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With the Ebbsfleet garden city plans poised to rekindle construction work in north Kent, developer Land Securities will be optimistic as another project looks set to rake in millions.
Chris Price looks at the FTSE 100 company changing the landscape of the county.
As George Osborne announced plans to spend £200m on building 15,000
new homes at a garden city at Ebbsfleet, ears pricked up at Land Securities.
The FTSE 100 firm wholly owns or controls the land in the Ebbsfleet Valley but was only briefed shortly before the Chancellor made his announcement on a pre-Budget Sunday morning.
While communications teams scrambled to pull together a response, bosses must have been rubbing their hands at the prospect of reigniting a project which has remained largely stagnant since it was launched by the Labour government more than a decade ago.
"Kent is a great county to invest in and is welcoming of investment..." - Land Securities' Tom Venner
Land Securities already has outline planning permission for 10,000 homes in the Ebbsfleet Valley, as well as 6m sqft of commercial space and 3m sqft of retail, leisure and community facilities.
However, less than 300 homes have been built so far, as the Chancellor was quick to point out when he made his Budget speech, deriding Labour’s efforts as “more Ebb than Fleet”.
Yet while many developers went bust or had to abandon major projects during the recession, Land Securities was able to pause many large scale enterprises and focus on a vast-array of high-yield office, retail and residential ventures in London.
That kind of move is possible when you have a property portfolio valued at £9.7bn.
Now the property market is picking up, the company is refocusing on two of its biggest strategic projects: the Ebbsfleet Valley and plans for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill, Chattenden, on the Hoo Peninsula.
“The company recognises that developments the scale of Ebbsfleet and Lodge Hill take a long time,” said development director Tom Venner, who is leading the Lodge Hill project.
“That is not only because of active engagement with local communities but because you are delivering over a long period of time as the economic cycle moves.
“We recognise development of communities is a long-term investment and relationship. These things don’t happen over night.”
As well as residential developments, Land Securities is behind some of Kent’s most high-profile shopping centres.
It built and still owns Westwood Cross in Broadstairs. It built Whitefriars in Canterbury, which it sold for £253m in 2007, and Fremlin Walk in Maidstone, which it sold for £92m in 2011.
It is seeking planning permission for a new shopping centre at Newnham Court, Maidstone, which it says will create more than 1,000 jobs.
The company also holds a 54% stake in entertainment complex firm X-Leisure, which runs Lockmeadow in Maidstone and Eureka Park in Ashford.
“Kent has by its nature provided an environment which has been very supportive,” said Mr Venner.
“It is a great county to invest in and is welcoming of investment.
“It is where people want to shop, live and work. They are all the ingredients that make it ripe for development investment.”
That said, it is not just the recession which slowed progress on its two large Kent residential projects.
In November, Natural England ruled much of the land at Lodge Hill to be a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), putting the scheme in jeopardy.
Last month, the developer unveiled plans to make more than 100 hectares of land a suitable environment for creatures like great-crested newts.
Yet many residents have dismissed plans to move a nightingale population 14 miles away to a new habitat at MOD Shoeburyness, Essex.
Mr Venner said: “Delivering development is a constant series of tests. There are a series of challenges you have to overcome but every challenge you face makes you question the ultimate objective.
“If you are faced with an SSSI, you think ‘do we want to deliver this’? With every challenge we reappraise and every time you do that, it re-energises your focus on the scheme and you get a little bit extra lustre for it.”
He added: “We have been a long-term player in what we call suburban communities development, which is looking at large-scale schemes which actually take a business the size of Land Securities with a long-term view to development.
“A business of our size can take a long-term view of what can be delivered.
“Ebbsfleet is an example which causes real excitement and so is Lodge Hill.”
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