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New garden town plan for Folkestone facing increasing local hostility

Folkestone racecourse, which closed in 2012
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Plans to create a new garden town in a development that encompasses the site of Folkestone racecourse is facing mounting local hostility after Liberal Democrats in the area announced they would oppose the scheme.

Shepway District Council has received government funding towards a project to create Otterpool Park, which would include 12,000 homes for 29,000 people to be built over the next 30 years with the racecourse site part of the land that would be built on.

The venture is a partnership between the two landowners the council and Cozumel Estates, which is owned by billionaire property developers the Reuben Brothers, also owners of Arena Racing Company and Folkestone racecourse when it closed in December 2012.

Hundreds of residents signalled their objections to the plans in a march through Hythe, near the track, in December.

Ross Clark, chairman of the Liberal Democrats in Shepway, said: "There really is a lot of local opposition. I can't say I have met many people who are in favour of it. Other than the serving members of the council there isn't a positive word to be said about it.

"What they are effectively proposing is a kind of dormitory town for London. It will potentially draw wealth and employment away from Folkestone and Canterbury. It will make Shepway District Council lots of money but the area poorer.

"Not so long ago the racecourse was considered the biggest attraction to Folkestone and the most important tourist attraction for Shepway and now they are building houses on it as part of the Otterpool development."

The Liberal Democrats have no councillors among the Conservative-dominated Shepway and elections for Kent County Council seats will be held in May.

A spokesperson for Otterpool Park said: "We are not in a position to present any plans to the public yet. It is very much early days. There is a level of opposition. But we are hoping to come back in the spring to meet with people and give responses to issues raised so far."

Meanwhile Jockey Club chief executive Simon Bazalgette on Thursday addressed the National Trainers' Federation Council and AGM about the controversial plans to close Kempton Park to make way for 3,000 new homes at a meeting also attended by senior steward Roger Weatherby and Paul Fisher, managing director of Jockey Club Racecourses.

Last month NTF chief executive Rupert Arnold said trainers were split 80-20 against the proposal, which would also result in a new all-weather track being built in Newmarket, an upgrade of Sandown and investment in prize-money.

"What was very evident was that this is the beginning of a process that will take years," said Arnold. "There is a lot to happen before one can come to a conclusion as to whether the end result will be a positive one for racing.

"From the NTF point of view we agreed it wasn't possible at this point to come down one side of the fence or the other. There are a variety of opinions amongst trainers. It was a very helpful meeting to hear more on the background and what sort of factors have influenced the Jockey Club's need to make the site available.

"It was agreed there will be more meetings to see how certain trainers in different parts of the country might be affected and what can be done to help."

There really is a lot of local opposition. I can't say I have met many people who are in favour of it

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