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Pickles calls in Kent SSSI proposal

Words: Laura Edgar

Communities ministers will make a decision on a planning application for Lodge Hill, Chattenden housing and commercial site.

Medway Council considered the application, which includes proposals for 5,000 houses, three primary schools and a secondary school, a healthcare centre and shops, in September 2014, and voted to grant permission.

But after receiving requests from local residents, Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and local MPs, the communities secretary Eric Pickles will make the final decision on the Ministry of Defence site.

The RSPB said that Lodge Hill is “perhaps the most important site for the nightingale in England” and well as having rare types of grassland and ancient woodland.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “There has been public outrage and condemnation that a site of national importance for wildlife has been considered for development without public scrutiny.”

A public inquiry is now due to be held and a decision will be made after ministers have “considered the conformity of the application with national planning policy”, including that the vitality of town centres will be ensured, there will a wide choice of quality homes and the health of communities is promoted.

Harper added that following the inquiry, the RSPB hoped that the application would be rejected, securing the future of the Site of Special Scientific Interest. “The important issue of housing allocation in north Kent should proceed without impacting on nationally important wildlife sites.”

Medway Council leader Rodney Chambers explained that the council was aware that organisations such as the RSPB had written to the government asking for the application to be called in.

“I would state, however, that we are already well aware of their views and these were carefully considered and are contained in the very detailed 162-page report reported to the Special Planning Committee in September 2014.”

Chambers added that while the council supports the application, “ultimately, it is a government planning application on a government-owned site, so it is only right that government comes to the final decision. We have done everything we can to properly assess the impact of this development and compensation land is being provided for the nightingales so they can continue to breed”.