Published: 20:01, 22 December 2020
| Updated: 20:51, 22 December 2020
A huge housing development set to dramatically increase the population of Canterbury has been approved - despite claims the project "is living in unicorn land".
The 4,000-home Mountfield Park scheme - the biggest plan ever proposed for the district - will be built on 550 acres of farmland south of the city.
Councillors sitting on the authority's planning committee rubber-stamped the mammoth project at a crunch meeting held virtually tonight.
Led by developers Corinthian Land, construction of the 'garden city' is due to begin next year and be completed within 15 years.
Swathes of farmland spread across an area four times the size of Canterbury’s historic centre will be home to new houses.
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.
Alongside thousands of contemporary homes - of which 30% will be affordable - Mountfield Park will offer shops, office space, sports pitches and two primary schools.
A system of new roads has been drawn up, along with a 1,000-space park and ride scheme and a new junction off the A2.
The city's largest ward, Barton, will double in size as a result of the development.
Tonight's victory for the developers is another loss for campaigners who have spent years battling the project.
It had been given the seal of approval four years ago, but the decision was taken to the Supreme Court and work was continually delayed.
Now, almost exactly four years after originally approving the plans, the council has again green-lit the proposals.
Impassioned critics spoke out at tonight's meeting - arguing the city will resign itself to more pollution and congestion as a result.
Others argued the proposals were outdated and labelled the council "overhasty" for making a decision without calling for further studies.
Beekeeper Sam Eskenazi said: "Canterbury is a wonderful city and one of its biggest strengths is the ease in which residents can escape into nature while still remaining connected to the city.
"To lose yet another stretch of green space and further separate us from the nature around us would be a real loss for our community."
Despite the calls for refusal, the scheme was passed by seven votes to five, with one abstention.
The now-approved development will give a much-needed boost to the city council in its effort to reach optimistic housebuilding targets, which it is currently falling well short of.
Cllr Ashley Clark (Con), who voted in favour, said: "We are being asked to do the impossible.
"If we don't put major schemes through we end up with planning anarchy because we don't get our housing numbers.
"This is why I often refer to this committee as the damage limitation committee.
"These things are never black and white, they are always in various shades of grey. It would be nice to look for perfection but I've not found it yet and know I never will.
"There are bits of this that I quite like and other bits I don't like, and it's an exercise of what shade of grey we have at the end of the day."
His thoughts were echoed by Cllr Neil Baker (Con), who voiced his frustration at parts of the huge proposals "living in unicorn land".
"There are aspects of this proposal which are quite frankly farcical - and it's frustrating.
"We're well aware, as this is in the Local Plan, if we don't put this through tonight it'll probably still happen anyway - I'm 99% sure of that."
A parcel of land is earmarked for a new site for the Kent & Canterbury Hospital. Yet with developer Mark Quinn offering to build a hospital shell elsewhere in the city, and NHS bosses still undecided as to whether or not a new-build is the best option, it is highly unlikely Mountfield Park will house the state-of-the-art facility.
That plot of land is therefore instead primed for a hotel.
As a result of tonight's approval, Corinthian now has outline approval for 3,860 homes and detailed permission for 140.
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.