LENHAM HEATH: Now the Labour group leader pulls out of Friday's public meeting
Tuesday 21st January 2020
THE leader of the Labour group at Maidstone Borough Council has pulled out of a public meeting called over its plan to build 5,000 houses at Lenham Heath.
Malcolm MacKay joins his Tory opposition leader John Perry who decided last week to drop out.
Cllr MacKay said tonight he did not feel he could "add anything" to the meeting at Lenham on Friday evening when the Liberal Democrat leader of MBC, Cllr Martin Cox, will face the anger of residents.
Cllr Cox will be supported by his deputy Cllr Faye Gooch and the MBC director appointed to oversee the Lenham project, William Cornall.
MBC, which now styles itself as the "master developer" of the proposal, sparked conflict with locals after the council hired agents to strike secret land deals with property owners, in some cases demanding non-disclosure agreements.
The council hopes that as well as the houses, a new M20 junction can be added nearby and a high-speed rail station built to serve the new "garden community".
Cllr MacKay said: "I did not feel I could add anything to the meeting, Martin Cox and Fay Gooch will be speaking as will William Cornall and MP Helen Whately.
"Lenham Heath area is to be considered as a garden community...those that speak will only offer platitudes and nice words, I suspect.
"In saying that, I do have some sympathy for the 150 plus home owners in the Lenham Heath area who currently live in a very rural location, not knowing how this will unfold."
Some land owners fear they will have their property taken by compulsory purchase (CP) if they do not agree to MBC's demand. MBC denies CP is an option at this stage.
Cllr Perry decided not to attend the meeting as the wider emphasis should now shift to"pushing back on the overall housing targets we face and working through all the proposed sites currently on the table to see which can be eliminated ASAP".
He said the Lenham meeting should have taken place six months ago.
MBC had submitted the Lenham project in the "call for sites" process last year which invited land owners to come forward with submissions for potential development.
This will form the basis for the Local Plan review which could mean the borough will have to build a total of more than 28,000 houses instead of the 17,600 contained in the original Local Plan.
Residents claim the MBC, which has funded the massive house-building scheme so far with tax-payers' money, has not been transparent in its approach.
Lib Dem leader Cllr Cox needed the Labour group and support from the two Lenham borough councillors, Tom and Janetta Sams, at MBC to form his administration last May. The Sams have now publicly withdrawn that support.
Last December, Cllr Perry achieved a cross-party consensus with a motion to approach central Government, via the local MPs, with a view to readjusting Maidstone's housing figures.
The Independent Maidstone group leader Cllr Eddie Powell, who has been a fierce critic of the way in which MBC has conducted itself, believes the council's leadership has "effectively pre-determined" its own plan with public money, an approach he says "stinks".
MBC have insisted that "no decisions have been taken on the sumitted sites" and "not all sites will be needed for the Local Plan review...many will be deemed unsuitable".
Recently, Cllr Cox's administration faced damning and embarrassing accusations that his authority is now "officer-led" and not by elected members.
Save Our Heath Lands' public meeting is on January 24 at Lenham Community Centre from 7.30 - 9pm.
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