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Existing buildings at Highland Court Farm, viewed from the north east. Warehouse / factory buildings would be constructed behind these. William Turrell 21 December 2022

Chapel Down "winery" planning decision due

(updated )


  • permission previously granted for wine factory and warehouse withdrawn

  • case to be heard again at Planning Committee meeting on Tue 25 July

  • decision against separate Kent winery upheld by planning inspectorate following appeal

  • Council receives 10 new representations from vineyard operators in support of development…

  • …plus 9 further objections to the winery from members of public and local organisations

  • CPRE Kent says consultation process inadequate and public interest test not met

Canterbury City Council will reconsider the planning application for a "winery" within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, after it was legally challenged.

The planning committee will meet at 7pm on Tuesday (25 July) to discuss the 11,900 sqm development, most of which would be factory and warehouse space, plus lorry parking.

The development is opposed by Natural England, Kent Downs AONB and CPRE Kent. At time of writing it is unclear exactly who will be able to speak at the meeting, based on the interpretation of the council's limits on the number and specifically the type of speakers permitted.

Winegrowers Chapel Down say they will keep their vineyard at Tenterden near Ashford, but move their "production operation" to Canterbury Business Park at Highland Court Farm (between Adisham and Bridge) as part of expansion plans. Chapel Down currently manufacture just over 2 million bottles of wine a year; they want that to be 6 million by 2032.

A 100x120 metre warehouse (13 metres at its tallest point) would be used to manufacture and store the wine. Chapel Down also intend to rent a building to Defined Wines - a company providing winemaking services to vineyards - and use others for research and development.

An overhead view of the proposed "winery" warehouses and factory buildings. The plan shows 64 bays for HGV trailers, plus staff parking. This area is currently grade 2 farmland. The main entrance is to the south east (the A2 junction at Coldharbour Lane, also leading to Bridge and Barham.)

Timeline of the application

On 4 April, members of the council planning committee narrowly voted 7-5 in favour of the plans.

Formal approval followed a month later, just before local elections where control of the council moved from Conservative to a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition.

The approval was "quashed" after Richard Buxton Solicitors sent CCC a "pre-action" letter saying they were prepared to seek a Judicial Review.

The council took legal advice and decided to consider the application again, putting it on the agenda for Tuesday 25 July, roughly a week later, a timescale many objectors said was too short.

Meanwhile, the planning officer for the case is still recommending councillors approve the development.

Read the council documents and some of the responses

Council update on responses received

In a new document published Monday night, the council said they received representations from 10 customers of Defined Wines, described as "local vineyard operators", who support the development because of the increased storage and potential reduced distance for transporting their grapes.

On the matter of whether Chapel Downs has adequately investigated sites for the warehouse that are not within the AONB, the council's Head of Planning says 89 alternatives in Kent were investigated and he considers this assessment "robust". CPRE Kent questioned this in their response, stating that there was adequate floorspace available outside the AONB.

Since the meeting agenda was published, the council has also received one further letter in support of the application and nine against (plus the CPRE response).

The objections include individuals and groups, such as CARE and some of its supporters, Barham Downs Action Group and WOAW. You can read some of the responses above.

Appeal by Cuxton Winery applicant fails

By coincidence, the day before the planning meeting was due to take place, a previously rejected application for a different winery elsewhere in the Kent Downs AONB was turned down on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate.

The public inquiry into a proposed development at Cuxton by Vineyard Farms Limited lasted over a week and included a site visit.

In his 10,000 word decision, inspector Stephen Wilkinson said the "exceptional circumstances" needed to outweigh the "harm to the Kent Downs AONB" were not met, and the "public interest" case for the development had "not been satisfactorily made".

Why development at Highland Court site is controversial

The proposed 6.7 hectare area at Bridge lies on grade two farmland on the south-western side of Highland Court farm, just north of the A2 junction with Coldharbour Lane.

It represents a substantial increase to the current footprint of the business park - the equivalent of 10 football pitches (roughly half of the size of Chapel Down's original proposal).

Concerns include:

  • impact on a site within several landscape designations, including Kent Downs AONB

  • whether the "exceptional circumstances" required for a development with the AONB have been met

  • loss of productive Grade 2 farmland

  • wildlife species including dormice, great crested newts and at least six types of bat

  • flora: vulnerable species such as White Helleborine orchid

  • affect on views of (and from) other buildings: nearby Higham Park in Bridge is grade 2 listed

  • HGV deliveries to/from the site and increased traffic they will cause on local roads

Both Natural England and Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty had previously raised objections to the application, which is on land within the Kent Downs AONB, the North Kent Downs AHLV (or "Area of High Landscape Value") and the Highland Court Conservation Area.

AONB planning manager Katie Miller said at the time:

"These are substantial industrial buildings which we say landscaping cannot mitigate."

"AONBs are afforded the same protection as our national parks and this scheme is not in the public interest, only that of the applicant."

"We do not believe there are compelling reasons for such a large-scale and harmful development."

Natural England objected to the impact on the AONB, the height of the buildings, and that the size of the development means it should be considered as part of the local plan.

A lengthy response from Historic England included concerns over the removal of productive farmland and damage to the conservation area.

Although the plans were displayed at an exhibition last year, residents of Bridge and elsewhere complained the application was insufficiently publicised at a time attention was focused on other planning applications. Many of the latest objections also cite the short period given to respond before the meeting on 25 July.

The scheme was included in the council's first Draft Local Plan - now being redrafted ahead of another "Regulation 18" consultation period - but not in the rural section.

Also, the planning process for the winery took place independently, so the development itself was approved in April, despite both parties who would go on to run the new council saying they intended to look again at the entire plan it was included within.

Statement from Canterbury City Council planning report:

At its meeting on 4th April 2023, the Planning Committee resolved to grant planning permission for the development proposed under application reference CA/22/02055. The resolution was subject to suitable safeguarding conditions and the completion of a Section 106 legal agreement. The legal agreement was completed and the Decision was issued on 5th May 2023.

Shortly after the grant of planning permission, a Pre-Action Letter for Judicial Review proceedings was received from Richard Buxton Solicitors, challenging the Council’s Decision on three grounds. The advice of a Barrister was sought and his opinion was that one of the grounds, relating to the importance and weight of heritage assets, was arguable. The Barrister advised the fact that explicit reference to the importance and weight that must be given to any harm found to the heritage assets should have been included within the report. On the basis, the Council confirmed to the Court that the application should be re-determined.

Planning permission was therefore quashed on 23rd June 2023. The planning application has since returned to the City Council as the Local Planning Authority for re-determination under the same planning reference.

Planning Application details:

Application No: CA/22/02055

Proposal: Hybrid planning application for expansion of Canterbury Business Park comprising detailed proposal for 11,900 sqm winery with associated parking and landscaping; and outline proposal with all matters reserved except access for up to 8,000 sqm of warehousing.

Location: Land Southwest Of Canterbury Business Park, Highland Court Farm, Coldharbour Lane, Bridge, CT4 5HL.

Planning Meeting:

Tuesday 25 July at 7pm, Canterbury Guildhall (by Westgate Towers)

Meeting agenda

Comments by email:

The council did not specifically invite comments, but you can email and ask for your views to be considered at the meeting.