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Great Easthall, Sittingbourne, shop saga ends in disappointment for residents

By Lewis Dyson

People’s hopes of having facilities they were promised before buying their homes were dashed after the government ruled houses could be built on land earmarked for a shop.

Swale council’s planning department failed to determine plans by Trenport Investments for 33 homes on the Great Easthall estate in time although the authority later said it would have refused it on the grounds there was no provision for amenities such as shops and a GP surgery.

The developer took its application to the Planning Inspectorate which, last month, ruled in its favour.

Heron Fields, Great Easthall in Sittingbourne
Heron Fields, Great Easthall in Sittingbourne

It means the efforts of residents fighting for facilities on the isolated housing estate, located off the Eurolink industrial estate, have come to nothing and more homes can go ahead in their place.

The site has been earmarked for a “neighbourhood centre” with a convenience store for more than a decade.

The original developer tried for nine years to gain interest but went into liquidation in 2015.

In making her decision, planning inspector Helen Hockenhull looked at whether a convenience store would be commercially viable and the impact of the homes on the “social well-being” and sustainable travel choices of the community.

The appeal decision found a site would not be suitable for a larger supermarket as, according to Trenport’s retail witness, such stores require a catchment of about 20,000 to 25,000 people whereas only 5,700 were identified within an 800 metre walking distance of the plot.

A shop has been effectively ruled out at Great Easthall, Sittingbourne
A shop has been effectively ruled out at Great Easthall, Sittingbourne

The report also cited feedback from retailers that they were “not interested because of the site’s location on the edge of town, the demographics and the lack of custom in the catchment area, the site’s cul-de-sac location and lack of proximity to an arterial road reducing the possibility of passing trade”.

The inspector said the nearest convenience store in Murston, about 1km away, was “a walkable distance” and “good” off-road pedestrian and cycle routes as well as public transport meant the proposed development would not result in residents being more likely to travel by car.

In July people living on the estate had better news when a village hall, the first community amenity on the site, opened.

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