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EXCLUSIVE: Lenham Heath residents 'under demolition threat' by borough council

Tuesday 26th January 2021

LANDOWNERS at Lenham Heath who are unwilling to sell to Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) for its massive 4,000 house "garden community" are fearful their properties are under threat of compulsory purchase (CP) or demolition.

Lawyers for eighteen residents, all of whom own small plots, have been told by Yorkshire-based legal firm Pinsent Masons, representing MBC, the authority hopes to proceed with an agreement.

But the author then expresses the wish to "avoid acquisition and demolition of people's existing homes".

Now MBC, the self-styled "master developer" of the project, has been accused of causing the property owners "mental stress and anxiety".

A letter, written by Pinsent Masons' partner Anne Bowden and seen by Daily Downs Mail, sent on January 7 states: "So that there is no further misunderstanding the Council wishes me to retiterate that inclusion of land within the area proposed for the new garden community does not mean that all of the land within the identified area would need to be acquired from present owners.

"....the council wishes to proceed so far as possible by agreement and to avoid acquisition and demolition of people's existing homes.

"It is also proposing the creation of a landscape buffer around retained homes, in order to minimise any adverse impact of the proposals on existing owners."

The 18 have already requested to be removed from the MBC plans and appointed Knights solicitors to represent their interests.

Now the pressure group Save Our Heath Lands (SOHL) says the landowners are now under an "assault on residents' landholdings and livelihoods".

A letter to local councillors states: "(Lenham Heath) is a council-led scheme, at the moment tarnished by a lack of planning justification for the scheme and now resorting to scaring residents and threatening compulsory purchase of their homes.  Is this the way councillors want to be remembered?"

In a letter to Pinsent Masons, SOHL's Kate Hammond said: "It is important for us to remind you of the human impact your client’s proposals are having on this group of landowners. The stress caused as a result of the uncertainty is leading to some of our landowners having sleepless nights and to be sick with worry. "

MBC have, in recent weeks, hinted at stepping aside from the project, leaving the future to Homes England, the government’s social housing body. MBC has still to sign an official agreement with HE.

None of the five principal landowners have yet agreed terms with MBC. The authority is under pressure to fulfil the Government’s massive housing targets.

An MBC spokesman said said: "Maidstone Borough Council has been on record from the outset of the project that it does not wish to see existing homes lost to make way for new development, and indeed the current masterplan shows all existing homes retained inclusive of a “green” buffer around them in order to manage the transition between the existing and proposed new community.”