Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Hythe on Saturday to make their views known about the tranche of proposed developments across Shepway.
In a re-run of a similar event which took place in August 2016, the campaigners emphasised the higher stakes involved now, with the County Elections on May 4th and a General Election on June 8th.
District Councillors and Folkestone & Hythe MP Damian Collins came under fierce criticism as the rally congregated in the Town Square. A plethora of local speakers were welcomed by the whistling, drumming and whooping throng as each stated their case for their corner of the district..
Les Barrett of the Sellindge & District Residents Association opened up the proceedings with “breaking news for Conservative voters that the County Council Election would be held on May 5th”. But he also revealed genuine news of a further 5-6,000 proposed homes around Sellindge over and above the 12,000 already allocated at Otterpool Farm. He emphasised that communication is the campaign’s strongest ally against the scale of proposed developments.
John Stevens, speaking as an individual and not in his role as a Saltwood Parish Councillor, explained the virtues of community land trusts – an idea where the land is held in Trust and owned by the whole community – as a potential way forward for affordable housing.
Jim Martin of the Save Princes Parade group compared Shepway District Council’s approach with a visit to a DIY store to make a purchase without knowing the cost before paying for it.
The plan for a lorry park near the M20 came under attack from Debbie Burton of the Smarter Options than Stanford group who announced that £30,000 of a £35,000 target had been raised to meet the costs of a Judicial Review, due to take place at the end of June. She also highlighted that there had been no need for Operation Stack to be implemented for nearly two years, as the issues which had led to it in the past had now been addressed.
And the incumbent Kent County Councillor for Hythe, the Green Party’s Martin Whybrow spoke of the contempt with which Shepway District Council had held its residents. “These people are about to affect people’s lives which will be blighted by the scale and type of development proposed. Frontline services are struggling, roads are full of potholes and infrastructure is inadequate,” he said. “This is a developer’s charter, not a resident’s charter.”
He urged people to take advantage of the two forthcoming opportunities to send a message to Kent County Council on May 4th, and an “uncaring MP in Damian Collins on June 8th”.
The Looker’s own David Wimble, running for the Shepway Independent Party in the County Election in the Romney Marsh division, told me: “Of course I am against building on green field sites – the infrastructure is not there. I accept that we do need new housing, but not at the expense of our countryside.”
Not all those assembled were toeing the campaign line. A small group made the point that people have to live somewhere. “Only 7 per cent of the UK is built on,” claimed local resident Gillian Bond. “There is plenty of room for everyone.”
But David Plumstead of the Shepway Environmental Community Network with more than 50 years of campaigning under his belt sent out a sobering warning to campaigners: “It took us 15 years of campaigning for the plans for the holiday park in Lyminge Forest to be dumped, and 15 years to stop a motorway across the Marsh, so we are in it for the long haul.”
So the campaign against the scale, suitability and style of development in Shepway will no doubt continue for a good while yet.