Published: 13:54, 18 April 2021
| Updated: 07:06, 19 April 2021
A 15th century former college will be converted into homes after a planning appeal – but other sites in the same village will remain undeveloped for now.
Developer Telereal Trillium asked for a decision on its Wye College plan from the Planning Inspectorate after Ashford Borough Council failed to decide on the scheme within the 13-week timescale set by the government.
The 100-home plan would have been spread across three separate sites once owned by the college and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Inspector David Prentis chaired the public inquiry, which sat for seven days between January 28 and February 5.
And earlier this month, the Planning Inspectorate decided to allow one of the three conjoined developments but quashed the other two.
The approved section, first proposed in 2017, will see the conversion of part of the former college into 38 homes through restoration and alterations.
Later structures will be demolished and replaced by developer Telereal, which will comprise some of these houses.
Alongside this will be built two houses, parking courts with car barns, cycle storage and refuse stores.
Ashford Borough Council had previously stated that it would not oppose this section's appeal, which was lodged in May 2020.
The first section of the overall proposal to be refused was a 2019 scheme which would have seen Telereal Trillium build 40 houses on college land.
Though the land was agreed as a good development site in principle - and that it wouldn't seriously affect the area of outstanding natural beauty - the report raised concerns over the scheme's impact on the Stodmarsh Nature Reserve near Canterbury.
Poor water quality levels at the internationally important nature reserve have stalled housing developments across east Kent in recent months.
Mr Prentis added that "it would also result in an unacceptable risk of harm to the Stodmarsh Site of Special Scientific Interest".
Therefore it was refused, alongside the third section which would have seen DEFRA offices demolished and replaced with 20 houses.
The council noted it would have refused this section for four reasons - impact on trees, effect on an area of natural beauty and the lack of developer funding towards infrastructure and highways.
Despite a number of discussions with the council and agreeable revisions to the proposal, the inspectorate also found concern with the Stodmarsh issue.
Furthermore, Mr Prentis writes that "Appeal C would make a smaller contribution to housing delivery and would not include any affordable housing" - factors which he deemed make it unacceptable.
Though two of the appeals were refused, Ashford Borough councillor for Wye Noel Ovenden (Ashford Independents) called it a "hollow victory".
He added: "Ultimately, I'm pleased we have the slight hiatus on the new-build sites and I'm ambivalent about the college buildings - it'll be nice to see the exterior brought back to its former glory.
"But I still feel the units have been crammed in, that the parking isn't adequate for a village build, and that there are still a lot of questions remaining in the conditions."
Cllr Ovenden did note the inspectors' agreeing on principle to the two refused sites, suggesting future development is inevitable.
He expressed particular frustration that the Latin School building - often open to the public - is now a private property, despite his calls to keep it a community building.
Summing up, he said: "I can only hope the developer keeps its promise to build the quality development they've said they're going to build.
"To try and take a positive out of this, if it grows into a community where people are inviting neighbours and friends into the college building because they're proud of it, then it might maintain some community spirit within it that is shared to the whole village, rather than kept in the gated community it could become."
Meanwhile, an ABC spokeswoman said: "We are working through the inspector's judgement to understand the reasoning behind the decision so are unable to comment further at the moment."