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Kent 'investment zone' plans with 'radically streamlined' planning rules criticised

Housebuilding restrictions could be eased in parts of Kent where thousands of new homes are planned - after the county was named as a potential "investment zone".

The government has put forward proposals to "radically streamline" planning applications at "designated development sites", in a move described by campaigners as "ecocide".

How Otterpool Park, near Hythe, could look. Picture: Pillory Barn
How Otterpool Park, near Hythe, could look. Picture: Pillory Barn

KentOnline understands that one proposal could see Dover and Folkestone joining forces to become a "zone".

One leading councillor says the enormous 10,000-home Otterpool development near Hythe could be brought into the scheme, speeding up the process.

Kent is among 38 areas earmarked by the government to establish the investment zones as part of a drive to boost the economy.

A document setting out the initiative states: “There will be designated development sites to both release more land for housing and commercial development, and to support accelerated development.

"The need for planning applications will be minimised and where planning applications remain necessary, they will be radically streamlined.”

Businesses will be offered tax breaks such as a discount on their rates to encourage them to be involved.

The scheme, if agreed, would see Kent County Council manage and run zones, in conjunction with second-tier councils.

The government says KCC is among 38 councils "keen to be involved now" in the scheme.

Cllr Derek Murphy, the county council's cabinet member for economic development, was cautious and said more detail was needed before the authority committed to the strategy.

He told KentOnline: “What we said is we haven’t got any real details about this at all other than ‘would you be interested?’

Artist's impression of Otterpool Park. Credit: FHDC
Artist's impression of Otterpool Park. Credit: FHDC

"And so we said ‘well, yes’ and that’s got us to an initial conversation.

"But until we know exactly what you're talking about, we're not going to commit to anything.”

Any proposals would need to balance the need for investment with concerns about the impact on the environment, particularly with a suggestion that planning laws could be relaxed, he said.

However he said that large-scale housing developments, such as the one at Otterpool, could be brought into to the scheme.

The "garden town" is currently still in the planning stages, with revised proposals submitted for public consultation earlier this year. It is not set to be completed until 2050.

Dr Hilary Newport of the CPRE
Dr Hilary Newport of the CPRE

“That could benefit it in the same way as Ebbsfleet so that is a good example, depending on what’s on offer," he said.

"It could really see the scheme skating along a lot faster than it is doing now - but again, what is the payback?”

Dr Hilary Newport of the Kent CPRE, describes the investment zones plan as a "developers' charter".

“We need more nature conservation, not less," she said.

"And I just think it's iniquitous that there's this constant push for deregulation, when in actual fact we need more planning.

Green Party councillor Stuart Jeffrey
Green Party councillor Stuart Jeffrey

"We don't need less planning. We need the right stuff being put in the right place.

"And it always defaults to just a great housing estates full of executive homes in car-dependent locations, rather than delivering new affordable housing. That's what we actually need.

"And we're even rolling back on the commitments to affordable housing. It is a developers’ charter.”

RSPB England, which represents the views of the UK-wide bird charity, issued a scathing response to the proposals – warning that they could “tear up the most fundamental protections our remaining wildlife has”.

Maidstone Green party councillor Stuart Jeffrey describes the announcement as "ecocide".

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng at the Berkley Modular Housing Factory in Ebbsfleet. Picture: Zara Farrar / HM Treasury
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng at the Berkley Modular Housing Factory in Ebbsfleet. Picture: Zara Farrar / HM Treasury

"I'm horrified by the Conservative government's announcement that it will be scrapping planning laws to encourage building on green spaces here in Kent," he said.

"What's more, it is taking those decisions away from planning authorities and putting them in the hands of county councils. What part of ecological emergency doesn't this government understand?"

Chancellor Kwasi Karteng said the strategy would help areas where the economic recovery has stalled.

“That is an unprecedented set of tax incentives for businesses to invest, to build and to create jobs right across the country," he said.

"If we really want to level up, we need to unleash the power of the private sector.”

Labour said the strategy was flawed and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves claimed it would result in “moving growth around the country, not creating growth”.

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