Government’s Planning Reforms: A Death Sentence for Maidstone's Countryside

Maidstone Liberal Democrats have joined Conservation Organisations, Local Councils, national newspapers and wildlife experts in reacting with shock and anger at the Government's new Planning Bill, as outlined in the Queen's Speech on Tuesday.

At a time when more than a million properties with planning permission across the country remain unbuilt, and there is a desperate need for affordable housing, the Government has determined to prioritise the building of Executive homes on green fields in the South of England, whilst making it harder to provide essential infrastructure to support new housing development.

 The Government’s proposals, part of their “Project Speed” to accelerate development projects, could see the country ‘zoned’ for either ‘Development’ or ‘Protection’, with effectively no planning controls over building in identified ‘Development’ areas, which will almost certainly include most of Maidstone Borough, outside of the nationally protected Kent Downs AONB. Local Plans would be even more toothless than now and financial contributions from developers for anything from transport to schools, to health and affordable housing would largely disappear, or be drastically reduced, while existing environmental protections for wildlife and local landscape would be scaled-back.

At the same time the Government is pushing-on with widening the scope of ‘permitted development’ office conversions, which yield cramped flats, without essential green space and that attract no Planning contributions for essential health, social care and community facilities.  Instead of much-needed high quality affordable housing, the Borough will get either Executive homes on precious rural green fields or urban slums.

Commentators have observed that the Conservative Government wants to boost home ownership in areas of increasing Tory support in Northern England and the Midlands. It is now clear that it is the South East which will pay the environmental price, in terms of more concrete, gridlock and overstretched health care provision.

Liberal Democrat Planning Committee Spokesperson Tony Harwood said: "In the Local elections in Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere the public made clear that they don't want Government to take away what little local control they still have over important Planning Decisions in their area. The Queen’s Speech proposals, as the CPRE have pointed out, will take England back to the ‘Wild West’ style of uncontrolled development we saw in the 1920's and 30's, and will effectively prevent anyone but the Development Industry having any say over future development. It is time for Elected Representatives at all levels, and of all parties, to say no to these short-sighted and destructive plans. Kent, and Maidstone Borough in particular, remains remarkably beautiful and rich in wildlife, despite all the development pressures we face. My genuine fear is that within a generation our still largely rural Borough will become a traffic-choked urban-sprawl – an extension of the Medway Towns.”