Wednesday evening saw Maidstone Council’s Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development committee meet to discuss amongst other items Maidstone Borough Council’s formal response to KCC regarding the expansion of Hermitage Lane Quarry. Councillors were met by protesters as they arrived for the meeting campaigning against expansion of the quarry, and the weak draft response proposed by MBC and signed by Cllr. Paul Cooper (Conservative, Shepway North Ward, and Deputy Leader of the Council).
The meeting was a little more raucous than usual due to the passion felt about saving Oaken Wood. After several excellent speeches from the members of the Save Oaken Wood campaign and considered and well researched representations from visiting members Cllr. Tony Harwood (Lib Dem, North Ward), and Cllr. Stuart Jeffery (Green, Bridge Ward), arguing against expansion of the quarry the committee proceeded with lengthy discussions.
Most opposition members spoke against the expansion and supporting the views of the 25,000 plus people who had signed the Woodland Trust petition, including Lib Dem councillors Clive English and Richard Conyard. Before Vanessa Jones (Independent, Boxley Ward), brought forward the motion that the weak response be retracted and replaced with text in alignment with the response made by the Woodland Trust which succeeded by a vote of 7 to 2.
This Friday (8th September), Cllr. Paul Cooper has issued an amended letter to KCC that runs contrary to the proposal voted through, is little stronger than the first, and falls someway short of the more robust responses from other bodies including the Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission.
Cllr. Richard Conyard said: “I am bitterly disappointed in this decision. Not only does this go against the opinions of thousands of residents in Maidstone, the members of Save Oaken Wood who took time out to let us know their valuable opinions, but it makes a mockery of the advisory committee who after hours of reading and debate and a clear majority vote find that vote completely ignored. My sympathies are with the campaigners who thought they had a glimmer of hope only to have it snatched away by those clearly out of touch with the public, opposition councillors and even some members of their own party.”
Cllr. Clive English commented: “The Cabinet Member still seems to think one can simply replace ancient woodland after quarrying takes place. Sadly, for everyone this is not the case, once the damage is done it is done."
He went on to say: "There is a worrying pattern emerging of the advisory committees taking considerable time to debate issues and make recommendations only for the Cabinet to ignore them and to throw the Committee's advice straight in the waste basket, as seen recently with the Cabinet decision not to fund works at Linton Crossroads. The Cabinet system will not survive if this continues, as it was this arrogant refusal to listen to anyone else that brought it down in discredit in 2014.”