Published: 12:00, 27 May 2021
| Updated: 14:08, 27 May 2021
A staggering 17,000 new homes could be built across the district to fund a four-mile bypass drawing cars out of Canterbury’s congested city centre.
Developers have put forward almost 180 sites for Canterbury City Council to consider for inclusion in its Local Plan, which will act as its housing blueprint up until 2040.
It has outlined three ways in which the district could expand, with its preferred option being to add between 14,000 and 17,000 homes to the area.
The target dwarfs the government’s minimum requirement of 9,000, and is in addition to the 16,000 already earmarked for construction by 2031 in the authority’s original Local Plan.
But the council claims it has opted for a “bolder approach”, as the funds generated by the increased levels of construction would allow it to construct an eastern bypass, stretching from Sturry to Bridge.
Leader Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding (Con) argued: “It’s the issue that never goes away - build as few homes as possible but continue to overload our already-creaking infrastructure, or propose enough development to fund the infrastructure we actually need, now and in the future.
“We have the chance here to be visionary and radical, taking the steps to tackle the issues with traffic and congestion in the middle of Canterbury once and for all.
“But to get to that place, which many have told us they want to get to, and with all the benefits it brings for the environment and our health, we’ll have to accept thousands of additional new houses so that the bypass can be paid for and built.”
The proposed route – which has been mooted for the last three years – would stretch from the A28 at Sturry, across to the A257 and then on to a new junction at the A2 at Bridge.
Supporters of the scheme insist it will allow vehicles to be removed from Canterbury’s inner ring road and replaced with dedicated cycle lanes and public transport links.
They argue the changes will address the city’s gridlock issues, improve air quality and enhance its historic sites.
Despite this, council papers show it expects to focus most of the work around Canterbury “as the economic hub of the district, through the expansion of the city and new or satellite settlement(s)”.
Labour leader Cllr Dave Wilson believes this strategy of trying “to build our way out of congestion is not only ludicrous, but bound to fail”.
He added: “The eastern bypass route is fraught with problems, especially between the A257 and the A28, with massive negative environmental impacts across villages, rural areas and the Stour Valley.
“If current performance is anything to go by, it will be built after, not before, the housing, which means there will be a significant period when congestion will be massively worse even than we currently experience.”
“Such massive development concentrated around the city ignores the other infrastructure impacts, not least on sewage systems which are already unable to support the existing numbers of planned houses.
“We would prefer more of an emphasis on improving walking and cycling infrastructure, more green space, and fewer new houses with a preference for genuinely affordable homes for local residents.”
Cllr Wilson also doubts whether Kent County Council – the highways authority – would actually give the green light to the bypass scheme.
This comes after county councillors surprisingly snubbed plans for the Sturry relief road, a project that was drawn up to reduce congestion through the Sturry level crossing, in March.
Veteran Lib Dem councillor Nick Eden-Green has also questioned the logic behind adding thousands of new homes to the city in order to put a stop to its gridlock problems.
The Wincheap representative believes such largescale expansion could transform Canterbury into an area resembling large towns like Swindon.
"To build our way out of congestion is not only ludicrous, but bound to fail..."
“The bypass should have been part of its original Local Plan. The council is in a hole and what it’s doing is only digging the hole deeper,” the centrist said.
“The present Local Plan already puts a preponderance of homes in Canterbury stretching from Hersden through to Thanington.
“Putting a further 17,000 in with an emphasis on Canterbury will more than double the size of the city and change what is a fairly small, intimate city into another Swindon.
“We should be looking at a new settlement of some sort – like a new town or garden city – to take the housing numbers that are being required by central government.
“It could be shared with one or two neighbouring authorities and have a population of 30,000 or 40,000.”
Council bosses have identified five other options for the Local Plan.
These include sticking to the government’s minimum requirement of 9,000 new homes – predominantly located around Canterbury – and focusing developments on the coast or in the rural parts of the district.
The authority has also identified building a “new freestanding settlement” while limiting growth in Canterbury as a possibility.
The authority’s policy committee will meet tonight (Thursday) to discuss whether to launch a public consultation into the options for the Local Plan.
“If councillors agree to go out to consultation,” Cllr Fitter-Harding added, “we will be very keen to see where public opinion sits, both on this thorny issue and on our vision for the district for the next 20 years.”
Maps produced by the city council show that, of the 177 plots put forward by developers, the largest are in Canterbury.
This includes land surrounding the University of Kent campus.
On these plots, builders are proposing to erect homes, further student accommodation, a hotel and research buildings.
A spokesman for the university told KentOnline: “We submitted proposals for a range of possible developments across a number of potential sites on our landholdings.
“Our proposals are to ensure the university remains competitive in a changing higher education landscape and can respond to evolving needs for the future in the education and experience of our students as well as research and innovation.
“As the largest university in the region, it is also our responsibility to ensure that we explore any opportunities that could be of wider benefit to the community, including meeting local need through surplus land on our estate.”
Further developments have been planned for plots off Bekesbourne Lane and Littlebourne Road.
And firm Quinn Estates, which is run by Kent house-builder Mark Quinn, hopes to transform Merton Park in the south of the city into a development comprising 2,000 homes, commercial space and leisure facilities.
A notice on the company’s website says the scheme will also include “game-changing health infrastructure” in the form of the shell of a new hospital.
“Legal agreements are in place for the delivery of this project,” it adds.
“Merton Park is exceptionally well placed to be able to deliver significant housing, early in the plan period.”
Housing and leisure facilities have been proposed for the Old Park training area, stretching from the Howe Barracks site to Fordwich.
Fordwich, which has been dubbed the smallest town in Britain, is also the subject of a bid for 45 homes off Well Lane.
Town council chairman Philip Lewis previously said: “I would be very surprised if Fordwich didn’t lose its status as the smallest town in the country.
“More than losing that, we’ll lose the historic character of the place because 45 more houses would mean as many as 100 more cars ploughing through the place as there’s no bus service here.
“These Roman roads cannot carry that sort of weight. It’s pretty chaotic already; it would only add to that chaos.”
Two housing schemes have been suggested for Broad Oak, with developers also looking to squeeze more homes in at Hoplands, Hersden.
A large section of land to the south of Aylesham has also been proposed for a residential estate.
The inclusion of two large housing projects to the east of Whitstable in the city council’s call for sites has prompted fears the town’s border with Herne Bay will become increasingly blurred.
Tankerton councillor Neil Baker explained: “I think anything that risks merging the communities of Whitstable and Herne Bay should be avoided at all costs.
“There’s a lot of sites that risk almost blurring the lines between Greenhill and Chestfield.
“The green gap between the towns has been sacrosanct for generations.
“It gives areas a sense of character, a sense of place. Do we really want concrete going down where we’ve got green land?”
Cllr Baker is concerned that, if a bid to convert the Oyster Indoor Bowling Centre and Whitstable Harbour Garage into homes is allowed to go ahead, it could trigger a sea change along the coast.
“Any residential building on the harbour should also be avoided at all costs,” he added.
“If someone moves in and complains about the smells and sounds, the resident could be given priority.
“It could kill the harbour.”
The largest plot put forward is at Brooklands Farm, which developers are eyeing up for homes, Gypsy and traveller accommodation, shops and open space.
Two further sites have been proposed off the A2990 Old Thanet Way.
“We’re at a very early stage,” Cllr Baker continued.
“I would understand why a lot of people would look at that map and panic.
“But I’m probably more relaxed because I know only a percentage will get into the Local Plan and built, and it will take about 40 years.”
The town has attracted the least attention from developers thus far.
Currently, the largest housing schemes proposed for the area are in Herne, on land to the south of School Lane, and behind the village’s GP surgery.
Herne and Broomfield parish councillor Carol Davis believes the influx of new residents from the sites, should they be included in the Local Plan, would be a “disaster” for the area.
“It just doesn’t seem right - we’ve had more than our fair share of developments already,” she said.
“They’re talking about putting hundreds more cars down School Lane and Broomfield Road into the village.
“When you compare the sites to the size of Strode Farm (also in Herne), where they’re putting 800, they’re much bigger areas.
“It’ll make the village more of a town - it’ll be horrible.”
Smaller sites off Thornden Wood Road and Bullockstone Road and behind Studd Hill have also been put forward.
Meanwhile, slivers of land on the town’s former golf course, which is already earmarked for more than 600 homes, are being eyed up by house-builders.
Developer Mark Quinn, whose firm is behind the bid, said: “We had a pub site there on the market for five years.
“It’s never going to be a pub now. No bank would lend me the money to build a pub now.
“The redesign of the golf club scheme will probably see another 50 or 60 homes.”
Drafts of the city council’s preferred option for the Local Plan show the authority wants Herne Bay’s seafront “to be the focus of regeneration”.
It loosely states that it wants the area to become a “thriving town with a diverse economy... that attracts investment and jobs”.
But because the city council wants to concentrate most of the district’s developments over the next 19 years around Canterbury, Cllr Nick Eden-Green says the Bay may fall short of its regeneration targets.
“Herne Bay has long been recognised as most in need of regeneration,” the Wincheap Lib Dem explained.
“If more housing is the answer to economic regeneration – and I seriously question whether or not it really is – then should we not be concentrating on the area most in need?
“We need to be looking at the regeneration of Herne Bay in particular, which seems to have been left behind in this process.”