Published: 14:49, 03 May 2021
| Updated: 14:05, 05 May 2021
A bid for a controversial town centre development branded a “bulky blob” by critics has been approved on appeal after a planning inspector hailed it “strikingly attractive”.
The four-storey complex of two shops and seven flats in Beach Walk, Whitstable was rejected by Canterbury City Council last year on the grounds it was "visually overbearing and unacceptably dominant".
It followed a wave of opposition against the project, with 25 objections received about issues including pollution, parking and the appearance of the building.
But the firm behind the proposal, Sea Street Developments Ltd, appealed to the Planning Inspectorate to overturn the ruling, winning its challenge on Friday.
In making his decision, planning inspector John Felgate said he felt the timber-clad building would be “a strikingly attractive and confident addition to the townscape”.
It will be built on the Hotel Continental's overspill car park, known as the Arcade Site, at the corner of Tower Parade and Beach Walk, next to the bowling alley.
Mr Felgate said: “ To my mind the tall, angular gables, and the dark timber boarding, clearly reference the style of the traditional fishing huts seen at the harbour and elsewhere on the shoreline, and also in some of the other older buildings around the town centre. The design now proposed is not an exact copy of that style, but is recognisable as a modern interpretation, incorporating contemporary materials and building technologies, whilst also reflecting something of the town’s history.
“ I appreciate the concerns of the council, and some others, that a building of this size would appear over-dominant, and that this effect would be exacerbated by the style and materials. “There is no doubt that the development would be rather more assertive than most others on the north side of Tower Parade. But it would also raise the quality of that area.
“To my mind, the new building would be a strikingly attractive and confident addition to the townscape, and one that would set a high standard for any further development or redevelopment that might follow.”
Tankerton councillor Neil Baker (Con), who branded the building a "bulky, unsympathetically designed blob" before the plans were initially rejected, has told of his frustration at the decision.
“I'm disappointed with the decision of the planning inspector as I feel the city council's planning committee members were right to initially refuse this application. The 'nspector may call the proposed building strikingly attractive, but I maintain my view that it is a bulky blob. It's too big, the wrong design for the location and won't improve the overall character of the area.
"Others may well disagree - the inspector certainly did - but I remain convinced there is a distinct difference in character between the areas on either side of the old Canterbury and Whitstable Railway line. The black weatherboard style may work in other parts of the town, but I do not consider it suitable for this location, on the edge of the Tankerton conservation area.
Cllr Baker says the ruling has done nothing to alter his long-held view that the planning system is “broken”.
“While I appreciate this may be one building rather than a major development of hundreds, or thousands, of houses, it is not always the large building projects that ruin the character area - that can be taken away by salami tactics, slice by slice, so over time the cumulative impact is dramatic,” he explained.
"Planning decisions should be taken locally, not the other side of the country. Rows of houses, streets, towns and districts have their own distinct characters which add to the overall vibrancy and residents' quality of life. Time and again, when appeals are made and upheld by the Planning Inspectorate it seems it is impossible to get such issues across.
"And while the city council's planning committee does not always take decisions in the way I would like, having those decisions made by those with local knowledge is so much better. For that to be overruled elsewhere is frustrating, to say the least, and if central government is serious about empowering local communities to make decisions that directly impact them, they could do much worse than start by looking at the planning system, which is several decades beyond merely creaking."
Sea Street Developments Ltd is headed up by Whitstable Oyster Company boss James Green.