this review in private with reports on yellow papers and therefore marked private and condential, and not for the eyes of those local residents.

Surely this is a case where transparency and the level of public interest is such that it would be completely morally wrong to do anything other than conduct the review in a manner that is open to residents? Only then can residents be condent in decisions taken.

There also needs to be a further review that looks both at the role that MBC officers played in the development of Bellway’s proposals and in the conduct of the defence at the appeal hearing. The suggestion is that officers may have gone beyond their statutory duty to assist the applicants and became effectively vested in the detail of the application whereby they became almost indistinguishable from the applicants themselves. I hope not. It may well be that a review would nd

that everything was done within existing rules. If that is so, we will know that the rules need changing!

Cllr Gary Cooke, Kent County Councillor for Maidstone South East

Homes will add to chaos

REFERENCE the Otham housing appeal. The other day, the bottom of Mallards

Way was closed due to ooding – when isn’t it? I live in Downswood and had to go on to Willington Street to get to the dentist at Roseacre. This took me nearly 45 minutes because the M20 was closed due to a crash and the A20 was a mess. From the dentist, I needed to go to town (my mother lives there) so I went up Roseacre Lane to go down Ware Street. This was closed because of the ooding under the railway bridge. It doesn’t take a lot to make this area grind to a halt. With the proposed 440 houses up Church Road near me, this will be nearly an extra 1,000 cars coming down there on to Deringwood Drive, then onto either Willington Street or Mallards/Spot Lane, Ashord Road, either Roseacre Lane or the Landway, then on to Ware Street. Everyone will be affected, as these people will be trying to get to the M20. Then you have the return journeys, also.

The Langley housing has already ruined the quality of Downswood and surrounding areas, and it is not even nished yet.

This really is a joke. Anyone involved in the approval of this should be named and shamed – I bet they do not live here! Has no one taken into account the smell of diesel at the bottom of Spot Lane? The amount of sewage (which was investigated) and pollution of all kinds that will affect the area? I wrote to these people objecting to it and it was a done deal, as we know. This must be publicised as it is the rape of our countryside! It is absolutely shocking.

Carl Mayne-Wheeler, via email Farewell to democracy

THE day Bellway Homes was given permission to go ahead with its development at Church Road, we kissed goodbye to democracy in this borough. I’ve said this before, but I will say it again. This council is not run by the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and a few independents – for they have struggled with the task and have looked increasingly irrelevant – but by the unelected officers at Maidstone Borough Council. They’re not meant to, of course, but they do.

It is meant to be us, the elected representatives of your readers, the people who vote us in to look after their interests. Yet over time, the inuence has shifted almost entirely away from the elected members to those paid to implement the decisions of the councillors. With the Otham development, the planning officers pushed and pushed for the Bellway proposals for 421 houses to be granted. We, the elected representatives, said no – three times. The officers did not reect on the views and opinions of the elected members, but seemed to be in favour of the Bellway proposal, no matter what. Perhaps this was best illustrated by your newspaper just a few months ago, when it revealed the staggering number of emails between planning officers and Bellway Homes. As my les record, some 2,524 emails were exchanged between the MBC officials and Bellway Homes between March 2018 and July 2020. What on earth did they have to say to one another? No one is claiming there is anything

untoward or corrupt, but it suggests a level of familiarity between the planning authority and the developer which might be perceived negatively. Perhaps, it is perfectly normal. I don’t know. What I do know is that when I try to get a straight answer from our officers, it is rarely speedy or illuminating.

I do not like or agree with the inspector’s conclusions in nding for Bellway. But I mourn the passing of democracy. Eddie Powell, borough councillor for Shepway South

We need an inquiry

REFERENCE the planning appeal decision over homes at Church Road, Otham. More than 2,000 residents and road users in Maidstone petitioned MBC with regard to the recommendation of the planning officer to approve the plan by Bellway Homes Ltd to build 421 houses and ats on land adjacent to the grade ll listed Church of Saint Nicholas, Otham. Councillors voted on three separate occasions to refuse the application. The issue went to a planning inquiry. On January 7 the inspector, Stephen Normington, allowed the appeal. The overall reasons for his decision have much to do with the original decision by members in 2015 to include this site in the Local Plan.

Upon the facts, one is led to the inescapable conclusion that the grouping of officers and leading members who constitute Maidstone Borough Council are failing in their primary and fundamental task of representing the current residents. Sadly, these factions among councillors who in the past failed us, from which we are now reaping the result, have brought insufferable consequences for the future. Accordingly, there should be an immediate referral for a full inquiry to the audit, governance and standards Committee. At that meeting, the committee should consider whether this matter can be the subject of a judicial review into the decision of the appeal. If so, it should instruct new counsel to advise before this matter passes the period in which a review can be called for. Whilst I appreciate there will be costs, it is money that has to be spent to undo the harm resulting from the recent appeal decision and ensure that similar mistakes are not made in the future. David Hatcher, Chapman Avenue Area Residents’ Association

Plans for Heather House

REFERENCE the ongoing attempts to modernise Heather House in Park Wood. When I stood for election, I said I’d try to

nd a sustainable future for Heather House as a well-loved community centre. Early on, Heather House was due for immediate closure because of its poor state. Alongside the local residents’ association, we garnered 800 signatures and got a stay of execution. Repairs were too expensive (£750,000 plus) so we looked at a bigger redevelopment, including some housing on the site of the pavilion, to fund it. I have always been aware sports clubs use the pavilion for changing facilities and storage, to use the playing elds. So, we sought to include changing facilities and storage in our plans. What I wasn’t aware of, until late October, were two things: the sports clubs, in particular Weavering Warriors, were using the building far more extensively than for changing and storage and had taken on the lease themselves. As soon as I became aware of this, a meeting was arranged through the county councillor, Gary Cooke, with representatives from the sports clubs at the pavilion. At this meeting, it was made perfectly clear that the facilities proposed at the “New Heather House” would not be sufficient for the clubs and Park Run to continue operating. A second meeting was arranged with the clubs and Park Run, this time with the council officer managing the project proposals and the architects. We took down a full list of requirements from the clubs and the officers, and architects went away to redraw the proposals. I circulated these revised proposals before Christmas, asking for feedback.



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