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Maidstone & Malling’s No 1 - 88,000 copies - 4 editions Maidstone Town Edition March 2011 No.167 Phased High St project under fire

IMPROVEMENTS to Maidstone High Street are to go ahead – but only in part, leading to accusations that the decision is a “fudge”. The controversial multi-million pound project is now being planned in separate stages by the Conservative-controlled bor- ough council, rather than as a single job. The first phase, from the Mall Chequers to the end of Bank Street (phases 1a and 1b) will cost £2.2m, followed by phase 2 from the Mill Street junction to the dual car- riageway, costing £1.2m. But opposition Lib Dem leader Fran Wil-

son fears the town will end up with "half a High Street".

"My gut reaction is that we either do the

whole scheme or not at all – and we find a better way of funding it," said CllrWilson. She added: "We believe it's a fudge. They

have not got the courage to say it can't be af- forded in its entirety and they know they can't put the budget in hock, so it's a fudge." But council leader Chris Garland said that

doing the project in phases would enable the council to go ahead without facing a po- tentially big borrowing bill – as much as £1.6m if it had gone ahead with the whole scheme immediately. With “ambitious yet prudent” budgeting measures it would be possible to make a

MP Helen criticises plan to cut legal aid for vulnerable

ACCESS to justice for the most vulnerable people in Maidstone may be eroded if Government plans to cut legal aid by a third go ahead. That is the view of localMPHelen Grant, herself a legal

aid solicitor for more than 20 years. The coalition government's Green Paper seeks to re-

move £350m of funding from family and other civil law cases by 2014. People will be expected to represent them- selves or find other ways of resolving disputes outside the court service. Mrs Grant said civil legal aid is there to protect its cit-

izens. “For some of our most vulnerable people, it is the only sword and shield in their armoury.” Her firm works with Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB),

law centres, not-for-profit organisations and charities in the South East. “They tell me that the predicted increase in volume and complexity of cases will be both unman- ageable and unsustainable, even under existing funding arrangements. This will only be exacerbated by reduc- tions in their own legal aid funding and other cuts in rev- enue from local authorities, charitable donations and central government grants.” Mrs Grant told the Downs Mail that Maidstone’s CAB

does a “fantastic job” but relies on 40% of its funding coming from the Legal Services Commission. “This is what may well be cut,” she added. She is happy that the borough council has

P14 Gang leader gets 14 years

MAIDSTONE man James Stewart, the leader of an armed gang, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison after a raid on the Fraser Hart jewellery store in FremlinWalk. It was one of a series of smash-and-grab raids commit-

ted by a gang, headed by Stewart, 28, of McKenzie Court. He masterminded the Fraser Hart daylight robbery three years ago. Shoppers stood in shock as two men dressed in white boiler suits smashed the shop window with sledgehammers and took £30,000 of jewellery. Later, police apprehended the culprits when their get-

away van was caught in traffic. In all, Stewart was convicted at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court of 10 conspiracies to commit robbery and

five burglary conspiracies. A total of 29 men and one woman were involved in the raids, across London and the South East. They were jailed for a com- bined total of 130 years.

Flower power girls give charity a boost

FLOWERY costumes were the order of the day when pupils at Invicta Grammar School, Maidstone, took part in a charity fund-raiser. Year 8 students Sophie Maton and Jen-

nifer Light, both 12, (pictured), joined in the floral fun which raised more than £450 for the Heart of Kent Hospice. Full story and another picture: page 3.

Frontline policing ‘will beat cuts’ P8

Barriers come down in safety drive P14

Defaced memorial upsets village


Anger at police snub for 20mph limit

P30 P22

Borough Update MAIDSTONE Council’s latest eight-page newsletter can be found in the centre of this edition of the Downs Mail.

start later this year on the first phase, lasting 18 months, and only incur borrowing of £350,000 by 2014-15 - a “manageable sum”. Cllr Garland said phase 2 - the bottom end

of the High Street - is an "aspiration". He added: "The focus of the High Street

has always been around the Town Hall and the Victoria monument and the links with Gabriels Hill andWeek Street. I believe that by delivering 1a and 1b we can raise the prosperity of the town." Cllr Garland said the public would not

want the council to get into significant debt, and the way the scheme was now being phased may result in no debt at all. Cllr Malcolm Greer, Cabinet member for regeneration, said it would increase jobs, footfall and Maidstone's economic base. He compared it to the £2m in- vestment in New Road, Brighton, which had boosted footfall by 170%. He added: "We want to show

the way to drive Maidstone for- ward and that we are open for business. If we don't, this town will just go down and down." Finance director Mr Riley

said: "We have done what we can to rationalise the scheme to make it affordable." Opposition spokesman on re- generation, Cllr Tony Harwood had suggested a better

P14 Mandarin on offer

NEW Line Learning, where the study of Mandarin is compul- sory for all Yr 7 pupils, is now offering courses in the language to the general public. The Loose academy offers Saturday classes in four age groups, ranging from four years old to adult. Classes last from 40 minutes to an hour. Info: 01622 743286 ext.213.

Jump in jobless

MAIDSTONE’S unemployment total shot up by 152 to 2,265 in January,ariseof7.2%com- pared to the Kent-wide rise of 6.1%.

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