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Ebbsfleet – A New Garden City?

Well, it’s not a new idea and it’s not the first time the government has sought to promote new homes and a new community at Ebbsfleet.

But, maybe this time it is different and, more importantly, maybe this time it will work. I hope so.

The land exists, much of it ‘brownfield’ (at its heart lies a former chalk quarry) and it is in the South-east. The transport links are good and potentially amazing. And it has a shopping centre and additional facilities that are a location of choice for a whole sub-region.

Yet in a rising market there is still no sign that the market forces on their own are sufficient to start the scale of development now envisaged.

This requires targeted intervention to unlock private sector investment and the £200m allocated in the Budget looks set to do that. The priorities need to be creating enhanced capacity at Bean Junction (on to the A2), improving Northfleet Station (that sits as a very poor cousin next to Ebbsfleet Station) and tackling some of the challenging site abnormals in order to clear the barriers to development in Eastern Quarry itself and has laid unused and undeveloped for many years.

I also think that there may be value in changing the name to something more appealing and recognisable. It is only a personal opinion, but I would think about adopting the Bluewater ‘brand’ which is recognised across London and the South East.

“All it requires is long term vision and investment.”

Critcally, this demonstrates the need for targeted government intervention to unlock really difficult sites for development. Without this, the private sector will always favour investment in greenfield sites and inner city brownfield development where underlying values are high. I can also see the case for an Urban Development Corporation with strong powers.

However, before setting this up, I would examine the capacity of the local authorities to undertake the necessary public sector work and to provide the support and planning service that is required. UDCs take time and money to establish and I would want to be sure that one was really necessary to do the work required.

The scale of challenge in some other places won’t be so difficult.

However, I strongly suspect that Garden Cities and other new settlements will often have the best chance of attracting local support when they are located in locations where the sites have proved difficult to develop.

Consequently, more money will need to be found and invested to create more places like Ebbsfleet.

However, if we get the intervention right and believe in the long term success of these new locations, in many cases there is no reason why the government’s financial investment cannot be repaid and recycled back into new developments in the future. All it requires is long term vision and investment.

Bluewater Garden City – sounds good to me.   

Richard McCarthy is executive director, central government and housing, at Capita.

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