Published: 16:10, 24 September 2021
| Updated: 16:46, 24 September 2021
Residents have voiced their opposition to multi-million pound plans for a winery and visitor centre in their village.
Vineyard Farms Ltd has sought permission from Medway Council to construct the £30 million project, called The Kentish Wine Vault, on land neighbouring Upper Bush in Cuxton.
Those behind the proposals say their company will "kick-start a wine revolution in England" by producing English sparkling wine, which is typically produced using the same grapes and methods as its more famous cousin, Champagne.
A Change.org petition protesting against the plans has attracted almost 600 signatures.
Paul Pattison, who set up the petition, believes independent scrutiny of the plans is needed.
The Bush Road resident said: "I don't think actually many people have got objections for planting vines, I think that's fine, there's no problem there, but the building that they are proposing is within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and it's within the green belt."
The site sits within the Kent Downs AONB and is close to two designated ancient woodlands – Great Wood and Red/Stonyfield Woods – and two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Cobham Woods and the Halling to Trottiscliffe Escarpment.
It is also an adopted green belt zone, designated by Medway Council.
Paul added: "Alright, part of the building that's proposed is agricultural in the loosest sense of the word in that they're going to be processing grapes, and there's going to be a bottling plant, but a very significant part of this building is a visitor centre - there's a cafe, a restaurant, a 107-place car park, there are paths and roads being constructed to make it possible.
"So all of that amounts to a very significant, non-agricultural interference into the green belt.
"All of a sudden, these people are going to be very close to a major development for two years of construction, and then going forward they're going to have to cope with the 70,000 visitors per year.
"It's widely known that the A228 junction from Bush Road is a nightmare and this would just compound it.
"We think there is a need for an independent traffic surveyor to actually look at the physical impact upon the quality of life and safety of people who live in the centre of Cuxton.
"People are excited, of course they are.
"I think what people are questioning is, is this the right building in the right place?.."
"When I first saw the plans I thought, wow, what a building, which is being designed by Lord Foster, the famous architect.
"So there is excitement about it, and there's general agreement that people like the idea of having grapes going in the field, there's no problem with that.
"I think what people are questioning is, is this the right building in the right place?"
Cuxton Parish Council has written to Medway's planning department saying how it fears approving the development would set a precedent for building within AONBs and on the green gelt.
It also argues the development does not meet the criteria for building on this category of land.
Responding to the petition, a spokesman for Vineyard Farms said: “The Kentish Wine Vault will deliver a new world-class winery and represents a multi-million pound investment that will put Medway at the heart of the English wine market.
“Our plans have been designed to the highest environmental standards.
"The winery will be operationally carbon neutral and sit within the existing natural landscape, with over 85% of the building underground.
“We are also proposing a sustainable transport plan – including electric shuttle bus services from local train stations – to minimise the impact on local roads at peak hours.
“Prior to submitting a planning application, we conducted a thorough programme of consultation to introduce the plans and seek feedback from residents.
"We will continue to engage positively with the local community throughout the planning process.”
The petition can be found by clicking here.