Plans to build the UK’s largest vineyard in Kent have been quashed – again.
Vineyard Farms Ltd proposed a new building including a café/restaurant and a visitor centre with a car park, access road and landscaping in Upper Bush, Cuxton.
The development would expand the estate from its current 540-acre site by adding another 570 acres, which would make it the largest vineyard in the UK.
Plans for the £30m production hub – to be called The Kentish Wine Vault – were rejected by Medway Council last year because of concerns including the impact 300 daily visitors would have on the village, and how the development would affect wildlife.
Vineyard Farms appealed this decision and a planning inquiry began in March for the winery and visitor centre designed by Lord Norman Foster, the world-renowned architect behind The Gherkin and Wembley Stadium.
The appeal was dismissed by the planning inspector Stephen Wilkinson on Monday, July 24, after hearing evidence from Vineyard Farms, Medway Council, Cuxton Parish Council, and campaign group Cuxton Against the Winery.
One part of the site would have included new access from Bush Road, totalling roughly 800 metres with a new 107-space car park and two coach spaces with pedestrian access routes through the woodland.
The second part of the site included the winery building for grape processing, storage, bottling, restaurant, café and retail.
The plan was to hold wine-tasting sessions for around 30 people twice daily and would have around 300 visitors per day.
The site is within the green belt, and the government’s main aim is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping green belt land permanently open.
Because the majority of the floor space would be used as a winery, the inspector decided the land would be dedicated to agricultural use and therefore fell within the exception to green belt restrictions.
But as the land is also near a conservation area, the inspector said: “The introduction of major development into this context would introduce activities unrelated to agricultural use. Its contemporary design and scale would be dominant in views by the shaw [a small strip of woodland].
“I find that the development of such a large building in such relatively close proximity to the conservation area would adversely impact on its setting.”
The plans, if they had been approved, would have added to the company’s existing winery in Luddesdown which has a capacity of around 700,000 litres, but requires three times that capacity.
The company estimated the expansion would create 50 to 100 jobs and training opportunities.
The land is also in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), with the inspector noting the dry valleys, dip slopes, chalk escarpments and extensive tree belts, some of which feature ancient woodland.
Mr Wilkinson acknowledged a major development should be in the public interest if it falls within an AONB.
Vineyard Farms suggested investment, job creation, “wine experience” and an innovative building by a world-renowned architect meant the development would be within the public interest.
But the inspector found that the harm to the qualities of the AONB and conservation area, and his belief that a “wine experience” could be achieved outside of the AONB, meant the development would not be sufficiently within the public interest.
He added: “Whilst the harm would be less than substantial and lies within the moderate range of that scale of harm, I find that the extent of harm arising would not be overcome by the range of economic and environmental public benefits suggested by the appellant.”
Cllr Simon Curry, Medway Council’s portfolio holder for climate change and strategic regeneration, said: “Vineyard Farms’ proposal to construct a new winery building was an exciting scheme of exceptional design that would have enhanced Medway’s local economy.
“However, due to the sensitivities of the proposed location in a site in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the inspector agreed with the findings of the planning committee that the land south of Bush Road in Cuxton was the wrong location for this project.
“It is thanks to the hard work of the parish council, the AONB Unit and our own planning team that the case was made regarding the impact of this development on the AONB and conservation area.”
A petition against Vineyard Farms Ltd’s plans for a bottling facility and visitor centre attracted more than 1,000 signatures in 2021.
It comes just days after it was revealed a legal challenge has forced a council to quash the permission it granted for a huge new Chapel Down winery on the edge of Canterbury.
Vineyard Farms was approached for a comment.