Council leader ‘appalled’ as plans for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill dropped at eleventh hour
PUBLISHED: 09:04 06 September 2017 | UPDATED: 09:04 06 September 2017
The Kent Wildlife Trust and RSPB celebrated the decision
Controversial plans for 5,000 homes on the site of a nationally protected bird habitat in Medway have been scrapped at the eleventh hour.
Environmental campaigners say the development at Lodge Hill would destroy the Chattenden Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest - home to one per cent of the UK’s nightingale population, which has declined by 90 per cent in the last 50 years.
More than 12,000 people objected to the planning application when it was approved by Medway Council in 2014, prompting the government to ‘call in’ the decision.
A public inquiry was due to be held in March 2018, however the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the Homes and Communities Agency have decided to withdraw the application just six months before it was set to take place.
John Bennett, chief executive of Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “After a huge amount of work over many years to protect Lodge Hill, alongside RSPB and other conservation partners, we welcome the common sense shown by the withdrawal of this damaging development application.
“We look forward, optimistically, to a positive future for the area and its wildlife, which is important for Kent and the country as a whole.”
Chris Corrigan, the RSPB’s director for England added: “Thousands of people joined the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust in expressing their shock and dismay at plans to build on Lodge Hill.
“The withdrawal of the plans is a clear sign that the voices of local people have been heard.
“It is concerning that these proposals were approved in the first place, and this concern is something we believe the planning inquiry would have shared.
“Lodge Hill was declared a SSSI by the government because it is the best place for nightingales in the UK, a species that, in England, has declined by around 90 per cent in the last half century leaving less and less to bring their beautiful song to the English countryside.
“Areas as important as Lodge Hill should be protected and celebrated and not threatened with housing.”
However, Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett was furious at the decision, saying: “I am appalled this important scheme is going back to the drawing board, further delaying a project which would create jobs and much needed homes for the area.
“A succession of agencies have let the people of Medway down by constantly delaying this important site which has huge potential.
“A great deal of work has gone into establishing that the site is a sustainable location for a new development, and owners and developers need to continue to push forward with providing high quality, energy efficient homes for our existing residents, their families in the years to come and those looking to relocate here – and not forgetting the extensive employment opportunities the site could offer residents.
“While I am hugely disappointed that the current scheme for Lodge Hill has been withdrawn, I now eagerly await the new plans expected to be put forward by the applicants in the coming months.
“It’s time for agencies to get off the fence and bring this site forward for development.
“By 2035 we must build 30,000 new homes to keep up with our expanding population and therefore each and every suitable development site is key.
“Medway’s extensive 20-year regeneration plan is well and truly underway and this important site is part of our ambitious vision of becoming a leading waterfront university city of 330,000 people.
“Over the next ten years residents, visitors, businesses and those from further afield, will absolutely recognise Medway as an increasingly desirable place to live, work, learn and visit.”