Published: 12:00, 26 November 2015
| Updated: 15:42, 26 November 2015
Help us build the city of the future.
That’s the message to the people of Dartford and Gravesend from the team behind Ebbsfleet Garden City.
Despite local concern over affordable housing and traffic congestion, Ebbsfleet Development Corporation (EDC) is gearing up for a major push towards the 15,000-home target set by Chancellor George Osborne in last year’s budget speech.
Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite, one of EDC’s eight board members, says the time has come for long-term plans to come to fruition describing it as a “watershed moment”.
“There are probably 400,000 people who are influenced and interested by this and we do have to make sure that we are always bearing in mind this is about them,” he added.
“We need to tell local people: please don’t have assumptions about what we’re doing please don’t be cynical; please just come to us and give us your ideas, your suggestions and even your fears.”
“If we do this right, and do it together, this could be an absolutely tremendous community, but if we get it wrong it could be a nightmare. We want to make sure we don’t get it wrong.”
Cllr Kite’s Gravesham counterpart, John Cubitt, is similarly upbeat about the development’s potential.
“The garden city has got a lot going for it,” he said.
“The ambition is to have a lot of green spaces, modern houses and community facilities. Having the train station is a big plus.
“I am very positive about it all and we’re hoping to get a lot more houses built as soon as possible.”
Of course, residents in the surrounding boroughs have heard this rhetoric before. Plans for a major residential development in Ebbsfleet were first approved in 1996, three years before the opening of nearby Bluewater.
Cllrs Cubitt and Kite talk a good game, but why should the cynics and doubters have faith in the potential of this project?
It is a question the board are all too familiar with, and the project’s strategy director, Louise Wyman, is keen to quell any misgivings people have.
Whether it be house prices, traffic, jobs or the availability of health and leisure facilities, Miss Wyman is determined to ensure the project prioritises the demands of local people.
“We absolutely understand the cynicism and there have been a series of false dawns for 15 to 20 years now,” she admitted.
“However, we see the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation as a focused team of experts and with great links to the local community and the local councils on our board we feel we can deliver.
“We have three councillors on our board (the other is Mark Dance, Kent County Council cabinet member for economic development) out of eight members, which is really important for us.
“We have tried to put a team together to get underneath the issues and make Ebbsfleet Garden City happen.
“We look forward to building on the plans with the support of the community.”
Community is said to be at the heart of the development, which means it must address the key issues and concerns regularly aired by sceptics – starting with house prices.
“The plan we are working with has 30% of the homes being affordable,” says Miss Wyman.
“That starts with the 11,000 homes already approved by Dartford and Gravesham councils, and when we get up to 15,000 it’s again 30% that would be affordable.”
“Most people in Kent buy their first home in their 40s, which is much later than the national average. We’re thinking about how we can help them by finding out what it is they want.”
But with so many homes and a high-speed train service on their doorstep whizzing people to St Pancras in 19 minutes, is the garden city destined to become nothing more than a commuter town?
It’s a problem many associate with Dartford, and one Miss Wyman and her colleagues are hoping to avoid by providing homeowners with great chances of employment without the need to travel to the capital.
“Becoming a commuter town worries us, but we have got an amazing team to help with generating work opportunities and jobs,” she says.
“I would feel really proud if we could get lots of start-up businesses here. People who find it too expensive in London or other parts of the South East and Europe could be attracted to Ebbsfleet. Perhaps even the next Twitter or Google.”
Of course, any business deciding to set up shop at Ebbsfleet will likely be dwarfed by the scale of the looming £3 billion London Paramount.
Is having Kent’s own take on Disney World a blessing or a curse for the so-called city of the future? “The challenge is making the most of the opportunity that Paramount Park gives us and making it work for local people,” says Miss Wyman.
“It will offer a lot of creative jobs; the BBC and Aardman are signed up so you’ll have animation, multimedia, graphic design and post production job opportunities. I would love for there to be a real creative spark around the place.”
Miss Wyman is also keen to stress the corporation’s team is working hard to address traffic concerns, while health, community and leisure facilities have been prioritised.
The main promise, though, is that this city of the future is determined to create opportunities for people of the present before anyone else.
“This development really is about looking after the existing community and we are having a lot of public events and meetings,” she says.
“We are really keen to hear what people want and what types of homes they want. I hope communities come out and tell us because I would like to hear from them so that this city of the future suits their needs.”