Published: 00:00, 01 April 2016
| Updated: 08:54, 01 April 2016
A huge development in the heart of Faversham countryside has been given a green light.
The leader of the council Andrew Bowles declared that "future generations will now not know Faversham in the same way we all know it and love it" as his peers voted to approve an outline application for 310 homes, a care home and a hotel at Perry Court.
More than 100 campaigners filed into Swale Borough Council's headquarters last night (Thursday) to watch as the planning committee threw its support behind the proposal.
There were fiery calls from the public gallery for chairman of the planning committee Cllr Bryan Mulhern to quit his role on the town council after he was one of nine to vote for approval of the plans.
The town council, including Cllr Ted Wilcox and Cllr David Simmons who urged their colleagues on the committee to turn down the plans with impassioned speeches last night, had recommended the plans for refusal last year.
Cllr Mulhern said afterwards: "As chairman, I could not run a planning committee into the ground with hundreds of thousands of pounds of costs if it had gone to appeal.
"I do not like it for the people of Faversham but I was in a position where there was no legal way of turning it down.
"The ward councillors made passionate speeches, yes, but not one of them could come up with any material reasons to refuse the application.
"If I had voted for it, I would be defending a defenseless situation."
Cllr Mike Henderson, a borough councillor for the Davington Priory ward, has also been criticised after he abstained from the vote.
This same application had come before this same committee back in October when controversially, head of planning James Freeman had called the meeting to a halt when he realised councillors were about to reject the plans he had recommended for approval.
The authority were then accused of riding roughshod over democracy.
Plans arrived back in the council chambers in November but the meeting was cancelled with less than 24 hours to go after a new air quality assessment came to light.
But last night, with less than an hour of debate, councillors voted nine to five for approval.
Before the committee began its discussion, Mayor of Faversham Nigel Kay, chairman of Painter's Forstal parish council Andrew Keel, campaigner and resident of Brogdale Road Brian Tovey and campaigner and resident of Ospringe Place David Bass outlined their arguments for why the plans should be refused.
They spoke about the effects on the already congested roads of the A2, A251 and Brogdale Road and the pressure on Ospringe and pollution in the area.
They outlined the "devastating" loss of prime agricultural land, the suggestion that the plans breach the National Planning Policy Framework and are not included in the draft Local Plan.
With the recent news that more than 80 new sites had come forward for more possible land for development, there were calls from Cllr Mike Baldock that Perry Court should be put on hold until the council find out whether there are alternative, more suitable sites for development.
But it wasn't to be.
Cllr Simmons addressed the committee: "I often challenge but I rarely disagree with the advice of officers.
"But I think this advice is wrong.
"To use someone else's words, it will be a carbuncle on the face of Faversham."
Cllr Simmons, who is also a farmer, went on to emphasise the impact on the countryside and the "loss of the best and most versatile farmland".
"I have never seen a more widespread opposed issue in Faversham than this one. The only comparison would be a proposal to close Faversham's cottage hospital." - Cllr David Simmons
He said: "You could argue that 75 acres of Perry Court represents a small area in agricultural land but that land will produce crops for years and years, for decades to come.
"If it is built on, that will be gone forever.
"I have never seen a more widespread opposed issue in Faversham than this one.
"The only comparison would be a proposal to close Faversham's cottage hospital."
He said after the meeting that he was "very upset", "sorry" to his constituents and that he would continue to fight for Faversham and get as much out of the Section 106 agreements as possible.
Ruth McKeown was representing the applicant Hallam Land Management and empathised with the councillors for the "difficult" decision they had to make.
She referred to the Brogdale Road application, where Shepherd Neame were offered planning permission for 63 homes after it went to an appeal, costing the council thousands of pounds.
She said: "That found there was no land supply for housing in Faversham and found that south of the A2 should not be protected.
"Logic says that the council should now consider Perry Court."
There has been a long-running council aim to protect land south of the A2, but Cllr Mulhern said last night that he now saw the boundary as far back as the M2.
Mrs McKeown outlined a number of objections which had been put forward but said that "we have concluded that actually the impacts will be negligible".
The leader of the council Cllr Bowles said: "I was born and brought up in Faversham and I have lived my whole life within a couple of miles of the town centre.
"I am proud of this town and I love it immensely.
"My grandson is here tonight and he will be the last generation to know Faversham as the market town we have all grown up in and loved, if this goes ahead tonight.
"Future generations will now not know Faversham in the same way we all know it and love it."
Before the plans were put to a vote, head of planning James Freeman urged the committee to follow his recommendation.
He said: "I understand the difficulties members are having with this.
"But members are aware, however, that the council is having to increase its housing target from 540 to 776."
He went on to say that without Perry Court, they would struggle to meet that number as the council has been asked by a government inspector for more proportional housing figures across the borough.
He said: "There are no reasons to refuse this. If you refuse it, you will need to have confidence that there are sites for alternative housing to meet the target.
"If this plan is accepted then we would be in a much better place.
"I would strongly urge members to accept this report as I do not consider there are any sound, material objections to refuse this."