Kent council resolves to approve controversial plans for 5,000 homes on SSSI

Out-Law News | 08 Sep 2014 | 5:05 pm | 2 min. read

Medway Council has resolved to approve developer Land Securities' outline plans for a 5,000 home development at a former military training ground that was allocated last year as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

The proposals, for the redevelopment of the 700 acre site at Lodge Hill near Chattenden in Kent, include the provision of up to 5,000 new homes, 44,100 square metres of business space, 5,321 sq m for retail use and two hotels. Three primary schools, a secondary school, health and community centres, assisted living accommodation and a nursing home are also planned under the scheme.

The site had been allocated in the Council's draft core strategy (DCS) for the development of up to 5,000 homes and the provision of 5,000 jobs, but the Council withdrew the DCS from examination in November 2013, after an inspector found it unsound. The inspector had said that significant modifications were required to the DCS following government conservation adviser Natural England's designation of the site as a SSSI due to the presence of a nationally significant population of nightingales and the presence of special grassland and woodland.

The planning inspector had said that the Lodge Hill site should not be included in the DCS, finding that its development would have a "significant adverse impact" on the SSSI and said that she was "not convinced" that there were no reasonable alternatives to the proposed development site.

At a special planning committee meeting on 4 September, the Council resolved unanimously to approve the outline plans for the site, subject to referral to Natural England and the secretary of state for communities and local government.

A planning officer's report provided to the meeting had said that 590 letters had been received objecting to the plans and that conservation organisations such as the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Buglife and Natural England had registered their opposition. However, the planning officer had recommended the plans for approval, noting that the developer intended to take steps to mitigate the environmental impact of the scheme, including the provision of replacement habitat for the nightingales at Ministry of Defence land in Shoeburyness.

Tom Venner, development director for Land Securities, said in a statement: "We are delighted that Medway Council has approved our outline planning application for Lodge Hill, which will allow for a truly sustainable development to be delivered. We have worked hard over several years to create a masterplan which addresses all potential impacts associated with the regeneration plans and we are grateful for the constructive involvement of Council officers, local residents and other important stakeholder groups."

"Lodge Hill will benefit life and business in Medway by bringing much-needed homes and road improvements and will create approximately 5,000 jobs to secure the Peninsula's status as a significant economic destination in the region," added Venner.

The Council's decision met with immediate opposition from Kent Wildlife Trust and the RSPB.

Kent Wildlife Trust said that it would be "asking the Secretary of state [for communities and local government] to 'call in' this decision, so the issues can be examined by an independent planning inspector, free of local politics and misinformation". The Trust had said in March that "providing habitat for nightingales off site has been proven unfeasible", and that "proposing to locate habitat in Essex is absurd".

The RSPB also confirmed that it would be writing to the Secretary of state to request that the decision be called in for his determination. "We'll be reminding [the Secretary of State] that if the development goes ahead, it will be one of the largest losses of SSSI land in the country - perhaps the biggest loss since the mid-1990s," wrote RSPB conservation officer Martin Harper on his blog. "This is not what we’d expect from ‘the greenest government ever’.  Not only that, but it would be contrary to the government’s own guidance on developing protected sites."