03 / 11 / 20
Is Maidstone Borough Council’s recent decision to include the Heathlands Garden Community in the Local Plan Review based on strong planning grounds or is it just a game of politics?
Despite appraisals of the scheme by independent consultants warning that this is a complicated proposal, the Council have chosen to ignore this advice and has opted to adopt a high-risk strategy.
Stantec was commissioned by Maidstone Borough Council to carry out an independent suitability assessment on the seven garden community proposals put forward in the call for sites. In the report, it refers to Heathlands as a challenging proposal and raises serious concerns around transport issues, viability, local employment opportunities and how the scheme will function with the existing residential and other uses in the area.
So why isn’t the Council listening?
Heathlands is the only council-led Garden Community in the call for sites and there is a vested interest in seeing it through to the bitter end. After all, the Council has already spent a substantial amount of public money on consultants’ fees to investigate and promote the scheme. It can’t be seen to fall at the first hurdle, despite it being an over-ambitious and undeliverable proposal.
Secondly, councillors don’t want a garden community in their backyard and some are using their powers of influence to ensure that it isn’t!
This is a high-risk strategy as in the end the Council’s Local Plan will be reviewed by an independent planning inspector who won’t be swayed by politics but will be looking at the scheme in relation to the national planning guidance. It won’t take them long to realise that this proposal does not stack up in terms of the lack of infrastructure, inadequate employment opportunities and most importantly the total lack of engagement with the local community.
What is our advice to local councillors?
Put your politics to one side and base your decisions on clear planning grounds. Think objectively and put yourself in the shoes of the planning inspector when reviewing the scheme. There are many aspects of the scheme that are unknown or not published. Don’t lose control of the planning system as a consequence of politics and local influence. It’s about doing the right thing at the right time and doing your duty as a Borough Councillor on behalf of the residents in the borough, no matter what your political or personal views.
If the scheme fails, then not only will the Councillors have egg on their faces, they will have lost the respect of local residents and will be back at square one to look at development sites once more. By then, the Council really will have lost control of the planning system.