Contact your Parish Council

Agenda item

Council-Led Garden Community Update


At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Rob Atkin MBE of the Save Our Heath Lands Action Group addressed the meeting.


In making his statement, Mr Atkin advised the Committee that:


·  The Group’s core message was that the proposed Council-led Garden Community at Heathlands was in the wrong location and should not be pursued any further.


·  The Group understood the Council’s position in terms of having to build more houses and knew that the Council was trying to think more strategically in how they might be delivered through new settlements or significant urban extensions, but did not understand why Lenham Heath was being considered.  The Group had asked the Council to publish its Borough-wide analysis to explain its decision making but to no avail.


·  Despite being in such an unsustainable location, up to 1,000 new homes were already planned for Lenham, doubling the size of the village.  The area was isolated from urban facilities and residents were reliant on the use of their cars for journeys, but the Council was pursuing a Garden Community in the middle of the countryside.


·  There had been mixed reviews about Garden Communities across the country and one of the success factors of the good ones was the simplicity of land ownership.  These typically involved a small number of major land owners.


·  The Group did not understand why the Council was considering a site with over 130 land owners, traveller sites, an industrial estate, a quarry, nature reserves, two railway lines and a motorway.  It was the most complicated site that the Group could find of all the Garden Community proposals across the country.


·  The Group considered that the Officers were painting an optimistic picture in their report to the Committee.  Taking transport as an example, a motorway junction was not deliverable and to rely on the A20 to accommodate the extra traffic from the development was not realistic.


·  Apart from one or two principal land owners, no others appeared to be interested.  The Group believed that there were significant concerns and questions to be answered about the viability of the project.  Investing further taxpayers’ money in this project when there are more pressing financial priorities for the Council to address would be irresponsible.


·  The Group also considered that proceeding with the project would attract legal challenges from other developers as it would be interpreted that the Council was putting its own interests and those of a small number of major land owners ahead of other proposers of sites.


To conclude, Mr Atkin urged the Committee not to pursue the project further.


After Mr Atkin had addressed the Committee on behalf of the Save Our Heath Lands Action Group, the Director of Regeneration and Place introduced his report, the purpose of which was to provide an update on the progress made on the Council-led Garden Community proposal known as Heathlands since the last report to the Committee on 18 September 2019 with specific reference to the following topics:


Community Engagement

Environmental and Technical Surveys;

Landowner Negotiations and Commercial Structure;

Local Plan Review Context;

Expenditure; and

Delivery Options


The Director of Regeneration and Place advised the Committee that:


·  The Council was considering a project of this nature as it was consistent with its Strategic Plan priority “embracing growth and enabling infrastructure” and the desired outcome within it of “The Council leads master planning and invests in new places which are well designed.”


·  The three smallest landowners, making up approximately 13% of the existing proposed site in total, had now indicated that they no longer wished to participate in the project.  The five larger land owners had confirmed in writing their willingness to make their land available, but Heads of Terms had not been agreed at this stage.  With a reduced number of landowners, a clearer picture was starting to form of the preferred land transaction.  The proposed next steps included commissioning a second stage masterplan document that would demonstrate what could be achieved within a revised redline taking into account also the RSK survey findings.


·  Homes England had expressed a willingness to provide their expertise in refining the business case once the masterplan had been recast and had in-house expertise to support Councils in Garden Community projects such as this.


·  In terms of a preferred development partner, Homes England was the only organisation approached at this stage.  The second stage masterplan document, if commissioned, would be used as a means of opening a dialogue with potential partners.


·  With regard to the transport survey findings, a focus on sustainable transport solutions was suggested.  However, the case for a motorway junction could be made if it could be linked to other larger scale developments either in Maidstone or a neighbouring Borough.  A broad mix of uses within the site would be key to making the new Garden Community as self-contained as possible in terms of journeys.


·  All Garden Community proposals were iterative in their nature. This proposal would continue to evolve as different stakeholders became engaged and new evidence and information came forward.


·  In summary, good progress had been made to date and if it could be sustained over the coming months there were reasonable prospects to agree deals with the principal landowners, secure a partner or partners and potentially for the proposal to feature in the next stage of the Local Plan Review.


Councillors T and J Sams (Visiting Members) then addressed the meeting urging Members to no longer pursue a Council-led Garden Community at Heathlands.  They made specific reference in their representations to the sustainability, infrastructure, viability, biodiversity and climate change issues and also the complex landownership considerations.


The Committee was reminded that the contents of the report related to the Council’s position as a potential property owner/developer and not as Local Planning Authority and that it was important to maintain the separation.


In addition to the recommendations on the papers, a motion containing three provisions was moved and seconded, the purpose of which was to increase the level of Member scrutiny and oversight of the project.  Another motion was moved and seconded relating to the need for any possible Garden Community at Lenham Heath to be supported by a motorway junction as this was believed to be crucial to the viability of the project.  An amendment was moved to this motion to specify that any possible Garden Community at Lenham Heath should be supported by a motorway junction.


In response to a question, the Director of Regeneration and Place explained that a new motorway junction would need to be co-ordinated by the Local Planning Authority through Duty to Co-operate meetings with other Boroughs to get an understanding of the housing growth they might be planning and as a topic to unlock the Local Plan more broadly.




1.  That a Council-led Garden Community in the target location (Heathlands) should continue to be pursued with a view to acting as master-developer.


2.  That the at-risk expenditure to the end of Quarter 3 of the current financial year be noted.


3.  That the Council should continue to explore potential partners for its role as master-developer.


4.  That the criteria for options appraisal of the delivery vehicle for a Council-led Garden Community be noted.


5.  That delegated authority be granted to the Director of Regeneration and Place to work with Mid-Kent Legal Services and enter into renewed lockout agreements with the residual landowner group.


6.  That a progress or update report should be provided as a standing item at each future meeting of this Committee.


7.  That Officers are asked to prepare a detailed memorandum for Members setting out matters such as indicative financial scenarios, explanation of land value capture, outline of infrastructure options, an appraisal of the “delivery options”, and an explanation of the key risks.


8.  That a greater number and range of relevant documents should be drawn to the attention of Members and made available to them.


9.  That the Committee believes that any possible Garden Community at Lenham Heath should be supported by a motorway junction and urges that this be pursued by the Council in its role as ‘master planner’.


Note:  During consideration of this item, Councillor Newton left the meeting due to connectivity issues.


Supporting documents: