A government planning inspector has allowed a controversial 550-home estate to go ahead - but disappointed residents have hit out at the limited amount of affordable housing.
Developers at Pentland Homes and Jarvis Homes can now start work at Ashford’s 'Kingsnorth Green' site, near the sprawling Chilmington Green development.
Ashford Borough Council (ABC) approved the project in 2018 but it was never officially signed off due to environmental issues linked to the Stodmarsh Nature Reserve near Canterbury.
That led to the housebuilders taking the council to the Planning Inspectorate on grounds of non-determination, and the scheme was finally rubber-stamped by the government agency earlier this month.
ABC’s Local Plan, which includes the ‘Kingsnorth Green’ project, requires developments of this scale to include 30% affordable housing. However, in this case, the developers proposed only 10% - 55 homes.
The appeal hearing was told that allocating the full 30% proportion was financially unviable, and would create a deficit of more than £20 million for the developers.
Cllr James Ransley, chairman of Kingsnorth Parish Council, told KentOnline the council had objected to the “details” of the application, rather than the homes themselves.
“We were disagreeing with the detail of what was in the application. We felt the applicant could have been pushed on the details,” he said.
Kingsnorth ward member Cllr Ray McGeever (Ashford Independents) also criticised the plans, saying that there had been “compromises” on critical issues like affordable housing.
“It was inevitable that it [the approval] was going to happen, but the manner in which it has happened is not great and the plans that have been approved have flaws,” he said.
“There were a lot of compromises, things like affordable housing which during the appeal process became more of an issue of legality rather than public necessity.
“Ashford itself has a real need for affordable houses and everyone recognises that, as a council we are trying to do something about it.”
Kingsnorth resident Keith Stanford added: “While plans like that are never popular, I think a lot of people around here have been resigned to the approval for some time. What we do on principle have an issue with is the lack of affordable housing.
“The whole idea of building on land like this is to introduce housing that everyone can afford; and that is going to be hard enough with the size of homes they are bringing in so to water it down even further is not good enough.”
In his report on the appeal decision, planning inspector Michael Boneface described the scheme – which was first submitted in 2015 – as “an important component of the strategy for housing delivery in the borough".
He added: “The appeal proposal is in accordance with these policies and the council also accepts that the development is in accordance with the development plan, taken as a whole.
“While some harm would inevitably arise as a result of the scheme, including heritage harms, landscape and visual impacts, these are readily outweighed by the significant benefits that would arise.
“In particular, the development would deliver much needed market and affordable housing in an area where the need is great and where there are currently significant constraints on delivery.
"Overall, the proposal is in accordance with the development plan, read as a whole, and planning permission should be granted. There are no material considerations in this case that indicate otherwise.”
A separate plan submitted by Malcolm Jarvis Homes for 15 homes and a new Kingsnorth Medical Practice off Ashford Road has now also been allowed by the planning inspector.
The plan agrees in principle to the construction of a medical centre up to 1,280 sq ft and a pharmacy up to 280 sq m. These would be built alongside a further 15 homes – of which five will be affordable.
The inspector approved the scheme – with the condition that further reports be made to ensure the construction would not worsen flood risks in the area.
News of the approval delighted residents, who said it was “high time” such a change had been made.
One Kingsnorth resident said: “I think it’s just fantastic news, the surgery we have at the moment is made up of a brilliant team but the current building is just not fit for purpose.
“It’s barely large enough for the current population, and if you talk about adding another 1,000 people or more on the ‘Kingsnorth Green’ application alone, there’s no way it will work.
“That’s not even mentioning the fact that the current place seems to be in danger of flooding every other week.”
Cllr Ransley also welcomed the new medical practice, but questioned the location.
“The parish council appreciates the need for a new medical practice, but ‘Court Lodge’ was offering a site there, and obviously you have ‘Kingsnorth Green’ and we felt that it could have been accommodated on one of those developments rather than on land that was designated as protected,” he explained.
With ‘Kingsnorth Green’ approved, it could be built next to the 1,000-home ‘Court Lodge’ development, although a decision on that scheme is yet to be made.
Both would form part of the South of Ashford Garden Community (SAGC) along with the huge 5,750-home Chilmington Green ‘garden town’.
‘Kingsnorth Green’ is set to go across 126 acres of land off Pound Lane, Magpie Hall Road, Bond Lane and Ashford Road.
In a statement following the planning inspector’s decision, ABC said: “The council has noted the outcome of both Kingsnorth appeals, which are developments that the council has previously stated we would have supported in principle but which have been delayed by the need to overcome the nutrient neutrality constraints relating to Stodmarsh.
“It is welcomed that the inspector has supported our position that a viability review should form part of the decision.
“This means any future improvement in viability can be ‘captured’ later in the process, which could lead to an increase in affordable housing on site, and the delivery of other important community infrastructure to serve the new residents.”