Cranes littering the skyline, people camping out to be the first to buy a home, and a constant stream of new planning applications – Dartford is under pressure.
The council must build 17,300 new homes by 2026, and while the lion’s share of those is being taken up by the new Ebbsfleet Garden City, the remaining homes must be built somewhere as people clamour to live in and around the historic market town.
This week the leader of Dartford council has reassured people that fears of a concrete jungle are unwarranted.
The council’s Local Plan sets out the areas with development potential in preferred sites, away from the green belt and countryside and near to the town, and transport links.
Virotti Property Services, at the Basepoint in Victoria Road, Dartford, is set to be built under the plans.
Founder Mark Salter said only around 10% of Britain has been built on and added: “As a country we have plenty of space to build more homes for the younger generation.
“I’m not advocating massive housing estates and 20-storey concrete apartment blocks next to local beauty spots such as Central Park and Darenth Country Park.
“But with some clever planning, we really do need to think about how we are going to build and house our children and our children’s children in the coming 50 years in Dartford.”
Such has been the level of demand that new homes are snapped up quickly and people have even camped overnight when properties come on the market.
Council leader Jeremy Kite (Con) said: “Everybody knows there is a housing demand here and it’s not just affordable homes we need, although we are building the first council homes for more than 40 years.
“We have people who have lived in Dartford all their lives, concerned about the new-builds and the influx of people. I understand it, and I empathise.
“You see the big cranes, and it looks scary. But the communities being built are really quite modest. They’re not 18-storey high-rise flats. The homes going up are the kind that people actually want to live in.
“It’s very easy to criticise, and people will talk about the bad points of Dartford, but on the other hand, people can’t wait to move in.”
Dartford is the fastest place to sell a property in Britain and the need is so great that during freezing conditions back in January people camped outside Bellway at Priory Mill in Lawson Road, Dartford, for its last release of houses for sale. They were all gone in just a few hours.
“We’re building where it makes the most sense, in the town centre where we have good transport links and people can walk to the shops..." - Cllr Jeremy Kite
Cllr Kite added: “We’re building where it makes the most sense, in the town centre where we have good transport links and people can walk to the shops.
“It reduces the number of car journeys, and it gets the traffic off the streets.
“We’re not building on the green belt, and we’re leaving the villages alone. Our villages are thriving at the moment, Longfield has become so busy that parking is becoming the issue.
“What we’ve done is earmark land that can be built on, but within those parcels, there will also be a lot of green space preserved or improved in, with parks and play areas.
“We’re in an excellent position here, with London, Europe and – when it’s finally sorted – the M25.
“But we’re more draconian than people might realise in terms of making sure we have what we need where we need it. The building is not going ahead uncontrolled. We think about schools, health and transport, even burial sites. We’re being shrewd, and careful to protect the Dartford way of life here.”
However, the elephant in the room is the Dartford Crossing, after unprecedented recent jams, which is a hindrance to growth in the area, says Cllr Kite. "We cannot continue the way thing are going and it's not going unaddressed," he said.
"If I could close it off from Dartford tomorrow, I would, to let the town thrive. I have made it clear to the government that if they do not get the M25 and crossing right then this councill will not deliver the further growth they say we have to."
One of the housing sites which is going ahead is the Northern Gateway between Temple Hill and Bob Dunn Way.
The site will have more than 1,000 homes, new spaces for business and an improved green space equating to roughly the same area again.
A planning application for the next stage of the eastern section was submitted to Dartford council for a boundary review last week.
There will be a new park and a new school, as well as path and cycle routes and access to the River Darent and the town centre.
The Mill Ponds, Weston Homes’ “garden village” to the south, is on the former Wellcome Pharmaceutical site, a large Victorian medicine factory.
Neighbouring it to the east is Barratt’s Phoenix Quarter, also on former GlaxoSmithKline land.
Here there are to be 636 homes in five phases over five years. They were approved in January 2015, with 124 built so far.
Last week an application went into Dartford council for the next stage of Ingress Park – 151 new homes including flats and houses.
Cllr Kite said: “People immediately worry about things like school, transport and health provision when new developments go up. But with Ingress Park, none of it has been an issue. The problem people tell me about is the parking, so that’s something we need to look at.”