Local Borough Councillor Patrik Garten has supplied the following update on a meeting yesterday with Council Officers on development proposals for Woodcut Farm which lies within the Parish of Hollingbourne. The plans are to be considered at a meeting of the Maidstone Planning Committee in the Town Hall at 6pm on Thursday 27th April 2017. Previous plans for Woodcut Farm over the last 25 years have successfully been opposed by Maidstone Borough Council and Kent County Council with support from Leeds Castle, CPRE, the Bearsted and Thurnham Society, local MP’s , Parish Councils, and thousands of local residents. The present applicants are Roxhill PLC. Councillor Garten writes:-
I spent three hours this afternoon with my party leader, a Bearsted Councillor, a senior planning officer and a legal officer, discussing the proposals for Woodcut Farm which involve 550,000 square feet of warehousing. There was a lot of legal argument to be had and reference was made to valued Barrister’s opinions.
Since the Full Council Meeting of February 2016, three months before I was elected, the Council, by a Liberal Party led majority, has considered the Woodcut Farm / J8 site to be appropriate for employment development, subject to suitable mitigation. It is the method of mitigation, whether by public enquiry or other means, which will be decided next Thursday.
The officers are rightly concerned that if MBC should seek to defend the current proposal through an adversarial public enquiry they will be risking a huge amount of tax-payer’s money in defending a case, which is weak in the view of their barristers.
Over the past month I’ve been working very hard to defend the appeal and I formed a joint response with the other four neighbouring councillors, who are all Conservative. We Five are all opposed to the current application. We base our opposition on the the Local Plan Inspector’s findings, who made direct references to the area. He stated that Woodcut Farm ” is a strategic site that is critical to address a qualitative and quantitative need for high quality business space, notwithstanding that it is acknowledged that it would have adverse landscape impacts”
We Five Councillors are concerned that much of the current proposal is for large warehouses and the number of jobs provided per sq foot of floor space will be very low, when compared to alternative employment types. The Inspector identified evident viability issues regarding the site as well as the projected need for office floorspace, and he concluded that consideration should be given to safeguarding part of Woodcut Farm for office development after 2026.
The Planning Committee decision was taken prior to inspector’s interim report, but, in our view, it must still be considered the correct one. It identified that, for a variety of reasons, the adverse landscape impacts of the submitted proposal outweigh the benefit of qualitative and quantitative supply of high quality business space, which the Local Plan seeks to achieve and which was acknowledged by the inspector.
While it may be argued that the current application is merely for outline planning approval the Appellant has stated that key site parameters, including the finished ground levels, and maximum height of buildings would be established through any grant of outline permission.
The Planning Officer’s recommendations technically will ask the committee on Thursday to reconsider their decision of last July and reverse it, not because they were wrong at the time but because the inspector’s concerns have now been addressed in the local plan. This does by no means mean that the development is out of the local plan , on the contrary, only that a part of the area will have to be reserved for office space until later. Most worryingly, key site parameters like maximum height of buildings would be established through any grant of outline permission.
As a Group of Five we will formulate a response by next Thursday although it will not be me who’ll present it to the Committee. I will however lobby my fellow councillors to proceed with the appeal. If we do not defend we would set a dangerous precedent which may open the floodgates to many more appeals across Maidstone. We would portray MBC as a soft target who gives in at the mere mention of the word “legal-fees”.
The Conservative Group is painfully aware that there may be a high financial penalty to pay, should MBC loose this appeal, although the officers have to date failed to provide any indicative figures how much this may be. However, the Conservative Party is currently the opposition at MBC and it is our right and duty to defend the appeal.
MBC Cllr for North Downs Ward in which Woodcut Farm is situated.
The full Planning Officer’s report can be downloaded at:April-2017-170427-planning-committee-by-Richard-Timms.pdf (4 downloads)