Dragon economy - the future for Thanet?
Thanet - Gateway to China?
2008 could be the year of the dragon if Thanet District Council vote in favour of giving the green light to a huge new business park housing some of China's top companies. But what's in it for Thanet's economy?
Chinese companies are looking for a foothold into the European market - and Thanet hopes that it will benefit.
The China Gateway development in Thanet involves a proposal for 3m square feet of industrial units housing Chinese companies.
Supporters say it will create jobs and economic growth.
But opponents question whether Thanet should be welcoming the Chinese with open arms.
They are concerned that this part of the South East is about to be turned into just another satellite industrial zone - one more carriage on Beijing's globalization gravy train?
Economic boom in store?
Planet Thanet hasn't exactly enjoyed the fruits of the economic boom seen elsewhere in the South East over the last decade.
It has the highest unemployment in the region, and its airport, Manston, hasn't managed to be seen as a major contender so far.
But if multi millionaire businessman, Ken Wills, gets his way, that could be about to change.
Wills is a Kent boy made good who wants to convert this part of Thanet into the China Gateway, a world class business park.
Ken Wills from Commercial Group Properties says, "This is an opportunity too good to turn down. It's about jobs and wealth for the people of this area."
Ken's first tenant will be Mr Feng and Aigo - and he hopes other Chinese businesses will follow.
Mr Feng from Beijing runs Aigo, the Chinese equivalent of SONY, and he's hoping to cement a deal that will see his technology giant make Thanet its European base.
Mr Feng says, "This place is the centre of Europe - London is only two hours, Paris two hours too, so it's the centre Europe and a bridge between China and Europe.
"I think we want to employ people here, create new value, more chances for people."
"We should do green technology - we won't pollute, we are anti pollution."
Fears for the future
Despite the promise of hundreds of new jobs, not everyone is convinced that the China Gateway project is for the best.
Fears for the environment?
There is concern is that the business park will pollute Thanet's aquifer, its natural underground water reservoir that sits under the site.
Others are worried about the massive increase in traffic and the exact number of job opportunities for locals.
The village of Acol sits on the very edge of the proposed Gateway development.
Many locals are opposed to the scheme - they are concerned that farmland will be concreted over and that their quality of life will be adversely affected.
The China Gateway development has three phases - both Thanet District Council and Kent County Council own land earmarked for development in phase one.
Both could gain financially if the China Gateway went ahead.
Some locals think that there has been insufficient scrutiny in the whole planning process.
Paul Wells from Trees For Thanet says, "I think that promises have been made. I think that the relationship is far too close and that concerns me because everything should be open.
China rules the way - opinion is split.
In response to the criticism Ken Wills says: "The project has involved a number of officials from Thanet District Council coming and being hosted by ourselves and by the Chinese Government in China."
"It's unusual for members to voice such strong support, hence the allegation that perhaps the relationship with the development company is too close, but that's their decision.
"All we've done is show them the opportunity."
Good for Thanet?
Ken Wills from Commercial Group Properties is convinced the scheme will benefit Thanet and says:
"We believe that the China Gateway project will drive the economic regeneration of Thanet, an area in need of high quality jobs.
"We recognise that local residents have genuine concerns on how the project will affect their lives and the local environment but we are also sure that the design of the project will address them.
"We hope that the following points will demonstrate the positive impact of China Gateway and dispel some of the misconceptions that have been voiced:
Supporter of China Gateway - Ken Wills.
* China Gateway is a major international project that will create up to 3,000 jobs locally.
* The Chinese companies coming to the site will be focused on consumer electronics - there will be no heavy industry.
* China Gateway will be a mixed-use site including, design, production, marketing and logistics.
* The project has been continually and rigorously assessed by the local authority and other statutory bodies to ensure it conforms to high standards.
* The site includes substantial landscaping to minimize its impact and no building will be taller than existing local commercial buildings.
*A comprehensive Traffic Plan has been developed with the local authorities to control access and minimize impact on the local communities.
* Thanet's water supply and quality will be rigorously protected through the design of the project and the actions of the various agencies.
"We take our environmental and social responsibilities very seriously and we do not believe that these responsibilities are at odds with economic regeneration and the true merits of this project."
Bad for Thanet?
Paul Wells of Trees for Thanet is vehemently opposed to the China Gateway project and says:
"Job promises that cannot be reserved for Thanet residents and will include 300 to 500 Chinese nationals as 'key' staff is a poor exchange for allowing Chinamex to develop its Gateway.
Opponent of China Gateway - Paul Wells.
"Commercial Group Properties has worked for over two years with Thanet District Council's Cabinet with little public scrutiny to try to achieve this project and now, only Thanet's councillors can stop this happening.
"The world has woken up to the dangers of Global Warming but not here in Thanet and certainly not in China.
"This huge development is in the wrong place and at the wrong time. To concrete over hundreds of acres of the most versatile and productive farmland in the UK and threaten an underground aquifer that is already in danger is the height of folly.
"The road infrastructure will not cope with thousands of HGV movements per day as Thanet is exploited as a re-distribution point for cheap Chinese imports to the UK.
The decision on whether phase one of China Gateway will get the go-ahead takes place on 9 October, 2008 in a specially convened full council vote.
But if Thanet says no to the Chinese there are plenty of other regions willing to provide somewhere for the red dragon to do its dance.
Thanet Gateway update...
Since this Inside Out programme was made, Phase 1 of the Thanet Gateway project has been approved.
A selection of your comments...
We must be mad... Help UK companies 1st to produce and then to export or we will not even be a 3rd rate country.
John Richards, Newick, Lewes
The proposed job offers amount to less that 2% of Thanet's entire population, yet the way the figures have been presented make them out to be much more.
Should the remaining 98% of Thanet's population suffer the effects of this huge development and the impact it will have on the environment, just so less than 2% might be offered employment?
(Population figures obtained from the 2001 census).
Katharine Greene, Ramsgate
I cannot agree more with Paul Wells. This is a development that flies in the face of current ecological thinking.
Concreting over ANY productive farmland is pure folly and not a good legacy for our children.
STOP this development in its tracks and let somewhere else take it on at their peril!
Mr M D Bowers, Manston
I was particularly interested to hear Mr Wills state that a comprehensive Traffic Plan has been developed with the local authorities. This will do little to inspire the locals in Thanet who have witnessed the huge development at Westwood Cross with as yet virtually no expansion of the access roads.
We are not surprised this this China development is brought to us by the same people who think an art gallery will revive the corpse that is Margate.
John Christison, Ramsgate
last updated: 17/10/2008 at 17:06