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Otterpool Park: Compulsory purchase possible as land-sale talks break down

By Sean Axtell

Shepway District Council (SDC) chiefs also agreed to launch a bid with landowners Cozumel Estates to share costs and risks and investigate creating its own development company for the Otterpool Park scheme.

Cabinet members have agreed to ring-fence £350,000 to investigate the project’s financial, legal and commercial impact.

Land earmarked for Otterpool Park Garden Town

Land earmarked for Otterpool Park Garden Town

Official council papers released before the meeting showed talks to buy up parcels of land had broken down and a third party had shown interest in buying parts of the 617-hectare site.

An SDC spokesman last week said it was too early to say whether people would lose their homes.

However, homeowners in Sellindge are “preparing to leave” before the 30-year project kicks off, according to some residents.

Jean and David Darlow have rented a home at the junction of Ashford Road and Otterpool Lane for more than four years.

Their semi-detached home is emblazoned with a banner saying “No Otterpool New Town”, which they say has triggered abuse from strangers.

Jean and David Darlow's home

Jean and David Darlow's home

Mrs Darlow, a 69-year-old carer, said: “People are up in arms about this. I’ve never known so many people to be moving away, so many people are preparing to leave.

“We have to move anyway, but there would be no way we would stay here with the development going ahead.

“We’re slap bang in the middle of it all. We have no idea if the council will buy up this land but we’re moving away. Imagine the trucks, the congestion, being in the middle of a building site for years, it will be horrendous.”

A total of 13 Sellindge homes are up for sale on property site Rightmove.

Arcadis's artist impression of how Otterpool Park will look

Arcadis's artist impression of how Otterpool Park will look

One homeowner admitted Otterpool Park was a factor in them wanting to move.

In comparison, seven homes in Lyminge – a village with twice Sellindge’s population but isn’t nestled on Otterpool’s boundary – are up for sale.

Mrs Darlow and her husband David continue to campaign to halt the development.

“Some drivers have sworn at us about the banner. It must have happened four times. It’s quite funny really,” Mrs Darlow said.

The decision grants the council rights to enforce Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO).

Before the meeting, an SDC spokesman said: “Cabinet is being asked to agree to the principle of using its CPO, if necessary, to get land at Otterpool assembled.

“This is standard procedure in a development of this size and doesn’t mean CPO will be used – it just means we’ve agreed the principle. So far it is too early to speculate on any potential details.”

Jean and David Darlow's home

Jean and David Darlow's home

The revelation surfaced after talks with Cozumel Estates – which owns the majority of the land – and a separate unnamed party, failed to bear fruit.

A report to the cabinet meeting said: “Negotiations on some sites have been protracted and it may be that the council will have to consider using its compulsory purchase powers.

“Accordingly agreement in principle is sought by cabinet to use CPO, would be subject to a separate and detailed report.”

CPOs have long been the subject of much criticism in the UK.

A local authority can force residents to sell their home if it obstructs a regeneration project.
Legally the project must be deemed “for the greater public good”. Typically, compensation equates to the home’s market value before the regeneration scheme.

Cabinet members voted unanimously in favour of the latest plans.

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