EXCLUSIVE: MBC admits crunch housing crisis letter was NOT tracked
Saturday 13th June 2020
DOUBTS whether a cross-party letter asking Government to review housing numbers in Maidstone was ever sent deepened today after it emerged the borough council kept no record of its delivery.
The missive asking for the housing secretary Robert Jenrick to think again about the way quotas are calculated was sent in the post first class, with no means of tracking it.
The letter, signed by leading political figures across the spectrum, was sent on January 20, according to Maidstone Borough Council.
By April, there had been no reply from Mr Jenrick's department, leading to fears it had not been sent or simply got lost in the system.
Maidstone faces having to find 10,500 more homes than the 17,600 already agreed in the Local Plan, sparking fears the borough's already congested roads and public services will not be able to cope.
Tory oppostion leader John Perry, dismayed at the prospect of another huge wave of housing, initiated the letter and gained widespread support for his stance.
Consevative borough councillor Jonathan Purle, pictured, said: "It's a bit pathetic, really. Here we have one of the most important pieces of communication in recent history which could define the future of our community and the borough council puts a first class stamp on it. It beggars belief, actually.
"Something as hugely significant as that letter should have been tracked recorded delivery, sent by courier or even delivered in person."
A spokesman for the Save Our Heath Lands (SOHL) campaign group - opposed to 5,000 houses in a borough council-backed scheme at Lenham Heath - asked: "Did it ever get sent? I am afraid there seems to be no way of knowing."
Earlier this weeek, Liberal Democrat council leader Cllr Martin Cox, writing for a local news outlet, complained he had not received a reply from Mr Jenrick describing it as "wholly unacceptable". Civil servants claimed in April they had not received the letter.
An MBC spokesman said: "We can confirm that the initial letter was sent to the Secretary of State on 20 January and put in the post first class via Royal Mail...we contacted the Secretary of State department via email on 2 April 2020. Who then responded advising us that there could be problem at their end and apologised for that. Which is evidence that they received our correspondence."
Cllr Purle countered: "No, it's not evidence. It's evidence they have no proof they sent it in the first place. So five precious months have now been wasted by the inability to send a letter."
The council, which now styles itself as a "master developer", hopes pressure on roads created by the 17,600 homes in the 2017 Local Plan will be mitigated by changes to existing highways and the concept of "modal shift". This would mean encourging people out of their cars and onto buses, cycling or walking.
Cllr Perry said: "Like all the signatories, I signed it and sent it back and assumed the normal process would take place. It was an important letter and normally the council is very efficient at this sort of thing. But maybe there is doubt."
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