Lobbying ahead of crucial council vote

29 / 04 / 20

Maidstone Council’s Policy & Resources Committee meets today, 29 April, to discuss an update report on the Council-led Garden Community east of Lenham.

This is the first time the proposals have been discussed by this committee since they gave the green light last September. Officers were asked at that meeting to bring an update report between 3 and 6 months to provide detail on their progress in negotiations with landowners and with public agencies required to deliver key infrastructure like the new motorway junction and the High Speed station.

You’ll see from our press statement last week that we weren’t happy the first of the Council’s virtual meetings was being used to discuss this very important project. We still believe that a conference call meeting is not conducive to debate such an important decision but MBC are continuing regardless.

Since receiving the update report, we’ve been lobbying members of the Committee to ensure they are aware of the full facts. It’s quite clear officers have not been telling them everything and they have many concerns with what is currently being proposed. Officers have misled them in places. Our ten points we’ve asked them to seriously consider are:

  1. Landownership is complicated with a number of the principal landowners part of complex farming family trust
  1. The proposal is uneconomic. The numbers do not stack up.
  1. The A20 will not be able to accommodate the volumes of traffic. A dual carriageway will be required
  1. There is no employment in the area. The development will require car-dependent travel to jobs, leisure and services.
  1. There is no sign of a development partner and it is even less likely now
  1. Residents, Parish Councils and local businesses DO NOT support the project
  1. The Council’s submission to the Call for Sites process was non-compliant and invalid
  1. The site’s rich archaeological value and mineral assets will cause too much problem
  1. Lack of transparency on the Council-led garden community proposal is for a reason
  1. A climate emergency in Maidstone will be further exacerbated by building unsustainable development in the countryside

You can read more detail under each point here as part of the document we sent to all member of the Council this week.

We have an opportunity to ask the Chairman five questions at the beginning of the meeting and the questions we will be asking can be viewed here.

We’ve also been offered an opportunity to address the committee before they discuss this paper and the speech we will give can be found on the right.

Our speech to members of the Policy & Resources Committee ahead of their vote on 29 April is as follows:

Thank you for allowing the Save Our Heath Lands Action Group an opportunity to speak to you.

Many of you will have become familiar with our Group’s faces over the last 7 months. It is therefore ironic that today when we get to formally address you, you can not see, but only hear us.

You will have come to expect our dogged questions at council meetings. The Leader faced our community in January. We have also written to the Council many times in search of greater transparency.

Our core message throughout has been simple though. This proposed garden community is in the wrong location and should not be pursued any further.

We understand the Council’s position. We know you needs to build more houses and we know you’re trying to think more strategically through new settlements or significant urban extensions.

What we don’t understand is why you landed on Lenham Heath. We’ve repeatedly asked you to publish your boroughwide analysis to explain this decision-making but to no avail.

Despite being in such an unsustainable location, Lenham has already accepted its civic responsibility to accommodate up to 1,000 new homes doubling the size of the village.

For those that don’t know the area, we can tell you that we are just about as isolated from urban facilities as you could possibly be in the borough. Our journeys rely on the use of our cars.

Yet we now have to contend with our own Borough Council forcefully progressing a new town proposal in the middle of the countryside.

Garden Communities have had mixed reviews across the country. One of the success factors of the good ones is the simplicity of landownership. These typically involve a handful of major landowners.

What we don’t understand is why our Council has chosen a site with over 130 landowners, two traveller sites, an industrial estate, quarry, protected nature reserve, two rail lines, and a motorway. This is the most complicated site we can find in all of the garden community proposals across the country.

Ahead of the meeting, we have shared with you all our ten key concerns and we hope you have found time to consider our points. Your officers are painting a wildly optimistic picture in their report of this project.

Taking transport for example. A motorway junction is not deliverable. You all know that and to simply rely on the A20 to cope with the extra traffic is truly fanciable.

Apart from one or two principal landowners, no others appear interested. Negotiations have been underwhelming to date and we don’t think your officers have been truly open with you.

One of the biggest failures of public and private projects is knowing when to stop.

We believe there are significant concerns and questions to be answered as to the viability of this project.

Investing further taxpayer’s money in this proposal would be grossly irresponsible decision when your Leader has already expressed concern about your finances.

Giving the green light for this project today will undoubtedly attract legal challenge from other developers. It will be interpreted that this Council is putting its own interests and that of one or two major landowners ahead of 333 other site proposers.

Today is an opportunity for members of this committee to stand up and be counted. To acknowledge that this project has no prospect. To not keep falling for officer’s misleading claims or being whipped to tow the party line.

Members of this committee will be held to account for protecting their own wards from development while ignorantly pursuing a housing windfall which many of you know will not materialise.

I appeal to you today, on behalf of Lenham’s residents, to do the right thing and put this project out of its misery now before it’s too late.