Part of the Kent International Gateway site, near Maidstone, from the North Downs. The proposed site, beyond the M20 in cutting in the middle distance, extended well beyond both sides of the photographed area.

Green Balance made a major contribution to saving the spectacular view from the North Downs near Maidstone, Kent from a very large road-rail freight interchange in 2009.

We were retained by the Joint Advisory Committee for the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to protect the setting of the AONB from the 112 hectare ‘Kent International Gateway’ adjacent to it at Bearsted.  We drafted a consultation response on the proposal and then appeared at the three month public inquiry as both expert witness and advocate.

The promoters of the freight interchange project appealed against the ‘non-determination’ of their planning application, triggering a public inquiry, before Maidstone Borough Council resolved that they would have refused it anyway. Co-ordinating with the local authority, Green Balance presented evidence to the inquiry, and cross-examined the promoters’ witnesses, principally on the:

  • importance of the setting to the appreciation of the AONB and as a reason for its original designation;
  • planning policies on setting relevant to the case;
  • visual impact on the many users of the North Downs Way national trail;
  • additional noise intrusion into the AONB; and
  • adverse intrusion of light into the dark skies of the AONB at night.

The Inspector and the Secretary of State both supported our main arguments. Both agreed with us that the development would cause substantial harm to the setting of the AONB, and that this should be given ‘substantial weight’ in the decision on the case. Together with the alien and out-of-character effect on the local countryside this was the principal reason for refusal in 2010. The Inspector agreed with us that views of the proposal from several kilometres of the North Downs Way would significantly harm visitors’ enjoyment of this part of the AONB, and he shared our concerns about the acute and percussive sounds from the operations causing limited further harm to the tranquillity of the AONB. The Secretary of State supported those conclusions.

As well as achieving the client’s immediate objective, the decision will help to conserve the settings of nationally protected landscapes everywhere. The Secretary of State’s decision appreciated that an AONB’s designated area cannot be considered separately from its landscape setting where that setting is material to the enjoyment of the AONB.

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