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Decision to borrow £100m to kickstart the Otterpool Park development is approved by Folkestone and Hythe District Council

The first hurdle in enabling Hythe's controversial Otterpool Park development was overcome last night.

The decision to borrow an 'eye-watering' £100m was approved by Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) at their full council meeting, with 15 councillors voting in support, 10 against and one abstaining.

How Otterpool Park could look. Credit: Arcadis Design and Access statement
How Otterpool Park could look. Credit: Arcadis Design and Access statement

The hefty sum will allow the first stages of the new 'garden town' to proceed, despite it not yet receiving planning permission.

Described as prudential borrowing, the money will come from the Public Works Loan Board. It won't necessarily be borrowed all at once, and is planned to be drawn down over a period of up to five years.

The divisive development will include 10,000 new homes, a fifth of which are proposed to be affordable, schools, green spaces, health centres and retail and leisure facilities.

It will be built in phases over a 30 year period, pending approval.

But it has received much opposition since it was first announced, including more than 100 objections, two protests and an official objection from Hythe Town Council.

Land earmarked for Otterpool Park, taken near the Airport Cafe
Land earmarked for Otterpool Park, taken near the Airport Cafe

And it was no different at last night's meeting, which included a lengthy debate over the scheme, which is destined for land on and around the former Folkestone Racecourse, close to the villages of Westenhanger and Newingreen.

Several Labour and Green councillors raised concerns over the project not being affordable, environmentally friendly or convenient for local people.

Cllr Doug Wade (Green) referred to Otterpool as a 'boondoggle', which is wasteful or fraudulent project, and a 'grandiose' scheme that hadn't been 'thought through'.

He said: "What we need is high quality council houses that are carbon zero and in populated areas, where people can walk to work.

"Not in fields near Sellindge, in an area that is already water stressed, with no GPs."

Cllr Doug Wade
Cllr Doug Wade

He also raised concerns over the increased traffic it would bring, and the relocation of wildlife.

Cllr Lesley Whybrow (Green) said: "We can't get away from the fact we need to build houses and that we need more council houses.

"But £100m is an eye-watering amount of debt."

She added that while the proposed development will bring profit to FHDC it doesn't come 'without risk' and said much is 'uncertain' about the scheme and its future.

Cllr Jim Martin (Green) questioned the suggestion that Otterpool would create 8,000 jobs. He said: "There's only 8,500 homes in the first phase, do they all come with a cleaner then?

"It's a ridiculous number."

10,000 homes are planned for the new 'town'. Credit: Arcadis Design and Access statement
10,000 homes are planned for the new 'town'. Credit: Arcadis Design and Access statement

Cllr Laura Davison (Lab) also voiced her fears: "The reference to future residents concerns me, because we need to think about people who are living here now, and what they think about it.

"What about the people who are using food banks because they can't afford a weekly shop? They will see this figure and laugh at us."

Cllr Davison also referred to FHDC's recent purchase of Westenhanger Castle for £2.9m, which is set to become the 'centrepiece' for Otterpool.

But other councillors rejected these claims, and threw their support for the scheme, which is being proposed by FHDC in partnership with Cozumel Estates, into the ring.

Cllr David Wimble (Ind) described Otterpool as a 'really exciting project' and said the £100m loan would be used to start putting infrastructure in place, such as new roads, feasibility studies, waste water treatment works, and a new public park surrounding the castle.

He said: "This council has to deliver 738 new homes a year over 18 years, if we don't we lose control over our planning department.

"To meet these requirements it is not better to have one scheme?"

Cllr Wimble added that he would 'love to build council houses' but said the authority needs more money first, which could come from Otterpool, adding: "The profit will be spent across the whole of the district.

Cllr David Monk
Cllr David Monk

"It is a chance for this council to get some money."

Cllr Patricia Rolfe (Con) added: "We have the potential to deliver something special here."

She said when it comes to Otterpool it is 'location, location, location', particularly in regards to its proximity to the HSI line.

Cllr David Godfrey (Con) said: "If we lose this opportunity now, we won't get it back and I don't think future generations will forgive us."

After listening to the debate, Cllr David Monk (Con), leader of FHDC, said he was 'flabbergasted' at the 'negatively he was hearing'.

He said: "This will go ahead if we do it or we don't. If we don't, the government will take over."

In reference to the 'uncertainty' about the proposals, he said: "We are the planning authority, if something comes along and we don't like it we won't approve it.

"Part of your job is to be a community leader which is what I'm asking you to do. Think of the future."

Following the recorded vote, Cllr Monk led an applause.

A second recommendation, which was also approved, noted that decisions on spending the money will be given to an appointed ‘decision maker’, although in cases in excess of £100,000 the decision will be subject to the approval of the majority of the Otterpool Park Working Group.

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