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Appeal allowed against Medway Council's decision to refuse planning permission for 800 home East Hill proposal at Capstone Valley

An appeal has been granted against Medway Council's refusal to grant permission to build hundreds of new homes on land described as a "vital green lung".

The Attwood farming family wants to build 800 new homes on agricultural land which runs alongside North Dane Way, Lordswood.

Development proposal site East Hill, Capstone Valley
Development proposal site East Hill, Capstone Valley

The proposed site, East Hill, is next to Capstone Farm Country Park and includes plans for a two-form entry primary school, a GP surgery, shops and three play areas.

But members of Medway Council's planning committee unanimously refused the bid - which attracted more than 900 letters of objection - during a hearing last year.

An appeal was lodged with the Planning Inspectorate which has now decided there is a "demonstrable" need for the proposal which addressed a "very significant shortfall" in housing.

It has granted outline planning permission for an application, with conditions, for the erection of up to 800 homes.

Planning inspector Daniel Hartley accepted the proposal would result in some "limited adverse harm" to the the character and beauty of the countryside.

Worried residents fear Capstone Valley is under threat from over-development
Worried residents fear Capstone Valley is under threat from over-development

But he concluded this would not be "material" and the social and economic benefits arising from the development would outweigh such harm.

Taking into account the council’s December 2021 monitoring report, it is claimed that there is a shortfall of 2,592 homes against a five year target of 9,516 residential units.

However, worried residents fear the decision will set a precedent for further development in the area and the loss of more countryside space.

Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch expressed "enormous disappointment" at the Planning Inspectorate's decision on East Hill.

"This is clearly devastating news for all of us who have campaigned for years against the proposals to develop in and around Capstone Valley," she said.

"Along with a huge number of local residents I have consistently registered concerns about the impact the development would have on our overstretched local infrastructure and the loss of a vital green lung.

Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford expressed her disappointment over the decision
Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford expressed her disappointment over the decision

The Tory MP added: "I know many residents will be feeling disheartened today and I fully understand that.

"However we need to regroup and get ready for the next battle - I am absolutely committed to continuing to work with Medway Council to ensure we safeguard the Capstone Valley area from further development..."

The same developers are pursuing plans to build 450 at Gibraltar Farm - an area south of the East Hill site - after they won an appeal to build on the land.

Meanwhile, the nearby proposed Lidsing Garden Settlement of 2,000 homes brought protestors out in force last year, with it feared the total amount of proposed homes "would wipe out most of Capstone Valley".

However, some support the East Hill proposal on the basis it would release pressure on the Hoo Peninsula earmarked in the council's Local Plan for further development.

Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con) lost his position on Medway Council's cabinet after opposing the contentious plan, which would see 12,000 new homes built on the Peninsula.

He believes the deal isn't fair and has backed calls for efforts to address a housing deficit to be shared across Medway evenly.

The Rochester South and Horsted councillor said putting a local plan before the council without evidence would have been "putting the cart before the horse".

He said: "Medway Council rightly avoided this course of action at the last minute, however since then there has been unjustified opprobrium of the councillors who rightly refused to sanction this mess.

"We have been called selfish and told to be ashamed of ourselves.

"This is far from the truth and I am proud of what we have achieved by stopping an inadequate and unsound local plan from reaching the Inspector.

"Even more so when the proposals for Hoo will make it more than treble in size and given its location in the most environmentally sensitive part of Medway, the Hoo peninsula."

Meanwhile, council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), who represents the area, said he was "surprised" by the decision, adding: "I felt that site was completely unsuitable in the first place which is what the planning committee thought, which is why it was rejected unanimously.

"It's just beggars belief that an unelected government planning inspector can override democratic wishes of elected members.

Medway Council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett
Medway Council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett

"I just think the whole thing is appalling and of course, the root cause of all this is the unachievable housing targets imposed on us by the government.

"There's another appeal for Gibraltar Farm and let's just hope the same planning inspector isn't dealing with it because these areas cannot sustain these sort of developments, there's no infrastructure after all.

"That's one of the reasons we had a successful bid for the £170 million of infrastructure improvements on the Hoo Peninsula because the infrastructure has got to come first. We just cannot sustain these sort of developments.

"It's just madness, just to cover the whole of Medway and associated areas with housing. Housing needs to be in the right place, it needs to be in previously-developed brownfield sites, that's part of government policy and we need to protect our greenfield sites as much as we can and we've got new settlements like the one we are proposing at Hoo to meet those housing targets."

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