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Plans approved for winemakers Chapel Down to relocate production from Tenterden to winery near Canterbury

Plans for a huge new winery in the Kent countryside have narrowly been given the go-ahead in a controversial decision.

Councillors said there were “exceptional” reasons for granting the bid by Chapel Down for an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) near Canterbury.

The £32 million project will see the UK’s biggest English sparkling wine producer relocate its production facilities from Tenterden to farmland at Canterbury Business Park, off the A2 near Bridge.

The city council’s planning committee approve the scheme at a meeting yesterday evening, despite objections from countryside campaigners and watchdogs.

The pros and cons of the application at Highland Court Farm, submitted by business park bosses, divided councillors - with permission eventually being granted seven votes to five after a near hour-long debate.

The proposal is for a 120m x 100m, 42ft high production building for Chapel Down and two further smaller storage warehouses, including one for bespoke wine producer Defined Wine, which already operates from the site.

Chapel Down chief executive Andrew Carter told councillors the company was on a mission “to change the way the world thinks about English wines forever”.

The site of the planned construction of the new winery
The site of the planned construction of the new winery

He said his ambition was to more than double production to at least six million bottles a year by 2032.

The site proposed for Canterbury Business Park, he said, offered a unique opportunity to put its operations under one roof in a location that offered excellent transport links.

It would also boost the local economy and jobs, he argued, with land at Highland Court also being assessed for the planting of vines.

“Canterbury is in the perfect position to become the wine capital of England,” he added.

But Katie Miller, planning manager for the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, said the test of “exceptional” reasons for developing in the AONB had not been met.

How the winery could look
How the winery could look

“These are substantial industrial buildings which we say landscaping cannot mitigate,” she said.

“AONBs are afforded the same protection as our national parks and this scheme is not in the public interest, only that of the applicant.

“We do not believe there are compelling reasons for such a large-scale and harmful development.”

Local campaigners from Conserve Adisham’s Rural Environment also objected, claiming the application was “anti-local economy”, would damage the countryside and lead to traffic congestion and pollution in the surrounding country lanes.

Opinion in the council chamber in Canterbury was divided after planning officers opened the debate by recommending the scheme be approved.

Chapel Down's current vineyard near Tenterden
Chapel Down's current vineyard near Tenterden

They agreed great weight had to be given to the impact on the AONB, but believed screening with trees was sufficient mitigation and “on balance” the significant economic benefits, including creating 400 jobs, outweighed the “limited harm” to the landscape.

Cllr Mark Dance agreed, saying he was “fully supportive” of the application because of the economic benefits it would bring to Canterbury.

But Cllr Jean Stockley feared there would be potential for the development to grow in the future and could not support it.

Cllr Nick Eden-Green also shared his concerns, saying he believed any economic benefits were “trumped” by the harm to the landscape.

Chapel Down CEO Andrew Carter
Chapel Down CEO Andrew Carter

But Cllr David Thomas said the employment opportunities it would create meant it would get his vote.

After the meeting the boss of the award-winning Chapel Down said he was “delighted” councillors had voted in favour of the plans.

“This development will have a significant positive impact, creating jobs, increasing local spending and placing Canterbury at the heart of the country’s burgeoning wine industry,” he predicted.

“Following this successful planning outcome, we look forward to working with all of our stakeholders to deliver the next stage of this project, which will underpin our long-term growth plans.”

Highland Court Investments boss Gary Walters
Highland Court Investments boss Gary Walters

The company’s operations director and head winemaker, Josh Donaghay-Spire, added: “Twinned with Rheims, we believe that the creation of this state-of-the-art hub for wine production will further burnish Canterbury’s credentials as England’s own sparkling wine capital, and Chapel Down’s status as England’s leading and largest winemaker.”

Gary Walters, chief executive of Highland Investments Company - which runs Canterbury Business Park - said he too was delighted by the decision.

He also believed it would put Canterbury on the international stage for wine-making.

“We see it as a boost to the local economy with spin-off jobs in the future and people spending money in the local community,” he said.

"This development will have a significant positive impact..."

“What we are trying to create is a nice place to work with a rural feel while being environmentally responsible.

“I welcome anyone with concerns to come and talk to us, which, so far, they haven’t taken the opportunity to.

“For example, we did invite the AONB to come and speak to us, but they didn’t.

“We are ideally located here, with an underused junction and employees are not clogging up Canterbury to get to work.”

The original proposals for the business park had also included a rural employment hub with further building, which were dropped from the planning application

But Mr Walters says it remains his long-term ambition to create further accommodation and opportunities for rural and artisan businesses at the park.

There is no current timeframe for when work will start on the new buildings.

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