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.
Plans for 900 new homes in Herne Bay have been turned down by councillors despite officers recommending they be approved. The 136-acre site at Sweechbridge Road had been allocated for development in Canterbury City Council’s Local Plan, but concerns over open space and density saw Taylor Wimpey’s application for hybrid consent refused. Consent was being sought by the developer for an initial 193 homes of the scheme, together with access works, drainage infrastructure, open space, landscaping and street-lighting. Outline consent was also sought for up to 707 further homes, up to 27,000 square metres of employment space, a care home, shops, a community centre, a school, open space and infrastructure works. Planning officers had recommended the scheme be approved, a planning report saying the site “forms the major part of a strategic allocated site for a mixed-use development in the Canterbury District Local Plan”. It continued: “The application site will provide a significant amount of the homes that are required to meet the district’s need, as well as providing employment opportunities for local people. This application is therefore acceptable in principle.” However, the proposals were refused at a planning committee meeting on Tuesday, September 1. A council spokesman said members had concluded the scheme would not provide for “sufficient high-quality open space for active and continual use due to the amount of that space which contains attenuation ponds/features”, making it contrary to national planning policy. Further, the development “at 40 dwellings per hectare is over-dense and would amount to an overdevelopment of the site given the location of the site”, while its proposed 22.5 per cent affordable-housing provision failed to meet the 30 per cent sought by local planning policy. Members also found a “lack of sustainable infrastructure such as solar panels and electric vehicle-charging points”, against Local Plan policy, and “highways arrangements proposed would not provide safe movement within and around the proposed development”.
In another blow to Canterbury’s rapidly diminishing
countryside, a High Court judge has dismissed an attempt to stop the building
of hundreds of homes to the east of the city.
The A28 Environmental Crisis Group had sought judicial reviews of the city
council’s approval of two neighbouring developments, one for 250 homes at
Hoplands Farm, Hersden, and the other for 370 at Chislet Colliery, a site that
had not been allocated in the Local Plan for housing.
The group’s case was based primarily on the argument that the local authority
had not taken into account the joint impact of the two schemes, especially in
relation to nearby Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve.
However, on Wednesday last week (July 24) Mrs Justice Lang ruled against the
challenges, concluding that the council had made the decisions lawfully.
The judge also denied the campaigners permission to appeal. However, Antonie
van den Broek told KentOnline that his campaign group would indeed be trying to
take the case to the Court of Appeal.
“Favourable rulings would potentially have set significant precedents for local
authorities and developers throughout the UK,” he said.
“But this is not the end of the story. We think errors have been made by
Canterbury City Council and the developers.
“This particular judge has said otherwise and also refused our applications for
permission to appeal her decisions, but we are going to take this to the Court
“These things are never about whether something is a good idea or not. It’s
about whether the law was followed.
“It’s an unusual situation in that there are two developments side by side and
by two different companies.
“Therefore, the law deems them as separate. We’ve been arguing you can’t do
that with the impact on the environment. The environment doesn’t care whether
it’s one developer or two.”
A Canterbury City Council statement read: “Between them, the two developments
will provide up to 620 much-needed homes for local people, together with
medical outlets, shops, open space and other benefits.”
Ian Thomas, chairman of the council’s planning committee, added: “We are
naturally pleased to have won both of these cases, which will allow these
important housing developments to go ahead.
“It is becoming increasingly common for opponents to new homes to launch these
types of legal proceedings. We are always very careful to ensure we follow all
the right procedures, so that if we do end up in court, we have a good chance
The decision follows a failed attempt to overturn planning permission for more
than 1,000 new homes in the Thanington area of south Canterbury.
The city council had, in July 2016, given Pentland Properties permission to
build up to 750 properties on a 73-hectare site at Cockering Farm, while in
November last year Quinn Estates was granted outline consent for up to 400
homes on a neighbouring site off Cockering Road.
Campaigner Camilla Swire then won permission to seek a judicial of the Quinn
planning permission and the council’s approval of variations to the Pentland
Properties consent, arguing that the two developments should have been
considered as a “combined masterplan”.
By the time the case came before a High Court judge, however, building had already
started on the first phase of the Pentland development, following the council’s
approval of reserved matters.
Both sites, which lie close to the Larkey Valley Wood Site of Special
Scientific Interest and in a designated Area of High Landscape Value, are
treated as a single unit in Canterbury’s Local Plan, but, with them in
different ownership and being developed separately, it was argued by Ms Swire
that the local authority had breached its own policy through failing to have
the combined masterplan.
In response, the council claimed any potential breach was merely a technicality
and that, in reality, the impact of both developments had been considered
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith appeared to concur, saying all that was missing was “a
single piece of paper” showing the two planning applications had been
considered alongside each other.
He refused the judicial review, concluding that a combined masterplan “would
have made no difference whatsoever” to the outcome of the planning
A top planning barrister has judged the Canterbury Local Plan legally unsound because it has failed to properly assess sustainability and environmental impact after dramatically increasing the number of houses needed by more than 50%.
Richard Harwood QC was commissioned by Herne and Broomfield Parish Council, backed by CPRE Kent and a number of other local organisations (1), to judge whether the Local Plan was legally compliant.
He concluded that when Canterbury City Council greatly raised its housing target, it should have re-assessed the impact on habitats and the environment, and whether or not the proposed distribution of housing remained appropriate and sustainable. This it failed to do.
In January 2010, the council consulted on a Local Plan with a target of 10,200 new homes by 2026 (510 per year). In 2012, this target was revised to 15,600 new homes by 2031 (780 per year). However, despite the significant increase, the council relied on its earlier environmental assessments of where new development should be located.