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Will Otterpool Park cause overcrowding on Kent's train services?

There are fears the proposed - and controversial - Otterpool Park development will lead to overcrowding on London-bound trains.

Consultee Dartford Borough Council (DBC) lodged concerns to Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) that commuters will be "unable to get on trains" at Ebbsfleet due to the extra people coming from east Kent if the Otterpool scheme is approved.

As well as 10,000 new homes, the development, earmarked for land surrounding Folkestone's racecourse and close to Hythe, includes plans for a new hotel, health centres, restaurants, shops, offices and new schools.

How Otterpool Park could look. Credit: FHDC
How Otterpool Park could look. Credit: FHDC

An outline planning application was submitted to FHDC earlier this year, which revealed, if given the green light, it would be delivered in three phases over 30 years.

There have been many objections to the scheme since it was first announced, including two protests, more than 100 ojections to FHDC and an official objection from Hythe Town Council.

Loss of countryside, clean air and tranquillity are just some of the issues cited.

But DBC's fears focus on the impact the development will have on passenger trains - such as the High Speed service which stops at Ashford and Ebbsfleet on its way to London.

In response to the consultation lodged by FHDC, Dartford's director of regeneration argues that "greater loading in east Kent could massively worsen the overcrowding on these essential trains".

The response adds that future rail expansion plans do not take Otterpool into account and the trains will be over capacity anyway by 2020 "by Network Rail’s own admission".

High speed train. Stock image
High speed train. Stock image

The document argues that commuters will board at the sites ‘own’ railway station, Westenhanger, before making their way to Ashford to catch the fast train, adding: "It is understood a direct service is under investigation, but the council’s concern is capacity.

"It is unclear if there will be any capacity on HS1 morning services even if they do stop at Westenhanger.

"The council has significant concerns that by the time Ebbsfleet Central development is implemented people will be unable to get on trains to London."

DBC also criticises the developers "vague" information in regards to plans for transport links in the outline planning documents and suggests "further work" is done to remedy this.

Otterpool Park boundary map (7885406)
Otterpool Park boundary map (7885406)

Their response continues: "It is extremely likely that a new town by a railway station in an attractive rural setting will generate major commuter movements by rail.

"The council would request that further work is carried out with regard to the impacts of the proposal on the passenger capacity of the commuter rail network."

A spokesman for Otterpool Park said in response to the council's comments: "Ensuring transport infrastructure is in place for future residents is a fundamental part of creating this new community and will add to its appeal as a location to live and work.

"There is a huge opportunity to improve accessibility to this area of the district via Westenhanger station as well as upgrading passenger facilities.

"Local authorities across Kent have been lobbying government for greater train capacity on routes across the county - including high speed services – to meet growing demand from existing and new communities.

What the Otterpool Park 'local centres' could look like. Credit: Arcadis Design and Access statement (9775449)
What the Otterpool Park 'local centres' could look like. Credit: Arcadis Design and Access statement (9775449)

"It’s important that we continue to work together to lobby for future capacity improvements that benefit residents across the county.

If the outline planning application is approved, our intention is to work with rail providers to improve services to and from the station, including promoting the case for a high speed train service.

"Clearly this will need to ensure there is capacity and further assessment work would be undertaken in discussion with Network Rail."

The Otterpool development is scheduled to be discussed by councillors for the first time in September.

Read more: All the latest news from Dartford

Read more: All the latest news from Hythe

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