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News | Local plan

Lib Dems opt to stay away from meeting

THE Lib Dem members of Maid- stone Council boycotted the critical meeting to discuss the draft local plan, at which controversial sites for houses and shops dominated the agenda. The planning scrutiny committee meeting discussed 54 sites across the borough selected by officers as suitable for housing, as the council aims to meet an estimated need for 19,600 new homes by 2031. LibDemspokesman Ian Chitten-

den said: “We all believe that through attending this meeting we would condone and dignify a process and document which we utterly and totally reject.” The group criticised officers for

their “lamentable failure to seek any local or political consensus” in forming the draft, which the group says is in stark contrast to previous local planning documents. Committee chairman Cllr Steve McLoughlin, a Conservative, said: “This was the first opportunity for members to challenge the planners on the proposed sites and the Lib Dems have not only gone against the strong tradition of councillors

to keep politics out of the planning process, they have failed to repre- sent their constituents’views when important decisions are being asked of councillors which affect the future shape of the borough.” Rob Jarman, head of planning,

said any sites that could not meet “robust” flood mitigation stan- dardswould be rejected. He confirmed the Environment Agency had said Cross Keys in Bearsted – earmarked for 50 homes – fell into this category at present, although the EA’s views would be sought again as part of the consul- tation process if the cabinet was to leave it in the draft. The committee agreed with the rejection of land at M20 Junction 8 as a site for commercial develop-

ment, in favour of increasing in- dustrial space in Marden, although the recent decision to impose a 7.5- tonneweight limit in Yalding could harm this notion, members heard. Golding Homes expressed disap- pointment that its proposed devel- opment of a 5,000-home garden suburb in Otham had not been in- cluded but Mr Jarman said this would now be reconsidered as part of the public consultation. The committee urged the cabinet,

who were meeting as Downs Mail went to press, to throw out five housing sites and one gypsy site:  Medway Street: 40 homes (to re- main as a car park)  Barty Farm, Thurnham: 125 homes (poor access and impact on listed properties)  Cross Keys, sThurnham: 50 homes (flood risks)  Fant Farm: 355 homes (grade A agricultural land and impact on Medway Valley)  Cripple Street: 70 homes (en- croaching into LooseValley conser- vation area)  The Chances, Lughorse Lane, Yalding: four pitches.

Absence is a neglect of public duty

Comment by Dennis Fowle, president of Downs Mail

MAIDSTONE Lib Dems failed in their duty to the local public by boycotting Maidstone Coun- cil’s committee scrutinising the draft Local Plan. Many Lib Dem councillors contributed powerfully to the difficult task of drafting the much-needed local plan. Some Lib Dems may not like all the proposals – and the place to fight those corners started with the scrutiny meeting. Thiswas abrogation of politi-

cal responsibility on a key local document. The public expects much better. But are the Lib Dems more

intent on trying to score politi- cal points with elections pend- ing? This decision can do them immense harm.

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