Go-ahead for Kent film studio and homes despite 'sub-optimal' payments deal

Plans have been approved for the redevelopment of a derelict railway works at Ashford, Kent, into a mixed-use scheme with TV and film studios and more than 300 homes, despite the scheme's "strongly sub-optimal position" in respect of section 106 payments.

A visualisation of the proposals. (Pic: Quinn Estates)
A visualisation of the proposals. (Pic: Quinn Estates)

At a virtual planning committee meeting last week, Ashford Borough Council approved detailed planning consent for redevelopment of the former Newtown Railway Works, which sits close to the Ashford International railway station.

Developers Quinn Estates' plans would see the construction of 18,845 square metres of film and TV studios with associated post-production offices, workshops, a "media village", a hotel, a multi-storey car park and 302 flats.

According to a planning report, a review of the applicants' viability case found that, after allowing for section 106 costs, the scheme "as currently proposed is considered to be significantly unviable".

The report noted that there are "abnormal costs involved with the project" including demolition, remediation and restoration of existing buildings, some of which are listed.

The report said that the "context of this site is one of a complicated and challenging mix of scheme elements, significant remediation costs involved with redeveloping the site and the costs of designing a scheme around the constraints in terms of heritage assets requiring a specific approach".

Planners accepted that, due to the viability issues, a "sub-optimal" deferred payments approach to section 106 contributions should be adopted, "with capped index-linked sums being paid if sale and rental values prove to be more positive than assumed".

The report set out a schedule detailing which section 106 requirements should be paid under this deferred contributions approach and which should be paid "regardless" of viability constraints at "early trigger points".

Apart from viability issues, the report said that the principle of the proposal "is one that would achieve the vision in the adopted Ashford Local Plan (ALP) 2030 as well as detailed ALP 2030 policies".

It cited plan policies supporting mixed-use development, a variety of housing types, regeneration of brownfield sites in sustainable locations, higher-density development where benefits are to be derived from that approach, economic development through employment opportunities, improvement in workforce skills, high-quality design and promotion of tourism-related facilities in a "strongly performing urban location".

The report concluded: "I consider that the planning benefits of the scheme outweigh the strongly sub-optimal position in respect of section 106 mitigation and therefore recommend that permission be granted."

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