Plans for a sprawling development in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty were put in the television spotlight last night (Wednesday, October 4) – with CPRE Kent vice president Richard Knox Johnston explaining why the scheme should be a non-starter.
The proposals, put forward by developer Quinn Estates and landowner Highland Investment Company, are targeted for 300 acres of protected countryside at Highland Court Farm near Bridge. They entail 300 holiday homes, a retirement village, business centre, restaurant and market, along with clubhouses and pitches for Canterbury football and rugby clubs and an equestrian, walking and cycling centre.
It had been intended for Mr Knox Johnston to debate the plans face to face with Quinn Estates chief executive Mark Quinn on KMTV’s Chris & Co., but unfortunately Mr Quinn was not able to make the live scheduling and so gave his views earlier in a pre-recording.
Mr Quinn called for a “wholesale review of the AONB and the Green Belt” and said his scheme would stop 300 people buying second homes in the area, allowing “more homes for normal people with normal jobs”. He said his proposal would make “a massive difference to the housing crisis”.
He further claimed there would be “a lot of benefits from those tourists [staying at the complex] with very little pain”. Canterbury wanted to grow and encourage tourists but had “hardly any quality hotels”, said Mr Quinn. “We will give them 1,000 beds a night,” he continued, stating that tourists would not drive into town but catch a bus from the proposed development.
Asked how he would respond to environmentalists objecting to the scheme, Mr Quinn said it wasn’t him who had decided “to put a junction there”. “If it was that important, the land, why did they allow a road to go through it?” he asked.
As for his proposals for sporting facilities, he said Canterbury was the only city in the country “without a resident football club” and that was “something we should be ashamed of”.
“I think it will be a boon, I really do,” Mr Quinn concluded about his scheme.
Following on, appearing live, Mr Knox Johnston of CPRE Kent told host Chris Price about national planning strategy going back to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 that designated pieces of land not available for development.
“So this land is not available for any development on it,” he said. “If we don’t protect these AONBs, in due course we won’t have any left. There have to be very special reasons as to why you would want to do any building on that sort of site.”
Mr Knox Johnston stressed the value and attractiveness of Highland Court Farm, noting how the North Downs Way, public footpaths, a cycle path and bridleway all passed through the site, which was important to people in terms of mental health and relaxation.
Asked about Mr Quinn’s claim that the project would bring tourists into the county, Mr Knox Johnston said: “That’s a supposition that he makes. There’s no financial plan or structure to support this, and any business would have done that properly beforehand to show how it can be done.”
He also said claims that the project would create 1,500 jobs should be taken with “a great pinch of salt”, noting that Mr Quinn should have made clear precisely how that would happen.
Mr Knox Johnston highlighted the fact that Brexit would probably mean the country would need to keep as much agricultural land as it could, referring to Highland Court Farm’s history of growing soft fruit.
Finally, he dismissed the idea of an AONB rethink, saying the designated areas had all been carefully set out – and should stay there.
To watch the discussion on KMTV, visit kentonline.co.uk/kmtv/video/chris-co-wednesday-4th-october-2017-8518/