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EXCLUSIVE: Maidstone Borough Council pulls out of High Court fight with KCC

Thursday 14th March 2019

MAIDSTONE Borough Council has pulled out of its nine month-long High Court legal action against Kent County Council, Daily Downs Mail has learnt this morning.

We understand that Liberal Democrat-led MBC’s withdrawal from judicial review proceedings comes after a series of crunch meetings in recent days and mounting pressure over the cost to the public purse.

Last Friday, opposition Conservative group called on MBC’s leadership to requisition an extraordinary meeting of the council with a call to end the proceedings.

Conservative county councillor Paul Cooper hopes MBC dropping the action will bring the authority back to the table once more.

A detailed joint statement is expected shortly detailing the terms of the agreement. By 4.30pm yesterday all that was needed was a tweak to one sentence, we were told.

The judicial review was sought over the use by KCC of developer contributions (S106 money) from three housing developments in south Maidstone. KCC used the £200,000 to fund studies into a Leeds –Langley relief road.

MBC had earmarked the money to be spent on other works.

Lib Dem leader Martin Cox and chief executive Alison Broom claim they took the legal action to gain “clarity” on the issue of S106 spending.

Welcoming the outcome, Cllr. John Perry, from the opposition Conservative Group commented: “Maidstone needs a major upgrade in its road network.  But, instead of co-operation and co-ordination between their councils, local taxpayers were having to fund one council taking legal action against the other.  Hopefully this settlement will mean we finally see progress on what matters most to our residents, which is improving the roads and transport system around Maidstone.”

Tory chairman of Maidstone’s Joint Transportation Board, and county councillor Paul Cooper said: “This settlement will mean we can get on with road improvements now, and we might even hear a little less from MBC about so-called ‘modal shift’."

According to well-placed sources, county offered to repay the £200,000 more than once “but MBC chose to plough on regardless of the cost”.

Both the Tory and Labour leaders recently joined forces to implore Cllr Cox and Mrs Broom to halt the action before costs spiralled out of control. A High Court date was set for March 21.

Cllr Perry warned recently that regardless of who won, the tax-payer would end up paying the bill.

We understand that costs are to be shared.

Maidstone Borough Council has been approached for a comment.

County councillor Gary Cooke said: “What a monumental waste of money. After MBC pulled out of the action, there was no point haggling over who pays the bill. The bill – many thousands of pounds – will be picked up by the tax-payer.

“We need to start serious discussion about the feasibility studies into the Leeds Langley relief road and get it into the the review of the Local Plan. The time for messing the residents about is over.”

Daily Downs Mail has repeatedly asked for the cost to the public purse of MBC’s action in recent months. MBC has refused to disclose the costs.

We have filed a request under Freedom of Information legislation for the information to be released.

RECENT HISTORY

Jonathan Purle (Bridge Ward), who organised the Conservative motion last week, said: “On Friday at 9am, a group of Maidstone Conservative Cllrs called for an extraordinary council meeting to put an end to these proceedings.  This appears to have concentrated minds somewhat.

"Over the weekend, we heard from KCC sources that there had been something of a ‘thaw’ that Friday.  On Tuesday afternoon, John Perry & I had a meeting with MBC Council Officers who wanted us to withdraw our requisition.  We said we could not do this until we believed the proceedings were at an end.  And now it appears they may well be.”

The settlement is understood to involve KCC funding survey work in respect of a south eastern relief road from other sources, as they had offered to do back in June 2018. 

In November last year, a judge turned down MBC’s application for an injunction to stop KCC’s work on the relief road.  There is believed to be an agreement on the use of developer contributions to fund other road improvements.  MBC is understood to have dropped its attempt to make KCC build new ‘bus prioritisation’ lanes along Sutton Road.  MBC will also now fund a dedicated transport planner to work between the two councils.

 

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