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   Planning decisions Popes Field    April 26, 2019

From Bob Hinder Chairman Boxley Parish Council

Dear residents and councillors,

Last night’s decision by the Maidstone Planning Committee was utterly devastating for all involved and the community, it leaves a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths.

It surprized nearly all of us that the Legal Officer’s recommendation, to drop the two planning applications from the agenda, was rejected by the committee so I must thank the many residents who had turned up on the off chance that the applications would be heard. As it had looked like the two applications would be dropped from the agenda many residents who may have attended choose not to do so and the decision to permit both applications will be a great shock and upset to many, many people. The meeting was recorded and is available on the MBC website but as it was an emotionally charged meeting I have asked the Clerk to produce a factual summary of what happened, see below.  This information is not going to lessen the anger and frustration many residents, Parish and Borough Councillors will be feeling, infact it may increase it, but I hope it helps residents to understand how this sorry state of affairs played out. 

Clerk’s notes concerning Maidstone Borough Council Meeting 25 April 2019

Planning Applications 18/506656 and 18/506609

Borough Councillor Clive English, Chairman of the Planning Committee (PC) opened the discussion with an explanation of why he was thought that the Legal Officer’s recommendation should not be followed.  He spoke of the independence, from politics, of the PC and the need that its members took a decision on the two items at that meeting rather than defer them. He put forward a proposal that the committee should consider the planning applications.

Prior to taking a vote he allowed a committee member to make a comment. The member stated that it was a shame  that the Legal Officer’s recommendation had been put forward as he felt it had stopped many residents who may have planned to come to the meeting from attending.

The members voted to proceed with the two planning applications.

18/506656 Application for the two schools.

The Planning Officer gave a summary of the planning application.

The Chairman called for the speakers:

Mr Richard Coward Resident

Mrs Pauline Bowdery Parish Clerk on behalf of Boxley Parish Council

Cllr Fabienne Hughes Bearsted Parish Councillor

A speaker on behalf of the applicant.

Borough (and Parish) Councillor Bob Hinder

Borough (and Parish) Councillor Wendy Hinder

Cllr Mike Cuming Borough Councillor also speaking on behalf of Cllr Val Springett and Cllr Nick De-Wiggondene

Members of the Committee then debated the planning application it was not an easy debate with much frustration coming from members some of whom felt that their independence as a Local Planning Authority was being squashed/undermined by Government regulations.  The following issues were raised:

  • MBC had previously lost two similar applications at Appeal because the Government guidance that schools had to be built meant the Planning Inspector always decided for the schools.
  • Decisions at Appeal nearly always meant that conditions negotiated or imposed by the LPA were not supported by the Planning Inspector and so the development went ahead with fewer mitigation measures. Clerk’s note: the two applications mentioned did not include the STEM school application. A statement was made that typically Planning Inspectors remove Planning Conditions, the experience of the Parish Council is that this sadly is a correct statement of fact.
  • Whether the decision to change the boundary of the education areas, made by KCC recently, was actually done for the right reason. Whether the North Education Area was actually a ‘fair’ area and were the boundaries actually correct.
  • Whether the KCC Education Department should be challenged on its statements concerning school needs etc. Whether this application could be deferred to allow this challenge. Clerk’s note: The Chairman notified the member that as KCC was the Education Authority if the application went to Appeal then the Inspector would question by MBC thought it knew better

Then the KCC Education Department which was the professional body. Unless MBC could come up with clear evidence of misinformation then the Planning Inspector would not consider this as evidence.

  • Whether it was right for members of the Planning Committee to state/think that they had no choice but to allow the application because they would lose at Appeal.
  • Whether the risk of losing mitigating conditions was worth the gamble, one many members felt they would lose, on an Appeal decision.
  • The lack of KCC engagement at the Local Plan stage that meant that MBC was not asked to identify possible school sites.
  • The need for school places.
  • Better landscaping was needed.
  • Whether condition 19 (Highway changes at and to the East of Gidds Pond Cottages) was needed as pupils would not be walked from Bearsted along Bearsted Road but would use the footpaths in the estates. Clerk’s note: there was some suggestion that this be removed but the KCC Highway Officer said it could not be or KCC would have to object to the planning application.  This removal did not seem to be part of the final vote.
  • The car park being insufficient and unable to cope with the traffic. Clerk’s note. The Planning Officer notified the committee that the applicant had offered, at the loss of some landscaping, an extra 6 spaces. Strong statements were made by members, along the lines of this parking is inadequate and isn’t going to work.
  • Involving Ward Borough Councillors and Parish Councils in the discussions relating to the draft travel plan (Condition 18).

Officers were consulted at various stages during the debate.

Many members voiced that they were unhappy with the situation and felt that they had no choice

The vote was 7 for and 5 against, so the application was permitted.

……………………..

18/506609 Change of Use planning application.

The Planning Officer gave a summary of the planning application.

The Chairman called for the speakers:

Mr Keith Clark Resident

Cllr James Willmott Boxley Parish Councillor

Cllr Fabienne Hughes Bearsted Parish Councillor

Borough (and Parish) Councillor Bob Hinder also speaking on behalf of Cllr Wendy Hinder

Cllr Mike Cuming Borough Councillor also speaking on behalf of Cllr Val Springett and Cllr Nick De-Wiggondene

The Chairman tried to explain that failure to approve the planning application, as the schools had been permitted, could result in a loss at Appeal and no replacement site being identified. Clerk’s note: I’m not sure many of those sitting in the public section may have picked this up. It was a very emotion introduction as the Chairman was extremely frustrated/angry that the situation had got to this and was insisting that this should never happen again.

Members of the Committee then debated the planning application and many expressed their frustration/anger that:

  • The original condition supplying the LNR had been insufficient to ensure a) it was built and b) ownership remained with the landowner.
  • Further conditions should be tighter requiring such sites to be developed as soon as other development work started.
  • The Local Plan was being ignored.
  • The site being offered was smaller and not compatible.
  • It wasn’t a gain but a net loss of biodiversity.
  • Unless it came into public ownership the substituted NR land could be put forward for development in the future.
  • The new site was tiny and had fragile habitats that would suffer from public use, dogs etc. and unsympathetic management.  The suggested management plan, with mown areas and the site being open to the public, was totally unacceptable. Clerk’s note: the current site would not have been open to the public.

Clerk’s note: The Planning Officer was challenged about a statement that was made that the term Local Nature Reserve in the Local Plan didn’t actually mean LNR and that MBC couldn’t designate LNR.

Criticism of previous decisions made by MBC were strongly voiced and the issue is to be reported to an MBC committee for investigation.

Permitted subject to negotiations to get the land into MBC ownership so it can never be developed. Clerk’s note; might have been 8 for, 1 against and 2 abstentions.

Clerk’s note: MBC’s decisions are now quasi legal, they will go ahead. There is no right of Appeal by objectors, the only course of action is a request to the Secretary of State that the decisions are called in but as the Secretary of State is the body demanding new schools be supported and built and as the schools application is supported by the Department of Education, KCC Education, KCC Highways, the local MP and the Local Planning Authority (MBC) then it is certain not to be successful. The Secretary of State rarely intervenes.

 

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