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Downland winery and warehousing challenge: first funding target is hit

David Mairs
By David Mairs
5th February 2024

Passing of CrowdJustice £2,500 hurdle means Highland Court campaign can begin in earnest

Campaigners have passed the first hurdle in their bid to block the building of a huge winery in the Kent Downs National Landscape (formerly AONB).

The challenge to the scheme at Highland Court Farm was taken up by Sarah Moakes, one of many people who wish to save the Grade II*-listed Higham Park and its environs from “an inappropriate and harmful industrial estate development”.

An initial CrowdJustice target of £2,500 was reached by the deadline of Thursday (February 1) and means the campaign can now begin in earnest as environmentalists look to take Canterbury City Council to court over its decision to approve the winery and two warehouses.

CPRE Kent is fully supportive of the campaign to contest the CCC decision, having itself challenged it by requesting Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘call in’ the application so he would make the decision rather than CCC. The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty supported us in our request.

However, we were advised that this request had been unsuccessful.

CPRE Kent took legal advice to explore the necessary first steps to apply to take the decision to the High Court for a judicial review of CCC’s decision but decided not to take the matter further.

Dr Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “CPRE Kent vehemently opposed the decision to grant planning permission for a winery in the AONB at Highland Court.

“We never take legal action lightly – it takes a serious financial commitment and at CPRE Kent we operate on a shoestring.

“We took legal advice to explore the necessary first steps to apply to take the decision to the High Court for a judicial review of CCC’s decision, but – despite the appalling precedent this decision sets – decided with regret that in this instance we could not invest the financial and staff resources to take this matter further.

“Nevertheless, we were happy for the initial legal groundwork we had paid for to be taken forward by another challenger and wish them every success.”

The legal challenge rests on the premise that CCC’s decision to grant permission was unlawful on the following grounds:

  • The council failed to follow its constitution and/or acted in a manner that was procedurally unfair
  • The council failed to give “great weight” to the views of expert consultees and/or failed to give reasons for disagreeing with them
  • The council failed to have regard to a relevant planning appeal decision and/or failed to give reasons for disagreeing with it
  • The officer’s report materially misled the planning committee in advising that there was no definition of “exceptional circumstances” for the purposes of Section 177 of the NPPF and that this was entirely a matter of planning judgment

The challenge to CCC’s approval of the scheme is to be heard at the High Court from Wednesday to Friday, May 7-9.

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The countryside surrounding the proposed development hosts a rich flora and fauna