On 15 October, Canterbury City Council approved a highly controversial planning application to extend its Wincheap Park & Ride carpark onto a large stretch of floodplain next to the river Stour, an area of land known as the Wincheap Water Meadows.
The principle of extending the Park & Ride is largely uncontentious. Part of the existing footprint of the Park & Ride will be lost when a new slip road off the A2 is constructed, and there is an accepted need to replace the parking spaces lost and increase capacity for the future.
What is highly contentious is the choice of location for the extension. The Council’s chosen location is a large area of functional floodplain outside the city’s urban boundary. The car park will extend for over 250m along the river Stour in an Area of High Landscape Value, a designated Green Corridor and a Local Wildlife Site. The Council’s planning report pretends that there will be no real landscape impact and that views of the carpark from the Great Stour Way on the opposite riverbank will only be ‘glimpsed’. In reality, the landscape impact is likely to be substantial. Views across the river from the Great Stour Way, at present greatly enjoyed by the large number of walkers and cyclists who use it, will be turned into something much less attractive. As the application was made by Canterbury City Council for its own land, many members of the public feel that the Council had an even greater duty to present the facts of the application in an unbiased and comprehensive manner. As it is, the planning report reads like a report from the applicant itself rather than an impartial assessment.
Development on the water meadows breaches many of the Council’s own policies and strategies, including many policies in its Local Plan, its Open Spaces Policy, its Riverside Strategy, its Green Infrastructure Strategy and the Canterbury Conservation Area Appraisal. However, the Council argues that local residents had the opportunity to object when it consulted on its Transport Strategy in 2015-2016 and that the principle of development on that location was accepted when the Local Plan was adopted in 2017. The fact that residents simply did not know where the extension was going to be located is conveniently ignored. The Environment Agency objected strongly to the first planning application earlier this year, but was informed by the Council that it couldn’t maintain its objection as it had not objected when the Local Plan was approved. Kent Wildlife Trust has also submitted a very strong objection saying that, ‘We regard the compensation strategy proposed for this development as fundamentally flawed and in clear contravention of existing national and local planning policy’.
Many of the opponents to the application point out that Canterbury City Council owns most of the large industrial estate adjacent to the Park & Ride and that it should be building carparks on brownfield land rather than greenfield land. But the Council refuses to consider any other alternative. It claims that its recent Declaration of Climate Emergency means that reducing the carbon emissions from cars takes precedence over the protection of the natural environment – a claim which many people find totally perverse.
The Save Wincheap Water Meadows campaign has attracted a huge amount of public support and the Canterbury branch of CPRE has played a lead role in challenging the application. There are over 3100 signatures on a Change.org petition; 775 representations from the public objecting to the planning application (with only one representation in favour) and over 460 members in the Campaign’s Facebook group. There have been many letters and articles in the local paper and large numbers of people attending the Council meetings where the Park & Ride proposal has been discussed. There have been a number of songs written about the campaign by a local musician, Richard Navarro, including the one below (see link):
The campaign to save Wincheap Water Meadows in Canterbury…The campaign to save Wincheap Water Meadows in Canterbury…NB: The link to the Council’s planning application report is:https://democracy.canterbury.gov.uk/documents/s105288/CA1802551FUL%20-%20Wincheap%20Park%20Ride%20-%20REPORT.pdf