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Hundreds attend Otterpool Park garden town consultations in Folkestone and Hythe

By Molly Mileham-Chappell

More than 300 people turned out to public meetings last week to see how a projected 10,000-homes garden town could change the landscape between Ashford and Hythe.

Representatives from the Otterpool Park project met with scores of residents from the district at public exhibitions at Westenhanger Castle and the Leas Cliff Hall's Channel Suite last week.

Billboards depicting the scheme, earmarked for green land around Folkestone Racecourse, were placed all around the room to help residents understand and query the designs, after an outline planning application for the first 8,500 homes was submitted earlier this year.

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Residents ask questions about what Otterpool Park could be like at the public consultation at the Channel Suite. Picture: Andy Jones
Residents ask questions about what Otterpool Park could be like at the public consultation at the Channel Suite. Picture: Andy Jones

Andy Jarrett, spokesman for Otterpool Park, said: "We've had a good attendance. We had over 150 people pass through Westenhanger Castle.

"People have been raising questions principally about homes and particularly affordable homes. People are quite keen to see that this is a development for local people and not something that is just there to attract people from outside of the area."

Speaking about wildlife and questions over the 50% green space target, he said: "As far as wildlife and ecological interests are concerned, there's been a great deal of survey work to appreciate what is there now and our targets are to improve upon that.

"I think people often have the impression that the countryside is full of creatures that will be lost when the land is developed. The reality in this area is that much of the land has been arable farming, which is actually quite limited in terms of ecology. There will be an overall increase in habitat."

Talking about the recent elections and influx of Green Party councillors, he said: "It's a bit of an unknown quantity to us yet. The council will meet this week to decide who sits on what committees and how the power is shared so it's a little early to understand what new aspirations are being brought to the table.

"Certainly I get the sense that there is an overall support for the concept - whether different groups have particular interests, I think we get to learn."

How Otterpool Park could look. Credit: FHDC (9791951)
How Otterpool Park could look. Credit: FHDC (9791951)

He added that the planning teams will now work towards a council decision later this year or early next year, and are now set to focus on phasing, infrastructure and funding.

He reported that comments from the public exhibitions will help guide specifics such as parks, the town centre, health and education, which includes contributions to grammar schools in the catchment: "We will shape things to meet whatever comments we receive."

Speaking about why only 8,500 homes were included in the outline application, rather than the full projected 10,000 homes, Mr Jarrett said: "The reason was a technical one really.

"As we started to assess the site for its capacity - to work out what 10,000 homes within the land that we'd intended to build on how that's worked through - it became evident to us that we couldn't hit the environmental standards that we wanted to without expanding, so it meant that we increased the extent of the site.

"The time that took meant that we weren't up to speed with all of the necessary survey work we would need to support a planning application.

"So for that reason, we focused on the area that had been fully surveyed whilst indicating what's sort of likely to come through the rest. This project isn't going to happen overnight."

He added: "Questions are becoming easier to answer the more work we do really. We're not pretending we have all the answers yet. There's a long way to go."

Information boards were placed all around the room at the Otterpool Park consultation. Picture: Andy Jones
Information boards were placed all around the room at the Otterpool Park consultation. Picture: Andy Jones

The consultations attracted a broad range of people, but many shared the same view that the scale of the development was too large.

Corinne Barnes from Hythe said: "If they were to reduce the number of houses to a nice estate with a primary school there, you wouldn't have the environmental disaster that this would cause."

Janette Holliday from Sellindge said: "They're going to encroach villages and we're just going to be in what will be one huge housing estate."

Rosemary Brennan from Pedlinge in Hythe said: "I think that they should not build on farmland. We will need that land in the future.

"Our population's expanding - if we come out of the EU we may find we need more of our land to grown more of our own food."

How Otterpool Park Riverside Park could look. Credit: Arcadis Design and Access statement (10280688)
How Otterpool Park Riverside Park could look. Credit: Arcadis Design and Access statement (10280688)

But Kris Foster, director of Motis Estates, came down to the consultation at the Leas Cliff Hall to assess the plans from both a business and personal perspective.

He said: "I think certainly looking at the plans and the drawings for the last couple of years, I can't see that the development is going to do any harm in the area.

"We need more houses. I think it's well thought out. The infrastructure is key - they've got to make sure that they do have the policies in there... the schools and the GPs. There is a stress on that at the moment in the local area.

"If they can facilitate that, it can only be a good thing really."

His colleague Lee Churchyard added: "It's important for us to have the know-how of what's going on in the area from the offset to share that with our customers."

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

Read more: All the latest news from Hythe

Read more: All the latest news from Ashford

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