Published: 13:40, 20 October 2021
| Updated: 15:48, 20 October 2021
The biggest ever housing development in Canterbury has been thrown into doubt today after planning permission for the 4,000-home estate was overturned following a high court ruling.
The controversial Mountfield Park scheme - which would have swallowed up more than 550 acres of countryside - was due to be built to the south of the city.
But developers Corinthian have now been pushed back to square one after Canterbury City Council today quashed its own decision to green-light the scheme.
The authority was forced to take the shock action after a judge accepted a determined residents' bid to take the ruling to a judicial review.
Construction of the 'garden city' was planned to begin soon and be complete within 15 years, with swathes of farmland across an area four times the size of Canterbury’s historic centre being turned into housing.
But a High Court judge has this morning ratified the council's decision to quash the planning permission.
For years the authority has been keen to press ahead with the project in a bid to catch up with government house-building targets, yet it decided to revoke the permission rather than face a lengthy court process.
The highly controversial development, which would stretch out towards Bridge, was originally given the go-ahead in December 2016, but a brick has never been laid due to a number of legal battles.
And now the latest, launched by New Dover Road resident Thomas Lynch, has been successful in bringing the scheme to a halt once more.
The former paratrooper launched his bid for judicial review in March this year, listing three reasons why the development should be discarded.
He stressed that the council erred in law by failing to comply with its own Local Plan, failed to sufficiently assess damage to the Stodmarsh nature reserve, and did not provide financial viability assessments regarding the delivery of affordable housing.
A High Court judge, the Honourable Mr Justice Waksman, granted permission for Mr Lynch’s case to proceed on all grounds.
The council therefore opted to concede the case and agreed that the Mountfield Park planning permission should be quashed. Despite conceding two of the grounds, the council has not accepted the Stodmarsh argument.
The authority has also paid Mr Lynch his legal costs.
Mr Lynch, who lives in New Dover Road, raised almost £30,000 from hundreds of supporters to bring the judicial review and was in the High Court today to hear the ruling.
"Obviously, we are delighted, " he said.
"But my main issue has been with the city council and its members, who steamrollered this decision through, totally ignoring the views of residents who they are supposed to represent."
Mr Lynch says he has been working on bringing the legal action for almost three years and received widespread support from people living in the area.
He now intends to pay back their contributions when the costs are reimbursed by the council.
"I fully expect Corinthian to come back with revised plans, and I will take advice at that stage on what further action, if any, we will take," he added.
"But only recently, the Prime Minister said he would not be allowing any more development on greenfield sites, so we can only hope he is good for his word."
The original planning permission for the scheme lapsed last year due to continual delays, so the proposals had to be brought back before councillors.
It was again voted through last December, and Corinthian planned to begin work this year, with an average of 300 properties constructed every 12 months.
But the firm has been stopped in its tracks due to today's decision.
Corinthian, however, is not taking the news as a final defeat, and bosses are instead striving to resubmit a revised masterplan next year.
A spokesman for the firm said: "Elected councillors have now voted twice for affordable, sustainable and beautiful new homes in Canterbury, and it is disappointing to see those much-needed homes delayed again.
"The application will be considered by committee for a third time in the next few months.
'We are confident that we will be able to get going with making this wonderful new place in the new year...'
"In the meantime we will continue to work closely with residents and with Canterbury City Council, who are determined to see sustainable, affordable homes built for local people in east Kent.
"This development is vital for Canterbury’s future – vital for the people of Canterbury, vital for the historic city centre, and vital for the sustainable future of the city.
"We are more determined than ever to create a beautiful and sustainable community, and are confident that we will be able to get going with making this wonderful new place in the new year."
The city council has issued a brief statement, confirming the plans will again be brought back before councillors.
Spokesman Rob Davies said: "Following recent legal action, the planning application for the South Canterbury urban extension will be considered afresh by our planning committee.
'We are more determined than ever to create a beautiful and sustainable community...'
"We expect this to be early next year."
Alongside the thousands of homes - of which 30% were planned to be affordable - Mountfield Park was proposed to offer shops, office space, sports pitches and two primary schools.
A system of new roads had been drawn up, along with a 1,000-space park and ride scheme and a new junction off the A2.