Otterpool Park consultation suggests widespread opposition to controversial garden town plans
PUBLISHED: 09:50 23 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:50 23 October 2017
Bosses remain committed to the project and say they will continue to engage with the community to help shape the development
Campaigners are calling on bosses to halt a controversial garden town project after the latest round of consultation suggested widespread opposition.
The plans for Otterpool Park, close to Sellindge and Folkestone Racecourse, aim to deliver some 12,000 much-needed homes, but protesters say it will devastate existing countryside and put a huge strain on roads and services.
Kevin Murray Associates, which carried out the consultation earlier this summer, published a report this week outlining the feedback received - the majority of which was comprehensively negative.
The sample size - a mere fraction of the district’s population of circa 108,000 people - should be noted, but the attitude of those most affected by the plans has been made crystal clear.
An overwhelming 81 per cent of responses received said they had concerns or worries about the approach to the project, while a majority of 46 per cent disagreed with a notion championed by Shepway District Council that there were key employment and business opportunities associated with the project.
The vast majority said they would not consider living or working in the garden town, nor would they go for leisure or open a business there.
It follows a poll on KentNews.co.uk, which as of this week showed some 91 per cent of more than 600 respondents did not support the garden town’s development.
David Plumstead is co-ordinator of Otterpool Newtown Coalition campaign group.
He told us: “Those of us that have been involved in this sort of work, as I have for 30 years, know very well when you are batting on a losing wicket because you are not getting support.
“In this case, I can tell you without fear that, of the people that know anything about it, there’s virtually total opposition.
“The problem we have is that a very large percentage of the people are not really aware of what is going on. They are too busy with their daily lives.
“What we have to do is find a forum for a real blast at it in the public domain to get people to truly wake up.
“When the Otterpool Park proposal first came out about 18 months ago it was in the form of an official document from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
“This is a document produced by a major government department and clearly states that an application for one of these towns has to demonstrate the support of local communities, and they have not even bothered to ask us.
“This consultation exercise is very, very late in the day, well over a year after they got their first lot of money and it’s all completely wrong.”
Indeed, only two weeks ago the government released £155,000 in funding - on top of significant other sums already pledged - to help speed up the development process, demonstrating a clear desire to see the project succeed, even though a formal planning application is not expected to be submitted until the spring.
However, the DCLG states in its guidance for councils looking to create garden towns that it wants to see “evidence of attractive, well-designed places with local support”.
Hilary Newport, director of the Kent division of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “I can only hope that they will listen to this feedback.
“The whole ethos of this garden town movement is they are supposed to be places that are locally-led and that they have the blessing of local population, but this project only has the blessing of the local council.
“There definitely seems to be a sense that this is being dropped upon them from a height.”
Mr Plumstead insists his fight to stop the development is far from over, having previously halted planned projects to create a holiday village in West Wood and expand the A259 through Romney Marsh.
“Both of them already had planning permission so we were on the back foot, but managed to stop them by sheer force and not giving up,” he said.
“Once you have got a group of people with genuine commitment and keep up, eventually they trip up, and I’m bloody sure they will trip up on this as well.”
Despite the negative feedback, bosses insist the project will still be progressing at speed and that further consultation will take place over the coming months to further address concerns.
Andy Jarrett, spokesperson for Otterpool Park, said: “As we’re all aware, councils across the country have the obligation to tackle the housing crisis.
“We must provide for future generations and the garden town approach allows us to do this logically and innovatively, enabling us to provide the vital services and facilities from the outset to support a new community. The need to do this will not disappear, and it is our responsibility to address it.
“We invited the existing community, from local residents to business groups and organisations, to come and meet the team very early on in the process.
“This allowed us to talk to a range of people at a time when their thoughts and ideas could meaningfully make a difference to our work.
“The framework masterplan being created continues to be informed by these ideas. Given the size of the project, it is important that careful consideration and time is taken to get this right.
“As yet, detailed work continues on a number of the key issues being raised by some local residents.
“When conclusions are drawn - based on research, consultation with suppliers, and the community - we look forward to sharing how feedback has shaped the plans, and how we will address the points raised by concerned residents.
“The attendance at the drop-in sessions may not be statistically representative of the population of Shepway district so in addition to our sessions with local residents, our engagement has extended across a wide range of groups in Shepway.
“Workshops with local business and civic representatives and separate sessions with young people in colleges and schools allowed us to collect
exciting ideas from a diverse mix of people.
“Organisations such as East Kent College, Shepway Business Advisory Board and the Creative Foundation have all offered their support for the project and its vision to meet the needs of our young people and encourage economic growth in the area.
“Over the coming months, we’ll continue to speak with everyone with an interest in Otterpool Park, including those who have so far been a part of our formal community engagement events, as well as new groups and individuals.”