Local Plan |News

Bearsted borough councillor Denis Spooner, pictured at Woodcut Farm,

Farmsite back on the agenda

A FRESH bid has been made to create an industrial estate on farm- land off theM20 atMaidstone. Roxhill Developments argues

this time that its proposal for Woodcut Farm – off J8 – satisfies fully the use of the site identified in Maidstone Council’s Local Plan. Its outline application for up to

23 B-class commercial units on 19 hectares of open, arable land, is the latest chapter for the green field site, once proposed as the Kent In- ternational Gateway (KIG). Roxhill has reduced the floor-

space of the industrial estate to 45,295sqm – down from the 46,623sqmproposed in 2015 – low- ered roof heights to a maximum 12m and says it will provide a no- development band between it and Bearsted, with landscaping across 60%of the site. Opponents say the suggestion re-

mains inappropriate for the rural area and too close to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and tourist attraction, Leeds Castle. Resident John Bar- row, fromYeoman Lane, says: “De- velopers have been applying for this site since 2013, in the hope of wearing downMBC, irrespective of merit.” His concern about the isolation of

the site from services and public transport and the impact on con- gestion and pollution is shared by others. Kathryn Kersey, of Green-

sand Road, adds: “It is very curious thatMBC has taken,what seems to many local residents, almost a per- verse delight in designating the area as suitable for commercial de- velopment through the Local Plan. Anyone with an ounce of common sense and who knows the area is very aware that this designation is far fromcorrect or accurate.” Natural England and the

Bearsted and ThurnhamSociety are also vocal opponents of the scheme and the “significant impact” it will have on theAONB. The Bearsted and Thurnham So-

ciety adds: “The proposals are wholly speculative and there is no indication of demand for such usage that requires development to move ahead quickly and in that particular location. Given that the Local Planwill be subject to review with results published in 2021, there is every argument for a deci- sion to be deferred until the review has been completed – especially in the light of the emerging Tonbridge andMalling Local Plan.” The Woodcut Farm scheme has

been consistently opposed by Bearsted’s borough councillor Denis Spooner. MP Helen Whately has asked

communities secretary Sajid Javid to “call in” the Local Plan over con- cerns for rural villages on her patch and on Woodcut Farm, which could blight Leeds Castle.

Local Plan was ‘sound’ - inspector THE Local Plan was the focus of an

examination by independent plan- ning inspector RobertMellor and he reported back to Maidstone Bor- ough Council over the summer. A letter from MBC’s strategic

planning department stated the re- port had concluded that, subject to main modifications, the Local Plan was sound. On Woodcut Farm, Mr Mellor

stated: “Modifying the policy for the strategic employment site atWood- cut Farmto reduce its impact on the landscape and on heritage assets whilst safeguarding office provision. Modifying policy for employment

development in economic develop- ment areas in the countryside and for development involving the ex- pansion of existing rural busi- nesses.” Resident and long-time critic of

the council, Keith Young, said: “Valu- able lessons must be learned from the sad mistakes they have ploughed on with, right up to the final version.” County Cllr Gary Cooke said: “It’s

a missed opportunity in the sense that it doesn’t have at its heart an integrated transport strategy for a relief road (for southMaidstone) at the soonest opportunity.”

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