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LATEST: Maidstone Borough Council progresses on Lenham Heath garden community

Wednesday 22nd April 2020

A report issued today reveals Maidstone Council is making steady progress on its controversial plans to build a new garden community for up to 5,000 houses on land at Lenham Heath (‘Heathlands’).

It will be considered by its Policy and Resources Committee next Wednesday (2pm), which will be invited to agree the project should continue to the next stage.

The report relates to the council’s position as a potential owner/developer – not as the local planning authority responsible for making the planning decisions.

The report by William Cornall, the council’s Director of Regeneration and Place, makes these recommendations:

1. To continue to pursue a council-led Garden Community in the target location with a view to acting as master developer.

2. To note at-risk expenditure to the end of Q3 of the current financial year (2020/21).

3. To agree the council should continue to explore potential partners for its role as master developer.

4. To note the criteria for options appraisal of the delivery vehicle for a council-led garden community.

5. To grant authority to the Director of Regeneration and Place to work with Mid Kent Legal Services and enter renewed lockout agreements with the residual landowner group.

The report says much-needed homes would be delivered to include 40% affordable of which 70% would be for social rent. The emerging masterplan is landscape led with 50%` of total green space.

Since September more than one meeting a month has been held with either Lenham Parish Council and/or Save Our Heathlands. The report says: “Neither the parish council nor SOHL group support the proposal but every effort has been made to provide them with timely, considered, accurate and consistent information on proposals as they develop.”

Following surveys a focus on sustainable transport is suggested. There is a steer that neither a new motorway junction nor High Speed 1 stop would be appropriate for this scale of development. The survey points to latent capacity at key junctions to the A20, subject to realistic improvement measures to one junction and potential to better use existing train stations at Lenham and Charing and connecting these to the new community by a local bus loop. The findings indicate the possibility of a new railway stop when the community reaches an appropriate critical mass. The move away from ‘big kit’ infrastructure would improve the project’s overall cash flow, making it more attractive to potential partners.

The number of landowners participating has been reduced from eight to five with three smaller owners withdrawing support. The report says this would reduce the total number of new houses to below 5,000 but five larger landowners are still in place and have confirmed in writing their interest in treating with the council, subject to further negotiations. An option agreement is seen as more likely, providing them with more certainty around timing of financial receipt per acre. “There would be a need in all likelihood for the council to attract a partner developer to work with and who could fund the transaction.”