#Save Highland Court Farm AONB
#Save Highland Court Farm AONB
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Our aim is to save the grade II* listed Higham Park and its environs from an inappropriate and harmful industrial estate development and in the process defend not only this particular corner of the Kent Downs AONB but also ensure that other similarly protected landscapes cannot be sacrificed in circumstances that are neither exceptional nor in the public interest.
National Landscapes, formerly Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, represent some of our most unique and irreplaceable countryside – only 15% of England is so designated. Simply put, they are places whose landscape character and scenic beauty is so exceptional that it is safeguarded in the national interest. Such landscapes are afforded the highest level of protection by the planning system - equivalent to National Parks – so that they may be enjoyed by present and future generations.
Recently planning permission was granted for the construction of an ‘industrial winery’ plus 8,000 sq m warehousing on grade 2 agricultural land at Highland Court Farm, Bridge, an Area of High Landscape Value within the Kent Downs AONB; a controversial decision that was vigorously contested by Historic England, Natural England, CPRE Kent and the Kent Downs AONB Unit.
At 6.7 ha, the proposed development amounts to a doubling in size of the existing Canterbury Business Park, which will now encroach into the Highland Court conservation area with its model farm and harm the historic setting of the neo-classical Higham Park, replacing orchard and parkland with outsize steel sheds, the largest over 40’ high.
The decision creates a precedent for further development. The applicants have made no secret of their long-term ambitions for the site. They will be able to argue that there isn’t any scenic beauty left to protect.
Some of the AONB’s other key qualities will be negatively affected too: tranquillity (due to increased levels of HGV traffic) and dark skies (light pollution from the existing business park is already a significant blight).
Meanwhile the many walkers, cyclists and horse-riders who currently enjoy the surrounding network of footpaths, bridleways and quiet country lanes – including the North Downs Way National trail, part of the Via Francigena pilgrimage route – will find themselves instead in an unsightly industrial landscape.
No less damaging will be the impact on wildlife and nature conservation. A number of protected species such as hazel dormouse and a bat population ‘of importance at the district level’ have been recorded at the site. The effects of light and noise 24/7 will spill over into the adjacent ancient woodland, degrading this irreplaceable priority habitat.
According to the National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 177, major development in an AONB should be refused unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ and it is demonstrably ‘in the public interest’.
There is scant evidence that the city is in need of a ‘wine-production hub’ or that the future of viticulture in the district depends upon it. There are plenty of vineyards in the vicinity; many with their own wineries. (As agricultural buildings, they do not even require planning permission.) In any case, viticulture is but one sector of the local economy and most of its associated benefits derive from wine-tourism, conspicuously absent from the present proposal. Needless to say, the English wine industry, albeit an undoubted success story, hardly ranks as a national priority.
It is the council’s considered view that job creation and economic growth outweigh the harm to the AONB. Were the bar to be set this low then designated landscapes would have scarcely any protection at all; no AONB would be safe from development.
We are given to understand that there are no other alternative sites in the Canterbury area or elsewhere that could accommodate the proposal. Yet it is hard to see what rational justification there can be for locating a wine-processing, bottling and storage facility in an AONB – beyond the applicant’s self-evident desire to develop the land.
This is speculative not sustainable development. Ordinarily the allocation of employment land would be determined by the local plan, based on robustly tested evidence. That so consequential a decision, involving major development in a National Landscape, can bypass the plan-making process is an affront to local democracy that should concern us all.
We have succeeded once already in getting the planning permission overturned by the courts, the council conceding its decision was unlawful on heritage grounds, only for the application to be brought back to the planning committee and voted through yet again. We have now mounted a fresh legal challenge, and have been granted permission for a hearing. We are therefore urgently seeking to raise funds to help cover our legal costs.
Please donate what you can to help us to protect this special and protected landscape and the wildlife that depends on it.
Thank you so much for your support.
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