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More than 400 people turn out to hear about Thanet District Council's plans for thousands of homes

By James Rose

Westgate residents were united in their fury at the potential creation of 1,000 homes at a volatile public meeting last night.

Cries of “we don’t want it” were directed at Thanet District Council representatives as they attempted to explain the required housing demands as part of the draft local plan.

More than 400 crammed into Westgate Pavilion with many left in the cold unable to fit in to the venue.

As part of the local plan the council aims to create 12,000 more homes by 2031 and provide supporting infrastructure along with 5,000 more jobs.

Hundreds turned out to hear the plans

The meeting began with a consistently interrupted presentation from planning consultant Ismail Mohammed which was eventually cut short to allow for audience questions.

Council leader Iris Johnston said: “I know the strength of feeling about this issue but it is very important that the format for the evening is kept.

“This meeting will not be part of the consultation, that can be answered online or via our

questionnaire, but this is your chance to give us feedback and ask us questions.

“Tonight’s meeting is about the offering of sites as available for developers to put in applications.

“This does not mean that development will happen but we are here so that you know about it and can respond in the public consultation.”

Madeline Homer, acting Chief Executive, Ged Lucas, Interim Director of Community Services, Cllr Richard Nicholson, Portfolio Holder and Ismail Mohamed, Interim Strategic Planning Manager at the briefing to announce the Thanet Local Plan.

Standing in for Sir Roger Gale, Westgate councillor Simon Moores said: “We absolutely know the problems we have and we can see that our infrastructure is hardly coping.

“You can let your views be known through this public consultation.”

The hostile crowd were dissatisfied with answers from councillors and officers with allegations of corruption from one woman in the audience.

One Westgate resident in the front row said: “If democracy works these allocations should not be taken forward after the public consultation.”

Infrastructure concerns were inevitably raised with questions involving congestion on the roads and claims that strategic sites were allocated without sufficient accessibility.

One resident asked: “Are local roads capable of dealing with the impact of this development?”

A selection of members in the audience answered “no” in unison.

People packed the meeting

There were also worries about the QEQM not being able to cope with a further influx of patients and schools finding space for more children.

Ismail Mohammed explained that schools were not in the remit of the district council and work is ongoing with Kent County Council.

He added: “Sustainable development can be achieved and promote economic stability by binding together economic, social and environmental aspects of the plan.

“We will take into consideration your views from the consultation and reshape the document as we continue through stages of the plan.

He claimed that “safeguarding the district environment was a priority” which was met with laughter from the disillusioned crowd and led to worries being raised about development on greenbelt sites.

Also on the panel was Dr Hilary Newport of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

She said: “Government tells us we need another four million houses which works out at around 12,000 per district over the next 20 years.

“Every authority must have a local plan in place and if Thanet refused to have one then applications are often ruled in favour of development.

“You need to get involved with the public consultation to tell your council that you do not want this and then the planning system needs to say no we cannot handle this development.

“Sustainable development is difficult to achieve in a crowded area and you need to make that known by engaging with this process.

“From tonight we can see that Thanet District Council should be given the ammunition they need when it comes to responses from the public consultation.”

But some residents were not as convinced that the public consultation would help, with shouts of “how can people engage if they have no internet?” echoing across the pavilion.

Chairman of the Westgate and Westbrook Residents' Association Councillor Tom King (Ind) organised the meeting.

He said: “This has been a very emotive meeting – we the Westgate and Westbrook Residents' Assocation started the petition together and posted 2,000 leaflets but this wasn’t a campaign we needed to push, people are willing to be heard.

“We must get constructive input back into the local plan – this is our chance to tell them why we don’t think 1,000 houses shouldn’t be put in Westgate and I think we are agreed on that.

“I believe it is anything but sustainable and why this amount of housing is needed is beyond me, it’s totally disproportionate.”

Towards the end of the meeting one woman summed up the feeling of those in attendance by saying “we really are against the earmarking of this land”.

The next local plan roadshows will be held at Broadstairs Baptist Church on January 21 and Customs House in Ramsgate on January 29 from noon to 7pm.

The main roadshow will be at Westwood Cross from 9am to 5pm on January 31.

There will be two more in Margate – at Hartsdown Leisure Centre from noon to 7pm on February 3 and Thanet District Council Gateway from noon to 2pm on February 10.

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