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Plans for Meopham Valley Vineyard expansion and winery visitor centre withdrawn


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Plans to transform a family vineyard into a major tourist attraction capable of hosting wine-tasting tours have been withdrawn over fears related to traffic and badgers.

Meopham Valley Vineyard planned to expand its existing operation as it looks to grow production and footfall at its 25-acre base on the Kent North Downs.

Meopham Valley Vineyard had submitted plans looking to expand and create a new wine tasting visiting centre. Photo: Meopham Valley Vineyard
Meopham Valley Vineyard had submitted plans looking to expand and create a new wine tasting visiting centre. Photo: Meopham Valley Vineyard

The award-winning company dates back nearly 30 years but was taken over by the Bassi family in 2014, who worked for previous owner David Grey.

A planning application was lodged with Gravesham council last year as part of expansion plans for the erection of a winery and visitor centre set into the hillside.

It included plans for an outdoor terrace and associated landscaping, an access track to the existing vehicle entrance on Whitehill Road, Meopham and on-site parking.

A decision on the bid had been due earlier this year but it has been fraught with delays owing to the pandemic.

However, the application was withdrawn this week after it emerged planning officers were poised to recommend it be rejected when it came before Gravesham's planning committee next Wednesday.

Meopham Valley Vineyard in the North Downs of Kent. Photo: Surinder Bassi
Meopham Valley Vineyard in the North Downs of Kent. Photo: Surinder Bassi

According to a planning report submitted to the local authority, officers considered that the application was not supported by "sufficient detailed information" to demonstrate that it is of high quality in design terms.

There were also fears the development would not be appropriate in terms of its visual impact within the wider landscape and Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

A main sticking point related to its impact on the highway, including vehicle access onto Whitehill Road.

A transport statement accompanying the application concluded that there would be “no unacceptable highway or transport impacts because of the proposed development and the additional vehicle trips, which will mainly occur at weekends, can easily be accommodated by the local highways network”.

It was also proposed that the vineyard will operate its own minibus service which would pick up visitors from local stations.

However, planners raised concerns with respect to the number of trips generated by the development.

Meopham's Valley Vineyard. Picture: John Westhrop.
Meopham's Valley Vineyard. Picture: John Westhrop.

Kent County Council, as the highways authority, also commented that adequate details relating to its mini-bus service had not been provided which could result in a greater number of vehicle movements than outlined.

It also questioned other assumptions, including the number of trips linked to a proposed 30 seat restaurant.

The project faced opposition locally and around 1,300 representations were made objecting to it, of which around 650 were signed circular letters.

Criticisms were levelled in particular at the proposal's construction and noise impact, implications for traffic and parking and perceived encroachment on the green belt.

Wildlife fears were also raised including objections from the Meopham Village Action Group and the West Kent Badger Group.

The badger group noted a well-used crossing in Whitehill Road close to the access point and a nest and said an increase in traffic would pose a significant threat to the creatures.

The West Kent Bader Group raised concerns over the site's plans
The West Kent Bader Group raised concerns over the site's plans

The group told planners: "No thought has been given in the application to how this development would impact on badgers and other wildlife.

"This lack of information means that the safety and well-being of badgers in the area cannot be guaranteed thus we must ask that this application be rejected."

However, the proposals also received a total of around 460 representations supporting the development.

These noted the project's potential economic and tourism benefits, the diversification of the existing agricultural business and benefits to the local community including jobs creation.

Remarks on the planning portal also praised the scheme's design and said it had a limited impact on the highway network.

Meopham Valley Vineyard, which sells still and sparking wines, recently signed up as a supplier to the Produced in Kent shop based in Bluewater, which supported the application.

Kent grape growers have seen huge demand for their tipples over recent years, bagging a host of top awards.

Among those highly-regarded wine producers across the county are Chapel Down in Tenterden, Hush Heath in Staplehurst and the relatively newer Chartham Vineyard, near Canterbury.

The region’s wine industry accounts for more than 70% of the wine produced in the country and counts Japan as a major international client.

In September, plans for a multi-million pound winery in Cuxton, spearheaded by Wembley Arches architect Lord Norman Foster, were lodged with Medway council and are set to be considered shortly.

Read more: All the latest news from Gravesend

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