A developer has lodged an appeal against refused plans for new homes close to an important bird habitat after a “no cats” policy was rejected.
Longfield-based Esquire Developments had asked for permission to build up to 21 homes on the Hoo Peninsula.
Two applications were submitted to Medway Council back in November 2020 for multiple homes between two and five-bedrooms in size.
One proposed nine homes on land north of Lodge Hill Lane, Chattenden - about 1km away from the Ratcliffe Highway in Hoo.
A second application lodged plans for between eight and 12 self-build properties directly next to it.
However the applications were refused in December last year by Medway Council.
The planning committee felt they would have a “significantly detrimental impact” on neighbouring Chattenden Woods and the Lodge Hill Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - a habitat for nightingales.
A protected bird species, they nest close to ground level making them vulnerable to predators.
The earmarked land is also close to the MOD's former army camp and the closed Deangate Ridge Golf Course, both of which are covered by the SSSI.
A report said: "The development for residential dwellings is considered to have a significantly detrimental impact on Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI, in terms of the increased activity from future occupants of the development accessing this area, and through impact on the protected nightingales that inhabit this site, from cat predation."
Objections to the plans were also raised by the RSPB, Natural England and the Kent Wildlife Trust.
In a letter to the council, the RSPB added: “Birds will be highly vulnerable to the indirect long-term impact arising from the proposed housing, including disturbance from noise and artificial lighting, recreational disturbance (where access allows) and predation by domestic cats.”
A “no-cat policy” was suggested by developers for future occupants in a bid to see the proposal given the green light.
It was also on the cards for the site to be secured with cat-proof fencing to reduce the risk of harm to the nightingales.
However, the RSPB deemed cat covenants as "unenforceable”.
A statement from ward representative, Cllr John Williams (Con, Strood Rural), read out by head of planning Dave Harris, noted at the time: “Consenting this development – not only being within 400 metres of the SSSI but adjacent to its boundary – would set a dangerous precedent for development being brought forward for the Hoo Peninsula.
“I feel this development would be detrimental to the area, loss of amenity to existing residents, a danger to wildlife in the local SSSI and it's totally unsustainable.”
Former Tory councillor, Martin Potter, who chose not to stand at May's borough elections, pointed out how, ironically, there is a cattery in Lodge Hill Lane.
He previously said if the decision to refuse the plans went to appeal the applicant's lawyers may point this out.
Esquire Developments has now launched an appeal to try and get the refusal of the developments overturned.
In a statement outlining its appeal against the Lodge Hill Lane refusal, the property developers state: “The scheme is in a suitable and sustainable location and the development represents the reuse of an underused site.
“The scheme will deliver much-needed housing in an area which is not meeting its housing need and has not met its housing need in a generation.
“Furthermore, Medway’s future supply is woefully short and represents a substantial shortfall of 3,220 dwellings in the immediate five-year period.”
The firm also disputes the “significant” level of harm on the SSSI alleged by the council.
“Notwithstanding that the level of existing residential development is high, the SSSI and the biodiversity that contributes towards this designation have not been adversely affected by it, and indeed arguably, have thrived in such a location,” it adds.
Medway councillor Michael Pearce and his fellow Hoo councillors, have set up a petition against the appeal.
So far it has already reached nearly 500 signatures.
Cllr Pearce (Ind) said: "In their appeal documentation, Esquire Developments has ignored a very crucial piece of evidence which is that a large number of nightingale territories (2012 survey) at Lodge Hill are situated within very close proximity to the proposed development.
“This isn't the case with the Cliffe Woods application on the boundary of Chattenden Woods."
"Surprisingly, Esquire has actually accepted that the development cannot fully mitigate its impact. Applying National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), when it comes to SSSIs, the appeals should be dismissed on this acceptance alone.
“Esquire also accepts that it can't overcome the holding objection from Natural England. The very basis and rationale behind these appeals is questionable.”
Save The Hoo Peninsula, a group campaigning to save protected wildlife sites across the area, also said of the appeal: “The Hoo Peninsula's nightingales are under threat and representatives, groups and organisations are rallying to fight this development.”
One person commented online: “Why the hell can't they leave the natural beauty of the area alone? Developers are a ruddy menace.”
Another person added: “We don’t want or need any more houses here – leave us alone.”
The Hoo Peninsula has been a hotspot for housing debate.
Following the decision to strip £170 million of funding from Medway Council as part of the government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) last year, more than 10,000 homes were planned for the rural district before the decision to reverse the funding was made.
Medway has to provide a total of 28,500 homes by 2040, as part of central government housing targets amid a widespread need for young people to get on the property ladder.
Planning appeals are dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate - an independent government agency.
An inspector will visit Lodge Hill Lane at a later date to either confirm or overturn the original decision.
You can view updates on the two applications here, searching for references MC/20/2979 and MC/20/2980.
The deadline for submitting representations is Wednesday, November 22.