Council defends rejection of sport and leisure complex

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A planning committee meeting taking place in the Guildhall

Canterbury City Council has hit back at claims it does not have the interests of local sports clubs at heart.

On Tuesday night its planning committee rejected a £125 million sports, business and leisure complex at Highland Court in Bridge which would included new grounds for Canterbury City FC and Canterbury Rugby Club.

The decision prompted City FC chairman Tim Clark to accuse the council of “lacking vision” and merely paying lip service in support of the clubs.

But the authority has since insisted that despite its backing for the clubs, it could not have approved such a large scale development in a rural Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Spokesman Rob Davies said: “We know both clubs and their supporters will be disappointed by the decision, but the football club and rugby club grounds elements were only on a small proportion of the total land area covered by the application, and we had a duty to consider the impact of the whole development.

“The committee report made it clear that there were community benefits to the scheme, and councillors recognised these, but there was also significant residential and commercial development, which would cause significant harm to both the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and heritage assets.

“While development in the AONB can be allowed in exceptional circumstances, these were not evident to an extent that would justify the grant of planning permission when assessed in relation to the strong presumption against major development within the AONB.”

As well as new grounds for the football and rugby clubs, the Quinn Estates plan also included 175 holiday homes and space for commercial use.

The council says that had permission for such a development in an AONB been granted, it would have had to refer it to the Secretary of State, who would then have had to decide whether he wanted to call in the application so that he could make the decision himself.

Mr Davies added: “Despite the committee decision, we are very supportive of the ambitions of both clubs, and have worked with the football club over many years to look at lots of potential sites, none of which have proved viable for a variety of reasons.

“We remain committed to supporting the club in their efforts to find a new home, but this cannot be at any planning cost.”

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