Shepway District Council has announced proposals to submit a bid to the government for support to create a new ‘garden town’ on the land surrounding Otterpool Park Farm, close to the south side of junction 11 of the M20. The council has my full support in its decision to launch this debate, but it is also important that we all have our say on the proposals.
I have written in this column before that I believe the creation of high quality business and residential accommodation on land close to junction 11 has the opportunity to give a significant economic boost to our area. It could allow Westenhanger to become a modern parkway railway station, accessed directly from the motorway junction, rather than by the narrow lane through the village. This development could fund a new design and layout for the Newingreen junction on the A20. Also, by creating a master plan for where development could, and also shouldn’t take place in this area, we can protect ourselves from future plans being brought forward by speculative developers.
There are also important points to note now about the council’s ‘garden town’ bid. Firstly, whilst there will be considerable discussion about the total of 12,000 homes which could be included in the development, that is the upper limit of what would be allowed, and not a target that has to be met. If the ‘garden town’ bid proposal was successful, no building would start until 2020, and the development would take place over a thirty-year period. In this regard, we are not only considering the demand now for family and affordable homes, but the requirements in future decades as well.
The ‘garden’ style design of a development like this will also be of the utmost importance; the proposal is certainly not one to create a densely constructed urban community. The council has stated that at least 30% of the land that would be included as part of the ‘garden town’ would be kept as green space. This also importantly includes a commitment that green space between Lympne village and the ‘garden town’ development would be preserved.
If Shepway Council is successful in securing support from the government to create a new garden town at Otterpool Park, it can also receive financial backing to fund community infrastructure like new schools, and health centres. The existing facilities would not be required to stretch to cope with the demands placed upon them by a larger local population. The government could also make funding available to build affordable homes to buy for local people, at a discount from their market value.
This proposal is bold, and could create a large number of new jobs for local people over many years, as well as providing substantial investment into local services. However, if this plan is to go forward we have to get it right, and ensure it is designed in such a way as to create the maximum benefit for our communities. It would be wrong however to reject this proposal out of hand, and not to give it serious consideration.