Published: 00:00, 19 May 2016
| Updated: 10:15, 19 May 2016
Councillors have approved the controversial plans for two giant warehouses to be built at the site of a new motorway junction.
Friends Life Ltd first submitted the plans for the structures at Sevington near junction 10 of the M20 in 2014 on land earmarked by Ashford Borough Council for business use.
The scheme could create as many as 1,600 full time jobs and 160 construction jobs while the two 16-metre-high warehouses are being built.
The buildings would contain 1.6 million and 1.5 million sq ft of floor space respectively, and the scheme would also contain a 215,000 sq ft retail unit and 160,000 sq ft space for general manufacturing.
Kent Wool Growers (KWG) in Tannery Lane are among the companies interested in moving into the site, while internet firm Amazon was also rumoured to be linked, though this has been consistently denied by the council.
Last night the council’s planning committee voted in favour of approving the plans, which will pave the way for the new junction 10a scheme as well as the regeneration of KWG’s Tannery Lane site.
But campaigners from the nearby village of Mersham had raised concerns about the size and scale of the development, which they fear will blight an area of outstanding beauty and will have a big impact on the historic St Mary’s Church at Sevington.
Mersham resident Padraig Herlihy told the committee that this is the first application for a site which the council says is a vital business site on the entrance to the town.
He asked: “Is this lifeless box really in keeping with that vision? This is the jewel in the development crown of Ashford, do we really want to sell it this cheap?”
Campaign to Protect Rural England representative Christine Drury raised concerns that the plan had expanded to put landscaping on the other side of Highfield Lane, and called for a protected gap between the warehouses and Mersham.
Finally Linda Arthur from the Village Alliance criticised the plans. She said: “The scale is inappropriate. It will dominate the skyline and destroy the views of the grade-I listed Sevington church.”
But Axa Real Estate spokesman James Owen said the company has ploughed £20 million into the scheme since first taking over the land in 2007.
He said: “We have remained very committed to Ashford. We have the experience and market capability to deliver a high quality scheme for the benefit of the town.”