on this disgraceful project.”

Cllr Tom Sams goes on to say “Lenham and Harrietsham residents have this week received by post the information leaflet with details of the events being held on Sunday 6th and Monday 7th March by PR firm – We are Fabrik. The leaflet is very bland and states that the 10x bus can be used for those wishing to attend the Great Danes hotel event. On a Sunday the bus runs every 2 hours.”

Cllr John Britt, Chair of Lenham Parish Council added, “If the Leader, David Burton, and chief executive, Alison Broom, are happy with this situation then questions need to be asked. It is an utterly shameful way to treat a community that is being required to accept a proposal for a new town on their doorstep. They clearly do not have the courage of their own convictions and are hiding behind Homes England. Lenham isn’t some run-down inner city area, it is a quiet, peaceful and vibrant rural community trying to protect the environment and heritage of the area.”

Kate Hammond, chair of the SOHL action group said of the latest proposals “Maidstone Borough Council has said climate change is at the very heart of every policy the council takes, however, they are refusing to hold the consultation near the thousands of residents who are to be directly affected and then making residents drive to attend the engagement event seven miles away. MBC
should be ashamed of themselves and it is about time someone in this Council fell on their sword for the appalling way this Heathlands project has spiralling out of control.”

Ms Hammond went on to say, “Promises were made by Cllr David Burton, Leader of MBC, that Lenham residents would be kept informed and their views would be listened to all the way along this process, this has not been the case. It has been the exact opposite. Committee members at Maidstone’s Policy & Resources Committee in February voted a motion that the majority of the consultation should be in Lenham. The democratic vote by elected Councillors is being blatantly ignored.”

Ms Hammond added, “Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being sunk into this project when many people know it has no chance of flying. The way the project has been handled since 2019 has been shambolic, disrespectful and discriminatory. Cllr Burton and chief executive Alison Broom should seriously consider their positions as many residents are losing confidence in their leadership
of this fiasco and the Local Plan process more generally.”

Notes for editors:
As part of the review of the Maidstone Local Plan Maidstone Borough Council has proposed two so-called “Garden Communities”; one at Lidsing, on the border of Medway Unitary Authority, and another at Lenham Heath, on the boundary of Maidstone Borough east of Lenham. The proposer and developer of the Lidsing site held a six-week local consultation, this ran alongside the statutory Regulation 18b consultation in December 2020. Maidstone Borough Council has declared itself the “Master Developer” of the proposed site at
Lenham Heath but, so far, has resisted holding a similar local consultation about the plan for 5,000 houses on the site at Lenham Heath as is required. This article highlights the plans for the Maidstone consultation on the Lenham Heath site, which
at 5,000 houses amounts to a new town, have been restricted to four days at Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel on Sunday 6th March and Monday 7th March, Tuesday 8th March online, and Wednesday 9th March at Lenham Community Centre.

Contact details:
Maidstone Borough Councillors Cllr Tom Sams –
Cllr Janetta Sams –
Lenham Parish Council Cllr John Britt (Chair) –
Parish Clerk –
Save our Heath Lands (SOHL) SOHL –