Published: 13:54, 22 April 2021
| Updated: 13:23, 26 April 2021
Plans to build a 16-storey block of flats on the site of a former homeware store have finally been approved.
The scheme - dubbed the 'Ashford Shard' - will see 207 apartments and nine townhouses built on the ex-HomePlus site at the junction of Avenue Jacques Faucheux and Beaver Road.
Submitted by Ashford Borough Council's property investment wing A Better Choice for Property Ltd, the striking building will boast three ground floor shops and a top-floor restaurant with panoramic views.
Last night's meeting of ABC's planning committee marked the end of an arduous planning process, having taken almost two years from the scheme's initial reveal.
The proposal has been tweaked a number of times, as questions were raised in a June 2020 meeting over the design, the amount of affordable housing and developer contributions.
Similar questions were raised in a December meeting, prompting a design review panel to be held.
However the plan in front of the planning committee last night was finally deemed acceptable by councillors.
A planning officer noted that contributions had been re-negotiated, with the developer offering a one-off £250,000 cash injection into the area.
Emma Hawks from planning agent DHA Planning highlighted how "clearly this would significantly reduce the agreed developers profits, however our client is willing to accept this in order to address the local concern".
She also pointed out the design changes that had been made, including adding some double height windows and removing green cladding.
Bob Shrubb from the South Ashford Community then said: "We support the development of this brownfield site, but remains concerned over the impact this will have on Beaver Road."
He also questioned whether the contributions could be spent on the nearby Victoria Park instead of Conningbrook Park.
Cllr Dara Farrell (Lab) also had strong words over the design changes, saying: "On two occasions, this committee has objectively judged this proposal as needing improvements to overall quality of design and I'm still waiting for that improvement.
"Tweaking the position of balconies doesn't address the issue of massing, which the committee has rightly found to be inappropriate in our borough."
The Victoria ward representative also raised the absence of any affordable housing and contributions, before urging the committee to at least defer again "on behalf of the residents of my ward".
Cllr Charles Suddards (Lab) who also represents the ward echoed these points.
These concerns prompted Cllr Brendan Chilton (Lab) to move for deferral, particularly citing an increase on nearby traffic and the building's proposed height leading to a loss of privacy for nearby residents.
He also called A Better Choice for Property Ltd a "predatory company", as the £250,000 offered is only 18% of what would be expected of a scheme that could viably be expected to pay the full amount.
Conservative councillor Neil Shorter said the design panel had resulted in significant changes - even if they're not to everyone's taste - and noted how the developer contributions had been decided based on an independently written viability report.
He then proposed a motion to approve the proposal.
However Cllr Liz Wright (Green) questioned the design, and asked if sustainability could be improved.
Cllr Euan Anckorn (Lab) then agreed to all previous concerns, seconding the motion to defer.
It was suggested by Cllr Paul Clokie (Con) that it would be "fundamentally wrong" if rents were to subsidise the financial viability, but a planning officer said this was a standard planning method.
Ashford Independent councillor Noel Ovenden feared the committee was "kicking the can down the road with this application", and said those wishing to defer or refuse should come up with "legitimate reason for refusal, so we'd at least be moving forward".
He said that while he "can understand those who are stuck in the ideal that Ashford is a sleepy little market town, time does not stand still, time does roll on and we must progress".
Saying that the design panel prompted significant design improvements and that the massing was as broken up as possible, Cllr Ovenden also noted that any profits arising from the development would go directly back into council coffers so increased contributions would be unnecessary.
He then seconded the motion to approve.
Independent Cllr George Sparks said the scheme is "as good as we're going to get" and signalled a wish to approve.
Cllr Jessamy Blanford called the development "a landmark" that shouldn't be a "copy of a Victorian building, we want something new and eye-catching".
The planning officer then noted this was the committee's last chance to make a decision on the scheme, as a formal non-determination appeal notification had been lodged with the council.
This would signal a Planning Inspectorate investigation and decision, meaning the final call would be out of council hands.
As the votes were finally made, the vote for approval came out as 10 for and three against, signalling the granting of permission on what will be one of Kent's tallest buildings.
Although not officially called the ‘Ashford Shard’, On Architecture director David Weir described the scheme in 2019 as “not quite The Shard, but Ashford’s version of it”.