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Kent 'investment zone' plans could benefit county, says county council leader Roger Gough

The leader of Kent County Council says government plans for "investment zones" could benefit the county - despite growing concerns that it could be a “developers' charter.”

Cllr Roger Gough says the authority had been approached by the government to see if it was willing to take part in the initiative and it would have been extraordinary had it decided not to.

Kent County Council leader Roger Gough
Kent County Council leader Roger Gough

At the same time, he accepted that there were issues around the potential environmental damage that might be caused by liberalising regulations in investment zones which would give developers the right to bypass the normal planning process.

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

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

“We were approached by the Department for Levelling Up and Communities, as were a lot of other of upper tier authorities, to see if we would express an interest. We took the view very strongly that it was," said Cllr Gough.

"There is a huge amount of detail to be found as to what this amounts to and work to be done.

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

"Given this is a central plank of government policy and is where a great deal of attention and opportunity will lie, it seems to me that it would be extraordinary not to take part.

"It commits us to nothing beyond that. The devil will be in the detail.

"There is a great deal of work to be done with district and boroughs and with Kent MPs as to what if anything goes forward, very mindful of the fact that there are environmental issues that have been raised.”

He said the authorities would examine what the opportunities were.

“It seemed a wise and prudent thing to do expressing an interest at this stage," Cllr Gough added.

"We will be scoping with our district and borough colleagues what the opportunities and challenges are.”

The government’s plan for zones has already come under fire from campaign groups concerned about the damage to the countryside and to wildlife.

"It always defaults to just a great housing estates full of executive homes in car-dependent locations..."

They have united to lobby the government, warning that it could have far-reaching consequences for wildlife habitats and green field land.

A government 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.”

Dr Hilary Newport of the Kent CPRE, said: “We need more nature conservation, not less. And I just think it's iniquitous that there's this constant push for deregulation, when in actual fact we need more planning. 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.”

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