As Canterbury continues its descent from revered cathedral city to soul-crushing urban sprawl, a dispute over hundreds of planned houses highlights the sorry state of an overly complicated and disjointed planning system.
Many were delighted when a proposal for 650 homes at Sturry, north-east of the city, was rejected in November by Canterbury City Council’s planning committee – citing policy law that had not been addressed – but it has returned with the number of homes reduced slightly to 630 and some rejigging that has still not tackled the issues highlighted by councillors.
The Environ Design (Sturry) development forms part of the same strategic site as a separate proposal, from Barratt and David Wilson Homes for 465 properties at neighbouring Broad Oak.
Central to the debate is the council’s desire for a relief road intended to alleviate congestion at the A28 Sturry level crossing.
Proposals for a relief road have been around for some 30-40 years, so it has come as little surprise to see it raise its head again.
Developers from several sites will have to pay a contribution towards the road; with regard to the Sturry and Broad Oak elements, this would be paid once 500 houses had been built and sold within an agreed timescale.
South East Local Enterprise Partnership has earmarked £5 million for the road, about a fifth of which has already been spent on design.
The proposed development site has a chequered history. In 2005 the council concluded it was not sustainable for housing and did not allocate it in the Local Plan. It took a similar view in both 2010 and 2014 before, in 2017, allocating it as a way of funding the relief road.
Concerns over traffic, issues with environmental impact, absence of affordable housing, excessive density and poor design all counted against the scheme when it was refused in November.
Just possibly, it would be encouraging to think, they realised the proposed road would do little more than shunt traffic congestion a mile or two down the A28 (it would re-emerge close to Canterbury sewage works).
Sturry resident Peta Boucher is one of many who have campaigned against the proposed development’s shortcomings. She said: “This and other nearby applications are not just about relieving traffic at the crossing – they’re about opening up new developments in the area.
“The road, with its 22,000 movements a day, would be built through the middle of the new estate. It would be huge, noisy and polluting, complete with a viaduct near the sewage works.
“The Local Plan suggested a figure of 1,000 houses between Sturry and Broad Oak, but that figure has already been pushed up.
“The scheme abuts ancient woodland [Den Grove Wood], where up to 50 per cent of the trees could be axed for roads reaching into the new housing. There would be a buffer zone around the wood – which will be closed to public access – but it would do nothing to protect the wildlife within the area or to create safe natural corridors. Councillors were concerned about dog mess killing the woods, but we have more serious concerns.
“There is serious lead pollution on the former shooting ground that forms part of the site – you really would not want to build there.
We are not against new housing in the area, but we want good housing with proper facilities for all. This proposal will double the size of the villages without adding any new infrastructure.
“We know we need housing, but we need excellent housing. Apart from the fact no affordable homes are proposed, the density is far too high and some properties would be sandwiched between the road and the railway.
“A tiny community hall is planned on a roundabout, making it almost inaccessible! The developers say they will build a primary school, but they’re not needed as we already have Sturry and Hersden primaries. They’re not planning any playing fields for the estate residents as they will supposedly be provided by the new school.
“Open space would be limited because the woods will not be open to the public, while allocated space would have SuDS [sustainable drainage systems] and sewage pits in them.
“Natural England has had well-documented concerns over foul water being released to the River Stour, while Southern Water has said there is no capacity for this development.
“To deal with some of this, two huge sewage tanks are proposed – one at Sturry and the other at Broad Oak. These would be emptied once a month and of course the waste transported through the estate.”
Phew! And the list is far from exhaustive…
Ms Boucher is among those who suspect a deeply flawed development will be pushed through because Canterbury planners fear losing the SELEP road-funding, which has a mid-February deadline.
“We’re being sold down the river for £5 million,” said Ms Boucher.
With reports in local media that the council leader has written to members of the planning committee “reminding” them of their obligation to hold to the Local Plan, the signs are perhaps ominous.
Either way, the whole sorry saga is a mess – this is not how strategic planning should be done. Further, the amount of mitigation work necessary to address the damage caused by this desperately poor scheme, should it be accepted in its current form, would blight the area for years.
Monday, February 1, 2021