The Countryside Agency, Ashford Borough Council, the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Kent County Council, working in partnership with Ashford's Future, the local regeneration partnership, have commissioned a Rural Impact Study for the Ashford Growth Area.
It will examine the relationship between the town and the surrounding countryside resulting from the growth proposals outlined in the Greater Ashford Development Framework. Also it will assess what effect an increased population will have on the way the countryside is used and how people in rural areas can benefit from the changes. Very little research of this nature has been done in this country.
The study, announced by the Countryside Agency on February 17 2006, will look at issues such as the infrastructure of the area, likely economic changes, transport, leisure facilities and natural resources. An action plan, to be delivered as part of the study, will help both new and existing communities either build on the benefits or overcome the problems associated with Ashford’s development. Ashford is to get more than 30,000 new homes over the next twenty five years,
At this stage the proposed expansion of Imperial College at Wye will not come within the scope of the study as insufficient details are available. However, the action plan will identify that future work may be required to assess the effects of any such expansion.
Stella Bandu, from the Kent Downs AONB, suggests some possible positive benefits of development: "There may be bigger markets for rural food producers, for example, or opportunities for small rural businesses to supply the new residents and businesses which will be coming to the area. New houses in a village may make the shop more viable, or keep a small school going. But we may need to make sure that those new houses don't spoil the attraction of a village, or that too many cars visiting some of our fantastic beauty spots don't ruin them."
The final report is expected to suggest ways of strengthening the identity of village communities, improving links between the urban area of Ashford and the countryside, providing green transport and encouraging green tourism. The Countryside Agency expect the study to be completed by April.