Published: 06:00, 01 October 2020
| Updated: 08:19, 01 October 2020
Construction of the biggest-ever housing development in Canterbury is hoped to start next year - but a fresh stumbling block has now emerged.
The 4,000-home Mountfield Park scheme, which will swallow up more than 550 acres of fields to the south of the city, was controversially approved in December 2016.
But lengthy legal battles at the highest courts in the land have seen the huge development stalled for four years, causing the planning permission to lapse.
As a result, the scheme - led by developers Corinthian Land - must be decided upon again.
After poring over hundreds of pages of policy and sifting through public responses, city council officer Ceri Williams had recommended members of the planning committee approve the revised plans at a virtual meeting tonight (Thursday).
But the application has now been pulled from the agenda due to water quality issues at the Stodmarsh Nature Reserve.
A statement from Canterbury City Council explains the reasoning for the further delay.
"The Stodmarsh Nature Reserve is protected under European law and is managed by Natural England.
"It believes water quality in the lakes has deteriorated. At the same time, European water quality targets have been made more onerous.
"This means before we approve any new housing development within the River Stour catchment area, or that would discharge waste water into it, applicants for planning permission need to satisfy Natural England they have made sure there are enough mitigation measures in place to stop this happening.
"We have come to the conclusion the new environmental information that has been uncovered means we have a moral and legal obligation to consult with the public."
A decision on the Mountfield Park has therefore been put on hold once again.
Dubbed a “garden city” due to its sheer size, Corinthian says the mammoth estate will “undoubtedly kickstart the local economy” in the wake of the havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The scheme will give a much-needed boost to the city council in its effort to reach optimistic housebuilding targets, which it is currently falling short of.
As well as 4,000 homes, the project will also deliver two new primary schools, a new interchange off the A2 near Bridge, sports pitches and a replacement park and ride site.
A new site for the Kent and Canterbury Hospital is also part of the plan, should fresh space be needed for the city’s proposed new-build hospital.
Work on the development is forecast to begin next year and be fully complete by 2035.
The first 50 houses are anticipated to be finished in 2021, with the next 150 completed by March 2022.
An average of 300 properties will then be built each year across an area four times the size of Canterbury’s historic centre.
"The delays to Mountfield Park have been frustrating but the time has been put to good use..."
A five-storey apartment building is set to be the project’s “prominent” landmark.
The original application, approved four years ago, unsurprisingly proved to be one of the most contentious in the city’s history.
Upon returning to committee once again, councillors must weigh up the numerous objections which have since been lodged.
Residents groups have raised a series of concerns, such as insufficient traffic management, pollution and lack of healthcare provision.
But John Trotter, managing director at Corinthian Land, says the scheme has been enhanced over the last four years.
“The delays to Mountfield Park have been frustrating but the time has been put to good use whereby the project has been enhanced in a number of respects,” he said.
“The commencement of a project of the size of this would undoubtedly kickstart the local economy at this most critical time and we look forward to progressing the first phase next year.
“One of the company’s first actions will be to provide the initial funding for the council to set in motion the city-wide bike scheme.”
The bike project is part of a £7.5 million initiative to turn Mountfield Park into one of the most cycle-friendly housing estates in England.
Each home will be given an electric bicycle, with Corinthian hoping 13% of journeys to and from the estate will be on two wheels. The firm says the start-up funding will be a “major step forward” for the city.
Bisected by the New Dover Road, the land earmarked for development is presently farmland.
It begins from the Barton housing area, spreading south as far as the A2 and west to Nackington Road.
New Dover Road will be the main route in and out of the development, while Nackington Road and Pilgrims Way will also have vehicular access.
Tonight's crunch meeting was due to be one of the final hurdles before Mountfield Park eventually became a reality. But with fresh fears over the effects on water quality at Stodmarsh have yet again pushed it back.