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EXCLUSIVE: Council officials will try to overturn Otham housing scheme refusal

Monday 29th June 2020

PLANNING officials at Liberal Democrat-led Maidstone District Council will next month attempt to overturn two recent decisions to refuse a major housing development in Otham which would engulf the ancient village church, Daily Downs Mail can reveal.

Unelected officers will try to reverse councillors' decisions to twice reject the Bellway application for 421 units at a special policy and resources committee meeting on July 9.

They believe the developers, who have already instructed London lawyers, could win their case at appeal.
Whether the officials can muster the numbers to support its stance is not certain.

Opponents of the scheme, including David Hacker, chairman of Chapman Close Residents’ Association, who have serious worries about heritage, safety and highways issues, say the council should assemble its own team and fight it.

An MBC insider said: "It's become a test of wills. The officers need it to go through because the scheme is in the Local Plan. They also know that their authority is at stake, too, and they are likely to be challenged over and over again.

"They'll claim it will cost too much to fight it, yet they're happy to pour rate-payers' cash into its own Lenham project for 5,000 houses and think nothing of borrowing £19 million to buy Lockmeadow.

"Many of the elected members are feeling fed up with unelected civil servants trying to get the results which best suit them while keeping the councillors in the dark. It's got to stop."

County councillor Gary Cooke said: "I thinl the bigger argument/decision is or will be who should represent the planning decision to refuse at a potential future appeal.  

"It would be an outrage if MBC officers suggest themselves and if I were a borough councillor, I would have absolutely no confidence at all in the officers to represent the views of the members.

"All they have tried to do is frustrate the decision of the members and their behaviour has been more representative of an advocate for Bellway than the elected members - which is disgraceful! MBC must commission outside representation."

Some councillors including Maidstone Independents Cllrs Eddie Powell and Gordon Newton have openly accused MBC of now being "officer led".