Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Garden city plans promote perennial Ebbsfleet

It would appear Chancellor George Osborne is a reader of Kentcentric after announcing plans to invest £200m and build 15,000 new homes in a garden city at Ebbsfleet ahead of his Budget.

Back in January news of a possible garden city for Yalding was suggested, which led Kentcentric to put forward Thames Gateway as the obvious solution, as an alternative destination for thousands of new homes.

However, while everyone should applaud any such investment, a quick look behind the rhetoric and it soon becomes clear what’s being proposed is not really new.

As they say – never let the truth get in the way of a good story – and with a £200m price tag and the Budget later this week it is no surprise the media were interested. But with the exception of the ‘garden city’ tag this is not a new story. The Kent element of Thames Gateway has long had established targets, aspiring to have delivered around 50,000 new homes and created at least 58,000 jobs by 2026 – with Ebbsfleet part of those plans.

Back in August 2012, DCLG announced the first phase of 1,500 homes at Eastern Quarry is expected to be completed by 2020, with a further 3,000 homes finished by 2030-31. The aim is for Eastern Quarry to form part of longer term plans to unlock the development of 22,600 homes and around a million metres square of commercial development across the Kent Thameside region.

The same announcement by the then Housing Minister Grant Shapps suggested builders would be on site as early as summer 2013 with the first homes set to be completed by December that year. We may be wrong – but we don't think that’s yet the case.

The development of Ebbsfleet has always been at the heart of the Thames Gateway plans since its inception by John Prescott, and Dartford Borough Council granted planning permission back in 2002, subject to a S106 agreement. Unfortunately the small matter of a global recession got in the way and the project stalled. 

Outline planning permission for Ebbsfleet – specifically Eastern Quarry – was granted to Land Securities in November 2007 subject to a S106 legal agreement, for the development of up to 6,250 dwellings and up to 231,000m2 of built floorspace for business premises, education, community and social facilities, hotels, theatre, and supporting retail and leisure facilities and associated works. This permission has been part implemented through the creation of main streets, strategic landscaping, utilities and part of the lake.

No one can doubt the case for stimulating development in and around Ebbsfleet. The area has the key requirements needed to facilitate a new and sustainable community – available land, access to motorways (M25 and M2), HS1 giving 17min journey time to St Pancras and the International Station – and importantly local and county authorities eager to bring about positive change. 

And if Osborne’s helps give the reassurance to the team behind Paramount Park that the area’s moving in the right direction then it will be money well spent. But – and it’s a big but – the houses must be built with community infrastructure alongside, and that includes health services and education, to deliver Ebenezer Howard’s vision of a garden city. 

Equally, if it is to be little more than a commuter town serving London, with Bluewater the weekend destination of choice then Kent won’t be the true beneficiary.

One other important issue that needs to be considered is whether these plans for a garden city will influence the Department of Transport’s decision on the possible location of a further Lower Thames Crossing.

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