Published: 06:00, 14 January 2021
More than 150 homes could be built on a riverside site which once housed a printing business that had been running since 1881.
Developers have unveiled plans to construct 60 houses and 97 flats on the former Headley Brothers plot near Ashford town centre.
The outline application - submitted to Ashford Borough Council (ABC) last week - includes a new footbridge over the River Stour which would link the site to Queen Mother's Park.
Headley Brothers had been based on the land, known as the Invicta Press, since a fire destroyed its original factory in Edinburgh Road in 1906.
But in November 2017, the business closed for good just months after being taken over.
Now, Peer Investments Ltd wants permission to build 157 properties and create an 'ecology park' next to the river.
The firm had previously planned to build 250 homes on the 13.5-acre site but says the scheme has now "evolved to provide a lower-scale development".
If approved, residents would access the site from Mace Lane - using the entry point which currently leads to the Mace Industrial Estate.
Only pedestrians and cyclists would be allowed into the development from the Lower Queens Road access point, which would be closed off by bollards.
In early 2019, the former Headley Brothers factory was demolished but other industrial buildings are still standing.
Under the plan, all remaining structures will be knocked down to make room for the homes.
Bosses say the new buildings will be between two to five storeys in height, with the tallest to the south, next to the Mace Industrial Estate, creating a "landmark building".
Although details are yet to be provided, Peer Investments says affordable housing will feature in the development, which is being called 'Invicta Park'.
But in Ashford Borough Council's Local Plan - a blueprint mapping out where 16,872 homes will be built across the district up to 2030 - the authority has earmarked only part of the site for housing.
It has included a section close to Lower Queens Road for up to 40 homes, however it does say it could form the first phase of a wider scheme.
Peer Investments’ agent - DHA Planning - claims the site's "highly sustainable location" and use of brownfield land mean its location "can be accepted in principle".
It adds that ABC's "housing policies and growth strategy are out of date" as the authority is currently unable to demonstrate a five-year land supply, meaning planning applications should be approved except for when they are deemed to be unsustainable.
Of the 97 flats proposed, 35 maisonettes are included - 21 two-bed and 14 one-bed.
Bosses say the ‘ecology park’ would provide an extension to the Queen Mother's Park, which forms part of Ashford's "green corridor".
It would include a riverside viewing area, with woodland walks.
The final number of parking spaces is yet to be determined but 256 spaces are currently proposed.
And DHA says because all homes are planned for 'flood zone one', the development "will be at low risk of flooding" - even though the site lies within three flood zones.
It adds: "The proposal has been subject to significant pre-application consultation with the borough council, which has shaped the development to what we now considered to be a high-quality proposal, located in a sustainable location.
"There are few environmental constraints across the site, and those that are indicated have been responded to positively, with a comprehensive landscaping scheme helping to assist the development assimilate onto site, while protecting and enhancing the green corridor to the east.
"The proposal not only includes a significant level of high-quality housing provision within a short walk of the town centre but also enhanced pedestrian and cycle connections between the site and the town centre."
Headley Brothers was founded in 1881 by brothers Herbert and Burgess Headley to print paper bags, bill heads and circulars for Ashford businesses.
But when the site closed in 2017, it was understood the company had an unpaid electricity bill totalling tens of thousands of pounds.
One member of staff told KentOnline at the time: “Everyone went into work as normal but we were called in for a meeting.
“The power went off and the place went into darkness. We were told not to come back.
“The firm has been going since the 1800s and the people working there were lifers, but they were unrepentant about closing.
“There was a lot of loyalty there and people had worked there for decades. It was not just a job, they were proud to work there.”
David Fedder, who worked as a pre-press operative at the firm for 27 years, said it was a “wonderful company”.
He told KentOnline 2019: “The director knew everyone’s name, it was always busy and all the staff got on really well; there was just a great atmosphere.
“For the company to start in 1881, there was a lot of history there.
“It was a big piece of the town’s heritage and now it’s just a pile of rubble - it’s another piece of English history that’s gone.”
To view the plans, visit www.ashford.gov.uk and search for planning reference number 21/00028/AS. The deadline for public comments is Friday, January 29.