Like many places in the South East, Maidstone is set to experience significant population change and related growth over the next 15-20 years. In response to this trend, Maidstone Borough Council is assisting nine parishes in the borough in the development of Neighbourhood Plans. This exercise will allow those areas – which have been identified as either rural service centres or larger settlements which are likely to face particular development pressure – to define local responses to growth and housing allocations.
Design South East worked with the nine parishes to develop ‘Place Making’ elements for the Neighbourhood Plans, thereby supporting constructive dialogue between the borough council and parishes on the planning issues facing them. Our brief was as follows:
- To develop and deliver two workshops with each parish to initially discuss the Local Plan and then work on the local site allocations, design and place making issues.
- To engage nine Parish Councils in constructive dialogue with Maidstone Borough Council about the Local Plan.
- To work with local communities toward developing a checklist for the physical development of the parish.
- To document the process throughout and present a final report with lessons learnt and recommendation for a next stage of consultation.
Our initial meetings with parish councils demonstrated a clear grasp of the Maidstone Local Plan, but some confusion and frustration regarding its implementation and the development of a Neighbourhood Plan. The first workshop for each parish therefore explored the rationale behind housing allocations for each parish, site selection criteria and the provision of affordable housing and strategic infrastructure. Timescales, and parishes’ role and influence in the local plan process were also explored in depth,
A series of second workshops for local communities went on to develop a charter for the physical development of those communities, giving local people a set of tools with which to engage constructively with developers and the local authority about the quality of future planning applications. This exercise defined settlements’ existing character and established a set of principles to allow local character to inform future development, and the charters sought to balance those core principles against future housing needs, while looking for opportunities to strengthen local character through new development.
Design South East organised a final joint workshop for the nine parish councils, together with Maidstone Borough Council Cabinet members and officers, to examine strategic infrastructure issues – water, highways, education and environment – in more detail.