Published: 00:04, 05 February 2019
| Updated: 10:46, 05 February 2019
A controversial plan to build a £125 million holiday village and sports complex on protected countryside has failed to win the backing of the city council.
For a year-and-a-half, Quinn Estates has been working on proposals to transform an area of outstanding natural beauty at Highland Court Farm, near Bridge, into a "game-changing" centre for sporting excellence - including delivering a new stadium for Canterbury City FC.
However, a damning officer's report has listed 12 grounds for recommending the divisive application be rejected by councillors.
The planning committee will decide the fate of the development tonight, three days after Canterbury City reached the quarter-finals of the FA Vase following a 2-1 win over Leicester Nirvana.
At the meeting will be chairman of the nomadic football club, Tim Clark, who says he is ready to fight hard to convince councillors to vote the scheme through.
"I intend to look them straight in the eyes and tell them it’s time for justice and a 'Yes' vote," he said.
"We have no plan B and a 'No' vote will see the club collapse for the second time in 20 years. It’s as stark a choice as that.
"The city council has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vote for a sporting legacy that will serve generations to come."
Along with the football club, which currently ground-shares with Faversham, the scheme includes six new pitches and a clubhouse for Canterbury Rugby Club.
The 300-acre project would also create a luxury 175-holiday home complex, artisan food and drink outlets, an extension to Canterbury Business Park and ‘innovation centre’ for start-up businesses.
It is a joint venture between Quinn Estates and the Highland Investment Company, which owns the farm, and aims to attract wealthy visitors to the county by creating an idyllic estate of second homes in the style of the Cotswolds’ Yoo Lakes and Silverlakes in Dorset.
Having gained a host of objections, including from Natural England, Kent Wildlife Trust, Dover District Council and a number of parish councils, the development has long-proved contentious.
That controversy has been recognised by authority planning officer Steve Musk, who cites adverse traffic problems, harm to the protected landscape, a lack of affordable housing, loss of agricultural land and a lack of community infrastructure as reasons behind his recommendation to refuse the project.
The report has angered Mark Quinn, CEO of Quinn Estates, who adamantly believes the development can bring a significant economic boost to Canterbury.
He said: "The report definitely doesn't give a fair or balanced appraisal of the plans. They have chosen to ignore significant elements of evidence we have supplied and hardly touched on the great praise we got. We're extremely disappointed by it."
With the decision by no means being set in stone until the planning committee meeting, Mr Quinn hopes the tide can still turn in his favour.
He added: "We would be amazed if councillors refuse it. I am very hopeful that they will look at it and use their common sense."
In stark contrast, Barham Downs Action Group chairman David Howe is hoping the recommendation is followed through.
"I'm very happy with it," he said.
"It really is a damning report, I've never seen one quite as bad as that before.
"The chances the application will be refused are very high, I believe.
"Though, you can never say never - it's not over until the fat lady sings."
A council planning’s officer’s report on the Highland Court development highlights 12 key reasons on why it has been recommended for refusal.
Despite acknowledging the support it would provide for leisure activities and sport clubs, Steve Musk questions its proposed location in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
His report says: “The proposed development would represent an unsustainable, sporadic and visually harmful form of development detrimental to the rural character and appearance of the area... no exceptional circumstances have been demonstrated to override the identified harm to the designated landscape.”
Apparent failures to address the “adverse impact on air quality” were also cited in the report along with regret over the loss of the “best and most versatile” agricultural land.
It continues: “Together with the significant levels of traffic generated by the development, the application is therefore considered to cause harm to highway safety.”
The fact the proposed 300 acres are not included in the city council’s Local Plan blueprint is another factor against Mr Quinn’s plans.
The report also cites failures to secure necessary community infrastructure, not offering an appropriate housing market mix and a lack of sufficient archaeological assessments as more reasons behind the refusal.
Councillors will vote on the development tonight at the Guildhall, Canterbury from 6.30pm.