When democracy counts most in our council chamber, it is nowhere to be seen, well at least that appears to be the case in the Folkestone & Hythe District Council chamber, and possibly others. Decisions which forge the life of a district, such as ours, are all too often taken behind our backs and behind closed doors. Very occasionally consultations are listened to, but only when it suits the Council, in our opinion. As for the will of the people, well that is all too often denigrated as being irrelevant.
The decisions around schemes such as Otterpool Park, Princes Parade, Folkestone Seafront development that look good on paper, are those which have been, or will be adopted and face the least scrutiny. Too much democratic debate would reveal their flaws. This is why elected leaders, substantial development applicants and planners who wish to leave their mark, treat such debate as a threat. To the egotistical who draw lines on maps, public opinion is like landscape features: it must be cleared out of the way.
Striking examples of our district council’s decisions and desires to develop sites such as Princes Parade, Otterpool Park, Cockreed Lane (New Romney), decisions to which we, the residents of our district have been hardly party to. Such decisions will irreversible change the landscape forever at Otterpool Park, and the decision for its go ahead is imminent. There are now just 129 days left in 2018. It is during these next four months the submission for the planning application will happen according to the Otterpool park website’s timeline.
To give you some sense of the scale of Otterpool Park, the 10,000 homes could absorb the populations of Sellindge (1,700), Lympne (1,700), Lyminge (2,800), Ealham (1,600), Stowting (380), Postling (240), Monks Horton (150), Cheriton (12,516) and Hawkinge (8,600), Over the 20 years this project is designed to be built, the district must build extra infrastructure (e.g. roads), public services (GP surgeries, schools) and businesses required to support them. And how will this be paid for when the £281 million infrastructure bid was not successful? How much will our Council have to throw into to the kitty to build Otterpool Park? And from where will this money come? The Council’s magic money tree? Or will our children and grandchildren have to foot the bill for the debt through increased Council Tax?
The justification for this scheme is not transport or housing as an end in itself. Its objective, according to our Council, is to “bring increased economic benefit” to the district. Without this scheme, our Council suggests they’ll have no money in their coffers and a deficit of £6.5 million by 20/21.
This reasoning, you might hope, would prompt some major questions. Such as; Is continued growth desirable? If it is desirable, does it outweigh the acceleration of climate breakdown the scheme will add to? When air pollution already exceeds legal limits in the county, are more cars and new roads with their associated infrastructure either appropriate or safe? And are we engaged in a race with other districts in which being “left behind” is something to be feared? Or is it as many believe believe a race for profit for the Reuben Brothers and our Council, as joint developers, to fill their coffers?
But these questions are not just closed to debate. They are not even recognised as questions. Our irrational Councillors with their ill fought through financial viability assessments, our planners and army of consultants with their drawing boards, assume that their unexamined premises (usually hidden behind commercial confidentiality) are shared by us all. They are NOT.
The claims that the homes, roads and cars at Otterpool Park “will…promote a happier, healthier lifestyle for its residents”, “enhance the natural environment”, and bring “economic benefit” for all, is the kind of propaganda you would and could expect in a one party state.
Is this truly the democracy we voted for back in May 2015? And how will one vote in May 2019?
Otterpool Park is not the only large scale development which will may be built in Kent.
Our local councils ignore some issues altogether, such as how water for another 127,400 homes by 2031, will be provided in a region which has less water per person than Morocco or Egypt. Our Council as does Kent County Council and Highways England make fleeting reference to another massive problem: the extra traffic the new road links will generate will exacerbate congestion on existing roads. Their answer? More roads
A recent study by the Campaign to Protect Rural England shows that, far from relieving congestion, new road schemes create new traffic – a tendency first noted in 1925 and ignored by transport planners ever since. But the treadmill must keep turning. The bypasses must be bypassed with new bypasses, new jobs must be created to match the new housing, and new housing must be built to match the new jobs. Growth must continue, until it destroys everything it claims to enhance.
By imposing the decisions to develop through policy, our Councils ignore their legal obligations. Under the Aarhus Convention, public participation must begin while “all options are open”. But neither people nor law can be allowed to disrupt a grand design, whether it be Otterpool Park or Broke Hill, Sevenoaks
This is not the kind of democracy many of us signed up to when we put our cross on our local election ballot paper. This is not even a semblance of democracy, we believe. Yet the dash for development and the consequences of such decisions, will be greater than almost any others that are made, because they are irreversible. The bigger the question, the less we are asked and that’s not going to change any time soon.
The Shepwayvox Team – Dissent is NOT a Crime.
Adapted from a Guardian article first written by George Monbiot on Wednesday 22 August.
“Copyright for the images and data rests with the European Commission; Acknowledgement: Produced by the University of Leicester, The Centre for Landscape and Climate Research and Specto Natura and supported by Defra and the European Environment Agency under Grant Agreement 3541/B2012/R0-GIO/EEA.55055 with funding by the European Union.”