Scheme was planned for county’s Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Foster & Partners-designed proposals for a futuristic winery and visitor attraction in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty have been blocked by a planning inspector.

The practice’s scheme for Vineyard Farms would have delivered a 15,912sq m facility at a farm near the village of Cuxton. Vineyard Farms already has more than 200ha of vines in the area and a 700,000-litre winery at neighbouring Luddesdown that is currently operating at full capacity.

The new winery was part of an expansion that would have added a further 230ha of vines to the business’ operations, which would have made it the largest vineyard in the UK.


Source: Foster & Partners

Foster & Partners’ Kentish Wine Vault proposals

Fosters’ designs, which were targeting a BREEAM “outstanding” rating, included a visitor centre and café, fermenting space, a barrel room, a maturing cellar and an energy centre that would have created biogas from grape skins.

The £30m Kentish Wine Vault scheme was billed by its developers as offering a £112m boost to the wider local economy by 2030, directly creating up to 100 jobs and supporting many more.

Medway Council planning officers recommended the scheme for approval when it was presented to the authority’s planning committee last year. However councillors overruled the advice arguing that it would “constitute a severe adverse impact and a direct loss of the currently undeveloped tranquillity and wildness of the AONB”.

In a just-published decision, planning inspector Stephen Wilkinson has dismissed Vineyard Farms’ challenge to the scheme’s rejection, following an inquiry held in March and April this year.

He acknowledged the quality of Foster & Partners’ designs for the scheme and its proposed energy and carbon reduction methods, as well as the wider “biodiversity net gain” included in the proposals.

But Wilkinson said the winery would have a “significant adverse impact” on the site and its wider landscape, which he said was “recognised for its seclusion and intimacy”.

“The winery building would become a dominant urban feature in a secluded valley,” he said. “Although mitigation planting is proposed around the access and car park these to my mind would be insufficient to moderate the degree of harm arising.”


Source: Foster & Partners

The scheme would have cost £30m to build

Wilkinson said Vineyard Farms had not made a strong enough case for the scheme to be delivered on the site proposed.

“The English ‘wine revolution’ which this scheme seeks to stimulate could in practice be addressed by development outside the AONB and beyond the setting of the [Upper Bush Conservation Area],” he said.

“The public interest case for why exceptional circumstances might exist in this case has not been satisfactorily made.”

The inspector said new jobs and training could be supported by a new winery “irrespective of its location”, but that those options had not been “fully explored” or costed.

Fosters said in a statement: “We are disappointed with this planning decision regarding our Kent winery proposal and are currently reviewing next steps with our client.”