Call to see emails in village housing plan

THOUSANDS of emails were exchanged between the developers of a controversial housing scheme and Maidstone council planning officers.

David Hatcher, of the Chapman

Avenue Area Residents’ Associa- tion (CARA) attempted to use Freedom of Information (FoI) leg- islation to obtain details of all forms of correspondence between unelected Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) officials and builder Bellway Homes.

Although MBC refused to com- ply with the request, the reasons for refusal threw up a number of “intriguing” statistics, according to Mr Hatcher.

He made the FoI request ahead of Bellway’s appeal this year against elected members of MBC rejecting a plan for 421 homes in Church Road, Otham. MBC claims to have used four different techniques to find infor- mation, sent and received, between Bellway

Homes and officers

Richard Timms and Rob Jarman between March 2018 and July 2020. Using certain search parameters, one search yielded 2,524 related emails alone, while another threw up 956 pieces of electronic corre- spondence. Mr Hatcher said: “I found it in- triguing that quite so many emails were being exchanged between of- ficers and Bellway.”

The council claimed it would

take too long to sift through emails and would exceed the £450 spend- ing limit on a request under the Council silence

on £400K bill THE Mote Park Adventure Zone has made a substantial loss after its construction was hampered by a costly sewer collapse.

The attraction came in at minus £457,000, of which £403,000 was due to the cave-in. The loss will now be written off. Maidstone Borough Council bosses consid- ered legal action to recover the cost of the repair, but it was deemed unlikely to succeed. Paperwork for the policy and resources committee said: “This variance arises primar- ily from the substantial costs (£403,000) incurred as a result of the sewer collapse. “The potential for legal action to

Freedom of Information Act. Asking MBC for a rethink, Mr Hatcher wrote: “I am very under- whelmed by your response. The information that I am seeking could be crucial in relation to the costs issue in the matter of the Church Road Planning appeal. “The fact that no one is taking responsibility for this matter is noted. This management decision could prove very costly for MBC.” Ironically, Bellway has already

used FoI powers to demand corre- spondence relating to Otham from 16 elected councillors, between March 1 and June 30. An MBC of- ficer advised the members that they should comply.

The housing dispute became a

test of wills between elected mem- bers and the officers, who warned losing to Bellway at appeal could cost taxpayers dearly. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is planning to call 10 expert witnesses at the appeal hearing.

CPRE claims Bellway’s barrister

told a pre-inquiry meeting that the charity’s “unreasonable conduct” could result in it facing a claim for legal costs.

CPRE spokesman Richard Knox-Johnston said: “It is a demo- cratic principle that people can come forward and express their views. This feels like intimidation, in my view.” Bellway declined to comment.

Law rm MD MP’s sister in bald move

is announced MAIDSTONE law firm White- head Monckton has appointed a new managing director, Christo- pher Longden.

He replaces Stephen Beck, who has stepped down from the role after nine years. Mr Longden said: “I am really excited to continue expanding the legal services we offer to both our personal and commercial clients.” Prior to taking over as manag-

ing director, Mr Longden was head of the dispute resolution team at Whitehead Monckton. He is accredited by the London School of Mediation to act as a civil and commercial mediator.


A CONSERVATIVE MP has praised her “baldy sister” for shaving her head in solidarity. Earlier this year, Tracey Crouch , MP for Chatham and Aylesford, an- nounced she had breast cancer and in- tended to “go into this challenge with my studs up”. She is under- going chemotherapy after an operation for breast cancer, and has lost her hair as a result. She urged others to inspect their “bits ’n bobbins” and seek medical help if they spotted anything unusual. Tracey’s sister, Carrie, adopted the new look by shaving her hair in aid of

a children’s wig charity. So far, Carrie has raised over £2,000 for the Little Princess Trust. Donate at

recover costs was being investi- gated. However, after thorough consideration, it has been con- cluded that the prospects of suc- cessful recovery were too low to make it worthwhile. Accordingly, the cost has been written off against the committee’s budget this year. The balance of the over- spend arises because income from the Adventure Zone was below budget levels.”

MBC declined to answer de-

tailed questions from this newspa- per about the massive shortfall to be funded by the council taxpayer. In response to a Freedom of Infor- mation request, MBC refused to explain, further citing commercial sensitivities. The response read: “Disclosure would have bearing on future and current negotiations, and would prejudice the commer- cial interests of both the council, and other parties present. Whilst this matter is not subject to active legal proceedings, we are not yet in a position to treat it as concluded.” Downs Mail has appealed.

Music event

is cancelled THE popular Music on the Green in Bearsted has been cancelled for next year.

Organisers, who would usu-

ally already be planning the pop- ular event, say there is no way everybody’s safety can be en- sured due to Coronavirus. A spokesman said: “We were excited about the prospect of coming back with a bang, but there really is no way that we can ensure the safety of all attendees. “We hope that we will be able to bring the event back in the fu- ture, not least of all, for the artists, the attendees and for the charities we support.”

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