Published: 00:01, 12 February 2019
Construction of a 750-home estate featuring a school, gym and community centre will start later this year if a controversial planning application is approved.
Prolific developer Mark Quinn, of Quinn Estates, is behind the Conningbrook Park scheme, which he wants to build on fields off Willesborough Road in Kennington overlooking the Wye Downs.
He says the first residents will be able to move in next year if the development is given the green light, with work starting in October or November.
The plans - dubbed Large Burton - first surfaced in 2016 and include a new footbridge over the railway line close to the Julie Rose Stadium and two new site entrances in Willesborough Road.
The scheme will also provide a new home for Ashford Town Bowls Club, which is currently based in Vicarage Lane in the town centre.
Quinn Estates, which has partnered with housebuilder Redrow Homes, has submitted a hybrid application to Ashford Borough Council (ABC), asking for outline planning permission for up to 430 homes and full planning permission for 320.
Permission for the two-form entry primary school will be sought by Kent County Council (KCC), but the developers have applied for approval to create the spot of land the school will go on.
If built, the site will cater for 420 pupils.
Last year, residents raised fears about the impact on wildlife when Quinn Estates chiefs held a public consultation detailing the scheme at the nearby Conningbrook Hotel.
An ecological survey has identified bats, slow worms, grass snakes, badgers, common lizards and water voles on or near the site.
But Mr Quinn, who is already behind numerous developments in Ashford including the Newtown railway works transformation, highlighted the use of "industry-leading experts" to reduce disturbance to the species.
He said: "Much of the work will be focussed within the fields with natural highways formed of green corridors, so we're confident we can mitigate and actually enhance the ecology of the area by a substantial amount.
"The land has been excessively farmed and they've used pesticides on the site.
"We've got acres and acres of land that need improvement, so we're spending lots of money creating proper zones and pathways for wildlife."
The 81.9-acre agricultural site - which is across the road from the existing Little Burton estate - has already been earmarked for development under ABC's Local Plan to 2030.
Quinn Estates is proposing a community centre close to one of the new entrances off Willesborough Road, which will feature office space and a gym.
Mr Quinn says national chains have been showing interest in moving onto the site, with a nationwide shop looking to fill retail space at the community centre and a gym chain having already signed up to take over the 590 sq m studio space planned for the scheme.
In the planning application, it says Quinn Estates is willing to provide a financial contribution to the delivery of Highway England’s scheme for a new Junction 10a on the M20.
Mr Quinn said: "We are putting millions in section 106 contributions into traffic mitigation, and have long been working with KCC Highways and Ashford Borough Council to come up with sufficient mitigation for roads around the site."
Of the 750 homes, 61 one-bed flats are proposed, along with 170 two-bed flats, 34 two-bed houses, 350 three-bed houses and 134 four-bed houses.
Developers are proposing 30% affordable housing.
The bridge over the railway line - providing a crossing point for pedestrians and cyclists - would link the development site with the Conningbrook Lakes country park.
Last year, Mr Quinn confirmed he was in talks with Ashford Town Bowls Club and has now included a 292 sq m clubhouse and bowling green in his plan.
It is not yet known what will happen to the club's current Vicarage Lane home if the move to Kennington goes ahead.
Its Vicarage Lane clubhouse is 108 years old.
Maggie Bray, whose house borders the fields earmarked for construction, has responded angrily to the plans, saying: "We have discussed at length the number of cars per household and where they are all going to go.
"I can’t see that the installation of two access points improves the situation.
"It's also hard to see how 750 houses can improve the habitat for wildlife."
Mrs Bray has also spoken out against the application's design and access statement, which states that "the site is set between transport corridors and the built-up edge of Kennington and is of relatively limited landscape or scenic quality".
Reacting to this comment, the Willesborough Road resident said: "Let’s talk instead about the rolling Kent Downs and beautiful Kentish countryside, one of the most beautiful views around Ashford - in fact touching on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
"I don’t really understand how anyone could make the comment they have. 'The built-up edge of Kennington?' No, this is the scenic countryside of Kennington."
Natalie Ward, of Bybrook Road, Kennington, raised fears over the impact on the town.
She said: "I recognise the need for housing. However, the infrastructure of Ashford will not be able to sustain this level of houses.
"The William Harvey Hospital cannot cope with the current population of Ashford.
"The amount of green space being used by developers is heartbreaking. Wildlife is being lost."
To view the Conningbrook Park scheme - which also features open parkland next to the railway line - visit www.ashford.gov.uk and search for the 19/00025/AS application.
The deadline for public comments is Monday, February 25.