Published: 08:23, 31 January 2019
| Updated: 11:23, 31 January 2019
Proposals for almost 700 homes, a new primary school, shops and a rugby clubhouse and pitches have been approved, to the dismay of many in a packed public gallery.
People queued to get into the council's HQ for the long-awaited meeting and some were turned away. Numbers had been restricted to 100 people and they overflowed into a committee room to watch proceedings on a big screen.
Hundreds of letters of objection had been sent, with Borden Residents Against Development, or BRAD, leading the campaign against the plans, which were also opposed by Borden, Tunstall, Newington, Bobbing and Bredgar parish councils.
It was countered by support for the application from Sittingbourne Rugby Club, whose members stand to benefit from a new home ground.
The application sought permission, in principle, to build up to 595 homes, including affordable housing, a two-form entry primary school, shops, the rugby ground and a new link road between Borden Lane and Chestnut Street, linking to the A249. Quinn Estates also wanted full planning permission for 80 homes.
Council officers recommended the plans be approved, subject to a huge list of conditions.
The site covers 117 acres, of which 34 acres was not included in Swale's Local Plan, which dictates what can be built and where.
The majority of last night's meeting was spent picking the plan apart.
Cllr Nicholas Hampshire (Con), who represents Borden, said he had a colander at home with fewer holes in than the report in front of them, urging fellow committee members to turn it down.
He warned that approving it would make the lives of people living in Borden and its surrounding hamlets "a hell of a lot worse".
Cllr Mike Baldock, leader of the Swale Independent Alliance, questioned the shortfall of 11 affordable homes, when the developer, he said, stood to make £40million profit. He said the report was full of "dodgy assumptions" and called the potential traffic implications "frankly horrific".
Cllr Roger Truelove (Lab), whose Homewood ward borders the site, said the changes to the road network, particularly in the Borden Lane and Homewood Avenue area, where two mini roundabouts are planned, was "asking for congestion". "The real point is, there is, in this council, a tremendous drive to agree this," he added, warning that it would be the first of many major house-building plans for the town.
Borden Parish Council vice chairman Clive Sims called for the decision to be deferred for 12 months so a proper study of air quality could be carried out.
He warned that the pollution problem, currently double the level it should be in Key Street and Keycol Hill, would simply move to Chestnut Street.
Nicola Butlin, one of the driving forces behind BRAD, said she spoke for thousands of people who were against the plans.
She told the committee the application did not "conform with policies in your own Local Plan".
And she said most of the homes would be four-bed so of no benefit to people of Sittingbourne, where there is an accepted need for smaller houses.
The most questions about the plans came from Cllr Monique Bonney (Ind). She asked how you can have a countryside gap - protected plots of land that prevent areas merging together - that suddenly morphs into a road or housing?
She said that having 13.8 hectares of land in the scheme that had not been earmarked for development by the council was "a significant departure from the Local Plan".
Speaking in favour, Mark Quinn, CEO of Quinn Estates, described the plans as a "truly exceptional addition" to Sittingbourne and a "fantastic environment for people to raise their children".
He also stressed the scheme would secure investment in the road network worth several million pounds.
Roger Down, chairman of Sittingbourne Rugby Club, said the promised new ground would benefit the whole community.
The club's current home at The Grove was not fit for purpose, he added. "Our aspiration is to have facilities which can meet all the requirements of our club," he said.
Council leader Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con) argued that virtually all what was planned was in the Local Plan and that such applications needed support so that Swale could defend against those that are not.
And Cllr James Hunt (Con), who had earlier denied a suggestion he was a friend of the applicant, said he could see the benefit of a new road taking traffic from elsewhere in Sittingbourne away from the A2.
The vote followed party lines, with nine Tories supporting the plans and seven members voting against. Cllr Hampshire was the sole Conservative who opposed it.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Quinn said the decision was fantastic news for Sittingbourne.
He said the application was the culmination of many years of investment, effort and detailed technical work.
"Our scheme not only sets the bar for new development but will bring a massive investment in the area with over £25m a year into the local economy from the completed homes and around £13.5m in S106 infrastructure," he added.
"And, because we successfully negotiated the inclusion of additional land to the west of the allocated area, the site itself will now deliver a strategic link road that will help disperse traffic from the A2 and Key Street, thereby easing the town’s gridlock and delivering real improvements to local air quality."
Mr Quinn said giving something back to the community was "a central part of our mission in developments across the county" and that Wises Lane was no different.
"We want to leave a positive legacy for existing and future residents," he added. "That includes delivering much-needed quality homes, including levels of affordable housing above local policy, but also to deliver improvements that will maximise significant benefits for the local community."