Published: 13:33, 21 January 2021
| Updated: 19:31, 21 January 2021
A giant warehouse linked to distribution giant Amazon has been approved for a site in Ashford.
Work can now begin on the 18.5-acre plot on Waterbrook Park following the decision at last night's Ashford Borough Council meeting.
Construction work on the GSE Group-led project is anticipated to begin in April, with completion expected in February 2022.
Although bosses are yet to reveal the name of the operator, Amazon has been rumoured and has long been linked with Ashford after a leaked ABC document in 2014 seemed to confirm it was coming to the town.
But plans for the storage and distribution facility had to be amended following a prior deferral in October.
Last night, councillors approved the scheme by 13 votes to one after a number of conditions were added.
Jonathan Buckwell from planning agent DHA Planning kicked off the 30-minute debate, highlighting a number of changes to landscaping and a public right of way diversion had been added to the original scheme.
He said: "The council report confirms the changes help achieve members' requests for an improved soft landscaping scheme, enhancing the public right of way and improving the design quality to the building.
"The parcel distribution centre will provide significant investment and job opportunities for Ashford.
"Given the current situation in Ashford, there are no alternative sites available with planning permission for this type of development.
"It will create much-needed jobs in the logistics sector, which continues to grow at a time of uncertainty and high and increasing unemployment.
"With an end user signed up, we're confident that this development can be brought forward quickly to deliver these jobs and employment potentially by the end of this year."
Ward member Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con) approved of changes to make it less visually intrusive, and promoted the Sevington Parish Council's view that a promise of more jobs should be welcomed.
Portfolio holder for planning and development Cllr Neil Shorter (Con) also commended the "significantly changed" design of both the building and parking spaces, the latter of which will now be a two-storey open deck structure.
Before proposing approval, he said: "If this went ahead, I would like the developers and provider of the facility to look at adding solar panels to the building.
"I think it would do them no harm to fit them in now, rather than back fit them at some time in the future."
His Conservative colleagues councillors Michael Burgess and Paul Clokie, as well as Labour's Euan Anckorn and Diccon Spain, agreed that panels should be added to the building - the scheme before them had none.
Cllr Clokie seconded the motion to approve, however he questioned the number and height of lampposts around the site.
Lighting also proved a concern for Independent Cllr Linda Harman, highlighting the increase of light pollution and its effect on ecology.
Fears of added traffic in the area prompted Green Cllr Liz Wright to side with the officers' view that smaller businesses would be more beneficial, and she later became the only member to oppose approval.
Cllr William Howard (Con) questioned the environmental impact and number of jobs it would bring, saying: "I'm not sure really whether we should pay the price for the questionable number of jobs it is.
"I'm worried it's too high a price to pay, so I'm very much undecided and listening to others' comments."
Planning officer Roland Mills addressed the concerns raised by adding a lighting strategy condition, suggesting increased screening and dimming lights in areas unused in the night.
He also said the council could issue an informative in which the council would "strongly encourage" the addition of solar panels, as a condition was not legislatively possible.
At Cllr Spain's request, Cllr Shorter added the informative - as well as one encouraging electric charging points for vans - to the approval motion.
Permission was granted in a 13 to one vote, with Cllr Wright being the only member to oppose the motion.
Darrell Healey, chairman of GSE Group, said: “This is an important decision for Ashford as it will create much-needed jobs at a time of economic uncertainty which has seen local unemployment rise significantly during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
“Waterbrook Park, close to Junctions 10 and 10a and earmarked as a major site for jobs in Ashford, offers the perfect location for distribution businesses.
"Work can now get started on the building and ensure Ashford is best placed for when the economy starts to pick up.”