Otterpool Garden Town

IMG_7666The district council’s vision for a new garden town at Otterpool, ultimately meant to deliver 10,000 homes, is a source of considerable local concern. A development of anything like this scale (twice the population of Hythe) has to be done right – and the early signs have not been good. 

Garden Towns are meant to be done with the community, from their design through to development but, in keeping with the district council’s usual way of working, Otterpool feels as though it is being done to the community.

From the pronouncements about not being for development when the first piece of land was purchased, to a main partner based in an off-shore tax haven, the district council has done little to win over residents.

The urban sprawl around Ashford is something that many fear will be replicated in Shepway, for all the artists’ impressions and early warm words about open spaces, with the eventual developers riding roughshod over the aspirations, as usual. 

There does not seem to be any consideration for the wider implications related to roads, hospital capacity, lack of GPs (it is no good building new doctors’ surgeries if there is no one to work there), water supply, lack of local jobs, social care etc. Worryingly, in recent briefings to town and parish councils, the district council is talking about the redevelopment of Westenhanger station taking at least ten years – this is one of the fundamental building blocks of Otterpool and there needs to be firm commitment from Network Rail and the operator before proceeding.
The proposed development at Otterpool is in addition to, not instead of, other developments, in this already congested, high-density part of the country. Otterpool has the potential to fill in much of the open space between Folkestone and Ashford. There is now the threat of Compulsory Purchase Orders hanging over local landowners, plus the potential loss of prime agricultural land.

The significant environmental and infrastructure concerns must be addressed and any development must embrace other aspects such as open spaces, green construction, walking, cycling, public transport, solar PV and electric vehicle recharging.

Government guidance states: “New garden villages should have the backing of the local authorities in which they are situated. We expect expressions of interest to demonstrate a strong local commitment to delivery. They should also set how the local community is being, or will be, engaged at an early stage, and strategies for community involvement to help ensure local support”.

While the need for new houses is clear, they need to be in the right place and of the right sort; they need to be truly affordable for first-time buyers, with social housing in the mix; and, amidst the enthusiasm for large, green field sites – a developers’ charter – there is a woeful lack of vision for housing (much of which in Folkestone in particular is poor quality rented accommodation) and regeneration of our existing communities.

The planning application has been submitted and that from what we have read so far it will not be a sustainable development particularly with respect to the water supply. Also that we are dismayed that it will be only 22% affordable. If the aim is not genuine sustainability then the shortfall will create a crisis down the line.