Published: 11:03, 19 November 2020
| Updated: 11:05, 19 November 2020
A major housing development has been rejected by councillors - despite warnings that the decision flies in the face of a government planning ruling.
The council’s planning committee controversially voted on Tuesday to throw out a scheme for 650 homes at Sturry, on the outskirts of Canterbury.
This led to the withdrawing of associated plans for a neighbouring estate of 456 homes at Broad Oak.
The rejection, which could lead to a costly appeal for the authority, came after impassioned objections about the traffic and environmental impact of the scheme.
Concerns were also raised over the density and design of the housing estate and the absence of affordable housing.
Cllr Ashley Clark proposed refusal at the virtual meeting after describing the application as coming from the “sardine school of planning”. He believed too many homes had been crammed into the site.
He also feared for the future of neighbouring ancient woodland, which had been included as part of public open space by the developer.
He estimated it would be overrun with dog walkers, with the pets dumping one-and-a-half tons of waste every week, “giving a new meaning to landfill”.
But the sites are both allocated in the Local Plan for development. They also play a key role in funding the planned £28 million Sturry relief road - which is said to be necessary for the schemes to go ahead.
The combined 1,156 homes of the two schemes are considered crucial to the city council’s target for allocating land for housing. Although both are on the same strategic site, the applications were being considered separately by the planning committee.
The developer said they would be “beautifully and imaginatively designed homes set within the unique landscape environment”.
But dozens of local residents and Sturry Parish Council objected to the plans on numerous grounds. Their concerns included the extra 100 homes added to the scheme since its inclusion in the Local Plan and the installation of two vast sewage tanks to cope with the waste water from the new housing.
Speaking at the meeting, resident Roshna Ahmad said: “The whole development appears to be an exercise to obtain funding for a badly designed, polluting and inefficient road which will merely funnel traffic through the new estate and into the Sturry Road bottleneck –a total waste of valuable money and resources.”
Cllr Clark’s concerns were echoed by Cllr Nick Eden-Green. He said while he did not object to the strategic location of the housing, he believed significant elements of the proposal were “lunacy”.
Cllr Neil Baker agreed the development presented “huge problems” but warned members their reasons for refusal needed to be “watertight” and voted against the proposal to refuse.
As the objections mounted up, the city council’s head of planning Simon Thomas fired a warning shot and reminded members of the crucial Local Plan status of the sites.
Before the vote, he questioned members’ reasons recommended for refusal. He suggested many of them would not stack up if challenged at appeal and the application was only an outline one with details that could change.
They included the objection about the lack of any affordable housing. Mr Thomas said this had already been accepted during the Local Plan process because of the £9 million cost to the developer towards the link road, which the inspector considered took priority.
But the vote still went in favour of refusal, 10 to three.
Speaking after the meeting, local campaigner David Wadmore: “I am pleased that the councillors have seen through this poorly conceived plan.
“Putting a major road through densely packed new housing and smothering a site of high landscape value was always a bad idea.”
After the meeting Cllr Baker said he feared the refusal would “not stack up” at appeal and could have a damaging effect on the council’s requirement to deliver a five-year housing allocation plan.
“There was a lot about the application I wasn’t happy with but this decision could end up being costly for the council if an inspector decides the refusal was unreasonable," he said.
“There must also be serious doubts whether the South East Local Partnership’s contribution to the link road, which is a key element of the funding, will now be forthcoming.”
A spokesman for the applicant Environ Design (Sturry) Ltd said: “We are surprised and disappointed as the scheme delivers the allocation in the council's own adopted Local Plan.
"The scheme would have brought huge benefits to congestion in Sturry, and supported the vital facilities in the centre of the village.
"We are considering the next steps but remain committed.”