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Councillors say urban development corporation set up to oversee 15,000 home garden city in Ebbsfleet could be undemocratic and ignore local residents

By Paul Francis

County councillors have flagged up concerns about the business-led corporation being set up to oversee the development of a garden city in north Kent.

The government says it needs an Urban Development Corporation (UDC) to speed up the development of the Ebbsfleet scheme for 15,000 homes.

But councillors fear it could ignore the views of residents and say it will be undemocratic.

Developer Land Securities' former vision for a new town at Ebbsfleet
Developer Land Securities' former vision for a new town at Ebbsfleet

UKIP county councillor Mike Baldock said he was flabbergasted. Speaking at a meeting of the cross-party scrutiny committee at County Hall, he said: “I consider this quite an alarming move.

"The fact is that we taking away planning decisions from elected members and handing them to an unelected UDC that is set up to accelerate work and get [plans] rushed through without taking account the views of residents.”

He added: “These are big decisions by a unelected quango. I am flabbergasted that we are so casually handing over such an important element of democracy and removing local people from the process.”

The UDC has yet to be established but will include the leaders of Dartford and Gravesham councils, as well as the leader of the county council.

Ukip councillor Mike Baldock
Ukip councillor Mike Baldock

However, it is expected to be chaired by a businessman and will have the final say over all development proposals associated with the garden city scheme.

Cllr Sean Holden (Con) said he sympathised.

He said: “We need to keep a democratic overview - we are in danger of producing a democratic deficit.”

Cllr Matthew Balfour (Con) said: “I remember other UDCs and the disasters they have been, not so far as democratic concerns but because they are the dead hand of government.

"Most of the development has had permission for years and has not got off the ground for other reasons.”

Chancellor George Osborne has previously rejected criticism of the UDC, saying it is needed to speed up development plans that already have planning permission.

KCC officials say that the presence of council leaders on the board will mean that the views of residents will be heard.

Barbara Cooper, KCC’S head of economic development, said: “It will be chaired by the private sector, just as LEPs [local enterprise partnerships] are.

"Everything is moving in the same direction. It is business-led but local authorities will be fully involved.”

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