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Maidstone Local Plan-Protection of Open Space

The Parish Council has sent the following letter to Alison Broom, Chief Executive, Maidstone Borough Council:-

 

Dear Mrs Broom

 

MAIDSTONE LOCAL PLAN – PROTECTION OF OPEN SPACES

 

Coxheath Parish Council has been approached by Cllr Fran Wilson, the leader of the official opposition in Maidstone Borough Council, to contribute to a list of local landscapes that should be safeguarded from future development. We believe that we are only one of a number of parishes that will have been approached for their views.

 

However, although the Parish Council has strong views on this subject, we are anxious to avoid participation in any party political point scoring. For this reason, we have chosen to write to you in your capacity as the Chief Executive, in the knowledge that you will be even-handed in communicating our comments to all political groups on the Council.

 

As you are aware, Coxheath Parish Council is in the process of drawing up a Neighbourhood Plan for the Parish of Coxheath. On the basis of extensive community engagement, one of the central priorities of the plan will be the protection of green open space both within the village envelope and around its boundaries in order to maintain the separate identity and character of Coxheath and the neighbouring villages. Following a series of public consultations and events, it is very clear that Coxheath residents wish to protect the present rural village environment and do not wish Coxheath to be subsumed into the urban sprawl of Maidstone. Coxheath is not classified as a rural service centre but it does act as a focal point for services to a number of smaller neighbouring parishes such as Hunton, Linton, East Farleigh and West Farleigh. We are mindful, therefore, of our responsibilities to the wider community.

 

According to data available from the 2011 Census, Coxheath already has the third densest level of population of Maidstone parishes and yet we are also dramatically below the standards of open space set by the Maidstone Borough Open Space development plan document, adopted in December 2006. For these reasons we are vehemently opposed to further development unless we can achieve the specific substantial community benefits that have been identified as necessary, through the community engagement process. One of these community benefits is more open space in certain locations and in this context, we have been talking to two local landowners, who have put land forward under the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) process. We have made it quite clear to them that as representatives of our community, we are only prepared to consider supporting very limited housing development in return for land gifted into community ownership, in order to add to our green open space and to protect the environment and rural nature of our village.

 

In the process of identifying a five-year land supply, we understand that Maidstone Borough Council is required under the National Planning Policy Framework to identify land where development would be inappropriate, for instance, because of its environmental or historic significance” and to “contain a clear strategy for enhancing the natural built and historic environment, and supporting Nature Improvement Areas where they have been identified”. It is our contention that the protection and enhancement of public open space is a core element of the Local Plan process and it is vital that this issue is fully addressed before the detail of any housing land target figures is agreed.

 

Neighbourhood Plans are an integral part of the process. In addition, therefore, to addressing the issue of insufficient green open space, our Neighbourhood Plan will be looking to improve access to the countryside, to provide more recreational/amenity facilities for the benefit of residents, to protect the rural village environment and to provide safe cycle routes for young people to access their schools. We feel strongly that these aspirations must be taken into account when drawing up the Maidstone Local Plan.

 

Coxheath Parish Council will be grateful if you will communicate these views to all members of Maidstone Borough Council.