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Folkestone and Hythe District Council snubs over 70s in Free Spirit development research

Council chiefs have been branded ‘ageist’ after seemingly excluding the over-70s from a study into future housing projects - unless they were “articulate”.

Folkestone and Hythe District Council hired marketing firm Free Spirit Consultancy to gauge how ‘silent communities’ felt about new housing developments - an area of increasing concern for all age groups.

In a fact-finding mission which is costing the tax payer £16,000 the London-based company held group discussions with 36 people living in the district who don’t usually engage in planning matters.

Cllr Susie Govett
Cllr Susie Govett

But over-70s weren’t allowed to attend unless they were “particularly open minded (about development) and articulate” according to a Freedom of Information request.

Headed up by Lindsey Annable, the marketing agency told the council in a briefing: “No one to be over 70 years, but if someone is particularly open minded and articulate we can allow for slightly older.”

Independent district councillor Susie Govett called out the researchers - overseen by the council - for being undemocratic towards the older age group.

The New Romney councillor said: “Of course people who are over 70 should be allowed to have their say in this kind of research.

“I know a lot of people who are over 70 who are more open-minded and articulate than some younger people.

“They are taxpayers and it’s undemocratic not to include them, it appears rather ageist.

“Another question this raises is where should society draw the line? Does this mean people over 70 shouldn’t be allowed to vote?

Cllr Govett also pointed out the district has a relatively aged population and not including their voice hampers the results.

Carried out in February, the study, in brief, sought to identify people’s views on new housing and its knock-on effect.

The private report shows concern largely centred on existing lack of jobs, infrastructure, growing poverty and affordable housing shortages.

Currently kept private by the council, the research also noted younger people are more “open-minded” about housing development than the older generation.

In a detailed 11-point plan following the study, the company advised the council to encourage developers to build health and leisure centres and schools.

Old Shepway Resource Centre on Military Road, Folkestone
Old Shepway Resource Centre on Military Road, Folkestone

It adds: “Protect green space at all costs and introduce technology to enhance the green credentials of the developments.

“Ensure all new housing developments contain a proportion of affordable homes.

“Consider the needs of homes for the disabled, single person households as well as council property.

“Aim for greater transparency around the outcomes of planning applications particularly if they are unable to go ahead.

“This will avoid perceptions of broken promises.”

The council was also urged to communicate with residents in easy to understand English to increase public engagement in planning matters.

Housing has become a major issue over recent years in a bid to combat both rising population numbers and to help slow ever-increasing property prices which in turn is driving rent costs up.

A spokesman said the council was unable to explain why over 70s weren’t consulted.

A spokesman for the Free Spirit consultancy was unavailable for comment when we contacted them.

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