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Political backlash over council's latest housing scheme in centre of Maidstone

Friday 10th August 2018

A PLAN to build more than 1,000 houses in the centre of Madistone has met with a cross-party backlash.

Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) paid agents Savills to produce a document detailing development of five privately-owned sites in the heart of the county town.

Len House in Mill Street, the Granada cinema and Gala Bingo sites, Maidstone West, the Broadway, Baltic Wharf (Medway riverside) and Mote Road have all been earmarked potential for housing.

But councillors representing those wards affected by the proposals are unhappy about the strain the extra homes will have on local services, traffic levels and parking.

Chairman of the planning committee, Liberal Democrat Clive English, was one of a number of members from the Lib Dems, Labour and Conservative parties who met last night (August 9) to voice concerns.

Cllr English said: “I think it’s fair to say we are not in agreement with the thrust of many of the proposals and will be preparing our own intervention.”

The riverside area could see 922 apartments in three and five storey tower blocks (with around 700 parking spaces) while Maidstone west might see 325 flats on up to seven floors.

Bridge ward councillor, Conservative Jonathan Purle said: “This isn’t master planning. It’s just cramming in more and more flats. 

“There are 1,100 flats earmarked in one area of my ward alone but there is no real consideration here of things like more school places or the need for GP surgery capacity. 

“There appears to be no analysis of traffic impact: there doesn’t even seem to be enough parking planned here."   

Savills’ statement of purpose in the document hopes for a “deliverable vision for five key opportunity sites within the town centre” as part of a regeneration process.

But Cllr English added: “It’s questionable whether the centre of Maidstone needs a lot of densely packed housing. It is very early days and it wasn’t necessarily assumed by the councillors in the area that this would be how it will look in the end.”

Downs Mail approached MBC to ask how much Savills were paid for the report.

Len House, the Art Deco style building overlooking the River Len before it enters the Medway could have 100 homes as well as some retail.

The Granada cinema and Gala Bingo site would have more than 67 homes between them with 23 parking spaces.

MBC chairman of strategic, planning, sustainability and transport, Cllr David Burton said: “These sites don’t belong to us, so it’s us putting an early shape on them to get them right.”

Pressure is growing on the council to demonstrate the roads can cope with the increased traffic associated with the Local Plan's 17,600 new houses.

The Lib Dem leadership claims it can be mitigated by modal shift - the concept of persuading people to walk, take buses or cycle in addition to some junction improvements. But MBC leader Martin Cox has admitted to Daily Downs Mail he cannot be "100% sure" modal shift can work.