Published: 11:04, 30 April 2021
| Updated: 11:28, 03 May 2021
A village in Kent has been left reeling after the government gave the green light for up to 675 homes.
Secretary of State for housing, communities and local government Robert Jenrick announced yesterday (Thursday) that Quinn Estates can go ahead to build the houses in Borden near Sittingbourne.
He agreed with an independent inspector to allow the firm's appeal and has given outline planning permission for up to 595 homes, including affordable housing, a primary school, shop, rugby clubhouse with three sports pitches and a road linking Boden Lane with the A249 at Chestnut Street.
He also also awarded partial costs against the council following the nine-day hearing in November 2019 which Quinn Estates estimate could cost taxpayers up to £1m. The company has also accused councillors of waging a "vendetta" against it. Swale council's new coalition also lost another appeal and had to pay costs for a development on the Isle of Sheppey in June last year.
Mr Jenrick took on the Borden appeal in August, 2019. The decision, which has been called "diabolical" by one leading politician, came just a week before Kent County Council elections on Thursday.
Swale council's leader Roger Truelove in a joint statement with his Labour colleague Cllr Simon Clark who both represent Homewood ward, said: "The decision of the Secretary of State to give planning permission for the whole development between Cryalls Lane and Wises Lane is diabolical.
"In upholding the appeal by Quinn Estates Mr Jenrick has given permission for development on land outside the Swale Local Plan and for a spine road that will draw traffic through our ward, especially Homewood Avenue, and has given a signal to developers to make further incursions in land to the south of Sittingbourne.
"Developers will feel emboldened. Quinn Estates is already challenging the Coalition Council's review of the Local Plan because it excludes the massive development which they propose in the Highsted Valley.
"The decision of the Secretary of State reinforces the belief that the Government is determined to impose unsustainable development on the borough of Swale.
"We have waited so long for this decision and now it comes less than a week before an election. Naturally, it has caused dismay in Borden but residents in our ward feel equally strongly."
His deputy Cllr Mike Baldock (Swale Independents, Borden and Grove Park), who is also the council's cabinet spokesman on planning, said the decision was "against all common sense".
He said: "This is undeniably disappointing. The council is now considering its next steps. We have the right to challenge the decision at the High Court. We will obviously be taking legal advice regarding this."
He added: "This is likely to take a short while as the decision is long and will need to be gone through in detail. There are many unanswered questions surrounding this case which will still need challenging.
"There is the question of how KCC Highways went from saying the Local Plan allocation was acceptable in 2017 but in 2019 claimed it was unviable in order to support Quinn's large scheme.
"Yet there had been no new traffic modelling or testing done to account for this change of opinion."
He said: "This decision, if it is allowed to stand, effectively means every Local Plan in the country is now open season for developers to twist and exploit. This is a total affront to democracy and will not be let through without a continued fight."
Huw Evans, managing director of Quinn Estates, said: “As a company we welcome the independent inspector and Secretary of State’s decision regarding Wises Lane. We hope that the council will now take this opportunity to work proactively and positively with us to deliver the many and significant benefits that this scheme offers the borough.
“We hope the council, and in particular certain members, will reflect on the use of public money used during this planning and appeal process which at times has seemed like a vendetta conducted against a private company that has delivered some exceptional developments in the borough including The Foundry Business Park in Faversham and the regeneration of Sittingbourne Town Centre.
“In addition, we hope that the council puts aside any notion of trying to judicially review the independent inspector’s decision and will now work with us to deliver much-needed highways infrastructure and affordable homes, as well as sporting and green infrastructure for the people of Sittingbourne and Swale.
"Quinn Estates already employ a significant number of people from Swale and look forward to continuing to support employment in the area moving forward.”
Quinn Estates pointed out part of the site was already in the adopted Swale Local Plan and that council planning officers had recommended it for approval which had been agreed by the planning committee. The developer appealed to the independent inspector against "non-determination" when a new planning committee refused to approve the legal agreement following the 2019 local elections.
The Inspector's report accused Swale council of "unreasonable behaviour" and "unjustified reasons" for refusal. The Inspector agreed that a new link road would improve air quality along the A2 at Key Street.
Not all were against the ruling. Roger Down posted on the Sittingbourne Rugby Club Facebook page: "Great news and one step nearer to finally getting a home of our own!"