07 / 04 / 21
Local residents are being kept in the dark by Maidstone Borough Council by refusing to share the latest masterplan for its controversial Heathlands garden community at Lenham Heath.
The third version of the masterplan was expected to be submitted as part of the Local Plan Review by 31 March, but it now transpires that it will not be released until June, creating further uncertainty and anxiety for those residents directly affected by the proposal.
In the second version of the masterplan published in July 2020, the Council dropped the high-speed railway station and new motorway junction from its plans as they were unviable. Plans for a new secondary school were also abandoned which would have supported the influx of thousands of new families to the area.
The third version of the masterplan is expected to address many of the inadequacies and shortcomings in the previous masterplan, and it is understood that it was formally submitted to the planning department at the end of March.
Local Borough Councillors for Lenham, Tom and Janetta Sams have now heard that the Council intends to delay releasing the masterplan into the public domain until June.
Kate Hammond for Save Our Heath Lands (SOHL) said: “If the masterplan has already been formally submitted to the planning authority, then why is the Council refusing to share it with the public? It shows utter disregard and contempt for those directly affected by these plans.”
In 2019 hundreds of residents were shocked to find their homes had been included in the Council’s proposal without their prior notice or agreement. Since then, the Council has failed in its duty to keep affected residents informed or updated of their intentions. Many residents’ lives have been blighted by the proposal. Some are struggling to sell their homes as potential buyers have been put off purchasing homes in the area due to the uncertainty.
We understand that Maidstone Borough Council has changed the boundary of the masterplan but are not telling residents whether their land is still in or out of it now. It is disgraceful that a Council can act in this unethical and immoral way.”
At the meeting of the Council’s Policy & Resources Committee on 24 March, the Director for Regeneration & Place, Mr William Cornall reported to members that the development was expected to shift northwards from its current location towards the A20 and the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. He said that it was ‘probable’ that the 18 landowners who mounted a legal challenge last November to have their land removed from the masterplan would ‘be obliged’.
Kate Hammond said: “These small landowners had to instruct lawyers at their own expense to fight their case for them, and now they find themselves still in limbo while the Council dithers over when it will publish its next masterplan.”
Local Councillors Tom & Janetta Sams said: “The project affects many of our residents and yet right from the beginning it has been shrouded in secrecy and it seems the Council continues to make major decisions about the scheme behind closed doors avoiding public scrutiny.”
The Council has agreed to enter into a collaboration agreement with Homes England, the Government’s housing quango, with a view to handing over the proposed scheme, subject to it being included in the next Local Plan and outline planning being approved. It has also committed a further £1.5m of taxpayers’ money in addition to the half a million pounds that have been spent on the scheme so far.
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