Published: 12:00, 04 March 2021
| Updated: 15:51, 04 March 2021
Construction of a controversial housing estate in Ashford is being held up by poor water quality levels at an internationally important nature reserve.
Quinn Estates had hoped to start work on its 725-home Conningbrook Park, or 'Large Burton', scheme last year after planning permission was narrowly approved by just one vote in May.
But a formal planning decision is yet to be issued by Ashford Borough Council as wetlands at the Stodmarsh Nature Reserve outside Canterbury, which are a haven for wildlife, are deemed to be suffering from high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous.
Experts say waste water discharges from existing housing developments filtering into the River Stour and Stodmarsh’s lakes are the cause of the problem at the reserve.
Councils across east Kent have been forced to put decisions on housing projects on hold while the best course of action to tackle the reserve’s deteriorating water quality is decided upon.
Quinn Estates says it means there is no start date scheduled for its Kennington development, which also includes a new site for Ashford Bowls Club, a two-form entry primary school and community centre off Willesborough Road.
“Construction has not been able to commence as a formal planning decision has not yet been issued by the council,” a spokeswoman said.
“Last year Natural England released guidance that applies across much of Kent requiring all applications that provide for overnight accommodation to demonstrate there is no impact on the Stodmarsh special area of conservation near Canterbury.
“We are working through this issue with the council so as to ensure the decision can be issued as soon as possible and construction can commence on site.
“As a result, despite a housebuilder being ready to go onto site to deliver houses and the other facilities, there is no start date scheduled although we are close to concluding the necessary nutrients work and so hope to be on site this summer.”
Last month, Kent County Council confirmed the site’s primary school – which will cater for 420 pupils – had been approved for funding by the Department for Education.
To be called the Conningbrook CofE Primary, it will be run by the Diocese of Canterbury Academies Trust.
The spokeswoman added: “We have been contacted by KCC which has confirmed the new primary school has been approved by the DfE for funding, with the aim of accelerating the delivery of a much-needed primary school to serve the area, land and funding for which is secured by the development.
“There are many stages to go before a build contract can be entered into and the funding is assured, but this is very good news.”
The Conningbrook Park project – which is in ABC’s Local Plan – was met with more than 1,000 objections before being given the green light.
The approved application grants full permission for only 288 homes, with outline permission for the other 437.
Plans for the development – which will be built opposite the existing Little Burton estate – first surfaced in 2016 and feature two access points off Willesborough Road and 30% affordable housing.
Bosses say 35% of the 81.5-acre site will be retained as open space, with a new pedestrian and cycle bridge over the railway line also included.
In a statement, an ABC spokesman said the authority was working to solve the Stodmarsh issue.
He said: “Since being made aware of the issue by Natural England we have been considering how best to tackle the issue, which doesn’t just affect Ashford, but the wider Stour catchment area across east Kent.
"We have been in discussions with Natural England, KCC, neighbouring boroughs, developers, central government and Southern Water to look at possible mitigation measures.
“We have appointed a specialist consultant to advise us on the best course of action and we will be discussing with members a range of options available to us in due course.”