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Local plan consultant admits to advising housing developers

THE consultant who came up with Maidstone’s 19,600 housing target insists therewas no conflict of interest after it emerged it is employed to “justify development schemes”. GL Hearnwas given the contract

by Maidstone Council to undertake an independent and objectively as- sessed survey that decided the bor- ough would need 19,600 homes between 2011 and 2031. This iswell above the 11,080 figure until 2026 set by the South East Plan, which was published by the Government in 2009. Not only is the council basing its

draft local plan on 19,600 homes, but also its five-year land supply assessment, which means the coun- cil’s powers to prevent housing in the open countryside will remain severely limited until the local plan is adopted. GL Hearn states on its website

that it has a team of more than 100 people in the development sector and “acts for many of the leading developers and is currently advis- ing on schemes totalling over 3m [million] square feet”. It says one of its areas of expertise

is to produce “a robust evidence base…to inform local and sub-re-

gional planning and support and justify development schemes”. GLHearn’s list of clients includes

Tesco, which it has helped gain plan- ning permis- sion and compulsory purchase or- ders for new supermar- kets. The company was also in- volved in land acquisitions in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) scheme. Gary Thomas, chairman of the Maidstone committee of CPRE Pro- tect Kent, said: “Their primary role is in development andwe question whether they are the right people to do the job.GLHearn must admit they have an interest in develop- ment and this should have been de- clared in the report. “I intend to put in a Freedom of

Gary Thomas

Information request to find out why Maidstone Council decided to go with GL Hearn.” A council spokeswoman ex- plained that GL Hearn also as- sessed housing needs for neighbouring authorities Ashford and Tonbridge and Malling at the same time as the Maidstone survey. Swale and Medway councils were invited to join the commission, but declined. She said the contractwas put out

to tender and only two responses were received, the other being GVA, whichwas interviewed. She said: “GL Hearn was ap- pointed for its experience and ex- pertise working with both public and private sector clients. It has car- ried out similarwork for around 70 local authorities, and we are confi- dent that the report is a fair and ob- jective assessment of the borough’s housing need.” Cllr Tony Harwood, deputy

leader of the Lib Dem group, said it was “a case of poacher turned

gamekeeper”. He added: “We had no say in the consultants used or the parameters set for them.We have criticised the report and ‘bloated target’ since its first appearance. “The poacher turned game- keeper thing shouldn't matter as consultants’ reports are only as good as the parameters guiding their endeavours. Maidstone Coun- cil should have ensured a continu- ation of longer-term sustainable growth, not a steep growth trajec- tory.” A GL Hearn spokeswoman said:

“Like many property and planning consultancies, GL Hearn works for a range of public and private sector clients.

“Before bidding for thiswork,we checked thatwe had no conflicts in acting for the council. Across Eng- land,GLHearn has advised over 70 local authorities on housing need over the last three years, including authorities in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire.”

‘Base target on Population forecast ‘is flawed’

rest of Kent’ PROTECT Kent believes Maidstone Council should base its housing targets on the rest of the county, which would mean a draft reduc- tion in the 19,600 it is working to- wards. The Maidstone district commit-

tee of the group says the logic be- hind the council’s strategic housing market assessment (SHMA) by GL Hearn, which says the borough needs 19,600 homes between 2011- 2031, is flawed. CPRE says the study has over- looked Government projections from the Office of National Statis- tics (ONS), which say there is likely be a 22% increase in homes in Maidstone for the 20-year period, meaning a target of 14,170. In Kent, the ONS forecasts a

13.3% increase, which, if translated to Maidstone,would mean a hous- ing target of 10,950. AProtect Kent statement said: “It

would seem appropriate for MBC to claim it should look to achieving the Kent level of growth, having achieved major growth in the re- cent past, and plan for 10,950 households by 2031 as a maximum. “This would show that Maid-

stone had a five-year land supply and bring the current developer scramble under control.”

32 Maidstone Town April 2014

ONE of the reasons for Maidstone Council’s target of 19,600 new homes is the high number of dwellings built on the borough’s brownfield land at the beginning of the century, according to the Lib Dem group. The Lib Dems claim they can

come up with a lower housing tar- get – should they be elected in May – by proving that recent growth in the borough is a “blip, not a trend”. GL Hearn’s final figure for hous-

ing need between 2011 and 2031 was partly based on population sta- tistics. In 1991, the borough’s pop- ulation was 135,000 and rose to 137,000 in 2001. But by 2011 this had gone up dramatically, to 153,000, due partly to Maidstone Council’s success in regenerating

previously developed land. Cllr Tony Harwood, deputy

leader of the Lib Dems, says this spike is being used to justify high growth levels in the next two decades. He said: “We were successful in

delivering regeneration in sustain- able locations and a good yield of affordable housing in the first decade of the millennium. “However, thiswas clearly a blip

and must not set a precedent for the future. Our greenfield sites and villages are not up for grabs in the way that derelict urban siteswere.” The Lib Dems have concluded

that, of the 67 local authorities in the South East, Maidstone’s hous- ing projection for the next decade is the third highest in number, fifth

highest in percentage and has a fourth highest increase from previ- ous projections. Having achiev ed growth be- tween 2001 and 2011, the group says the council should now look to match growth projections elsewhere in Kent and plan for a 10,950 housing target by 2031. Cllr Harwood added: “There

Cllr Tony Harwood

must be an element of consent in the future of the borough.We have found no appetite for Maidstone to become a regional capital.”

County show dates for diary Charity river run

THIS year’s county show at Detling will run from Friday, July 11, to Sunday, July 13. The EcoVillage is back, and

there will be even more agricul- tural displays, including the Lamb National on Friday and Saturday, say the organisers. The Creative Craft Show, main ring displays and performances

on all three days by the Band of the Corps of the Royal Engineers, at Chatham, will be among the crowd pleasers. Organisers have also decided to

keep ticket prices the same as last year, when 75,000 people at- tended over three days. The show will open to visitors from 8am to 6pm.

THE fourth Maidstone Riverside charity run takes place on June 8. The route, which is just over

five miles, starts fromWatering- bury and finishes at the Mille- nium Bridge. Entry costs £12 in advance or

£15 on the day, in aid of breast cancer research. For details go to

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