Tim's Council Diary: Rebalancing Otterpool

20 Oct 2023
New build housing / houses

And so to Cabinet, and a discussion partivuarly on Otterpool Park.https://folkestone-hythe.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=142&MId=5271

Otterpool Park does a number of things for our local area.

The Government still mandates us to see thousands of houses built in our disitrct over the next 20 years or so. If there is no plan for where they go, then developers get to choose.

As much of our district is flood risk, or AONB (erven developers can't pick there) there are a very limited number of places 8,000+ houses can go. the Otterpool Park site is about it. Happily, that area is now also majority Council owned, so a development can be Council led, giving us scope to build the right thing, not just the most profitable thing. I stare in admiration at those that built the new towns 100 and 70 and 50 years ago. We can do the same, planning communities that will actually work, not just trying to stuff as many homes as possible into a tiny space.

And although the prime justification is NOT profit, it will make one. And if there is going to be a profit, I want to see that go to local facilities and services: to new Council homes, sports facilities, a better environment, better support for tose struggling in our disitrct: all of those things, not shareholder dividends.

But there is a balance. To do things right you need to build lots of infrastructure first (roads, sewage systems, schools, health care facilities - loads) and that costs a lot. Many millions. The profit only returns to the Council - and Council Tax payers - over the 30 years of selling plots of land and developers building houses. I don't want to see Council Tax payers having to borrow to build those facilities now, only to see the money returned to us (and more) over 30 years.

So, essentially, we need a partner with cash and expertise, and we need our Council to have a really clear steer day in and out on how Otterpool is run and develops. And that's what it was agreed we will look for: a partner with cash and expertise. We bring the land and the planning, they bring the money and experience. They will, of course, share the financial return, but they will also carry that cost in the short term - not Council Tax payers. This is not the model the previous administration foresaw for Otterpool: they wanted to gift a standalone company the land and lending to build it all, on the promise of getting the return over 30 years. That's not the right model. The right model is strong Council control, and a partner that sees things much the same way. That's who we're looking for.

On another subject, but one close to my heart, the government, in the person of Minister Racel McLean, are wrong.

That's probably just true in general, but specifically on the subject of allowing Town and Parish Councils to meet online - as we had to during Covid times, learned how to make it work, and then the Government junked despite huge support from Councils in consultation:

"It is our strong view that one of the core principles of local democracy is that citizens can attend council meetings to interact in person with their local representatives. There are no limits placed on authorities broadcasting their meetings online and we do not agree that councillors should be able to attend those meetings and cast their votes remotely. It is important that they are present, active participants in local democracy. Therefore, the Government are not able to support Lords amendment 22."

https://hansard.parliament.uk/.../Levelling... (see column 185)

Matthew Pennycook (Labour), Peter Bottomley, Greg Smith, Theresa Villiers (Conservative), Helen Morgan (Lib Dem) who spoke in favour of Parish and Town Councils at least having the option of holding hybrid and online meetings, are right.

"evidence from the National Association of Local Councils shows that some 90% of town and parish councils want the ability to hold virtual meetings in some way to expand the ability of people to participate."

And in voting against allowing Town and Parish Councils to have that power, 303 mainly Conservative MPs, and including our own Damian Collins, have ignored the people who actually know how Town and Parish Councils work. Damian: you are wring. Again. And Greg Smith & Teresa Villiers that spoke in favour of granting that right, then voted against it: really?


Larry Ngan and Lib Dem Campaigners on The Leas, Folkestone

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Larry Ngan, Daniel and Fry with "Build More Houses" t-shirt on The Leas, Folkestone

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