Vote on controversial Maidstone local plan expected this month as Sajid Javid decides not to intervene despite MPs concerns
PUBLISHED: 12:48 03 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:04 03 October 2017
Helen Whately admitted she was “disappointed” with the minister’s decision
A vote on a controversial document which sets out Maidstone’s development over the next 15 years is set to be held later this month after a senior minister decided not to intervene despite concerns raised by local MPs.
Helen Whately and Helen Grant both wrote to communities secretary Sajid Javid last month urging him to delay the formal adoption of the local plan ahead of a full Maidstone Borough Council meeting on September 27.
The local authority then pulled the plug on the meeting while Mr Javid mulled over the MPs’ comments, which included fears that the council’s proposals would create “lasting damage to villages and countryside” around the county town.
They were particularly concerned about the impact on Leeds Castle - the heritage site dating back to the twelfth century they described as “a national treasure”.
However, the council this week received confirmation from Mr Javid that the local plan would not be issued with a holding direction - meaning councillors will have the chance to rubber-stamp the proposals at a new meeting, earmarked for Wednesday, October 25.
The minister said: “I am determined to ensure we support local authorities in bringing forward plan-led development rather than allowing the speculative development which causes communities concern.
“The Maidstone local plan is the framework that provides a five year supply of deliverable housing sites and the best defence against unplanned development.”
In a joint statement, council leader Fran Wilson and chair of Strategic Planning Sustainability and Transportation Committee, David Burton, said: “We are very pleased with Mr Javid’s response and the approach that has been taken to the concerns raised.
“We are confident that we are now in a strong position to move forward towards full adoption of the plan later this month.
“The Maidstone local plan offers the foundations on which we can build upon to safeguard the future of the borough and the communities that live and work here.”
Mrs Whately, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, told KentNews.co.uk in response she was disappointed with the decision but insisted it was “not the end of the road”.
She said: “My job is to represent my constituents and their concerns and I have done everything I possibly could from the moment I was elected, from speaking in inquiries to lobbying the council, to asking the secretary of state to step in.
“Clearly I am disappointed he has not intervened but I understand planning decisions should be taken locally.
“I remain adamant that any future building here must be at a size and design that will not harm Leeds Castle.
“Work on reviewing the local plan will begin as soon as it is adopted and I will continue to push for Leeds castle to be protected and for the road network to be improved.”
Neighbouring MP for Maidstone and the Weald, Helen Grant, added: “I am disappointed that the secretary of state was not bolder in his response but there are positives to be taken from his various remarks, such as confirmation that air quality must be an active consideration in any future planning applications.
“I will continue to actively and robustly hold Maidstone Borough Council to account and look forward to the publication of the council’s Low Emissions Strategy and to the implementation of mitigating measures as soon as possible.
“If I remain dissatisfied, I will not hesitate to take the matter to the highest authority whether it be to the Department of Communities and Local Government or the Department of Health.
“I also welcome the minister’s commitment to new legislation regarding the role of local communities in the planning process.
“I wrote to him separately last month regarding the extreme frustration of my constituents in Staplehurst; their agreed neighbourhood plan had been seemingly set aside and an additional development site slipped in by Maidstone Borough Council without due consultation.
“Clearly this is a wider issue nationally and hopefully the new regulations will ensure better future communications.”