Paul Spooner is 20 minutes late for our interview.
“I’ve just come out of several meetings,” said the interim chief executive of Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, the body charged with delivering a new 15,000-home town on brownfield land between Gravesend and Dartford.
“I hope it gives you an idea of how busy we are right now.”
It quickly becomes clear Mr Spooner is the master of the ‘on message’ response to any question posed to him, which is handy given the public scepticism about a project which has been promised in various forms for more than a decade.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to create a very special place that will really be something local residents can be proud of,” he said when asked why was he interested in joining Ebbsfleet garden city. “There is huge potential to secure significant growth for north Kent.”
“I’m confident we can make significant progress in the next six months...” - Paul Spooner, Ebbsfleet Development Corporation
What would he say to anyone wondering why this attempt to create a town in Ebbsfleet will be any different?
“I’m confident we can make significant progress in the next six months,” he said. “We will demonstrate to the community that the garden city is for them. It will bring jobs, access to new homes and a really quality environment.”
Despite the handbook approach to each answer, there is clearly enthusiasm from the corporation’s new boss, who is expected to stay in the role until at least May.
How else can he talk so fluently about creating a place with a “strong identity” with “green credentials” which is “attractive to live, work and play in” unless he really means it?
Mr Spooner was approached by the board of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation to “accelerate the performance” of the garden city, following the sacking of previous chief executive Robin Cooper after just six months in the job, with little public explanation.
He has been an adviser to the government on the development of enterprise zones for the last two years, as well as helping Maidstone Borough Council with its town planning.
“We are trying to create a comprehensive utility corridor for water, gas, telecoms and all that to accelerate housing development here...” - - Paul Spooner, Ebbsfleet Development Corporation
Before that he was an executive director at the Homes and Communities Agency, where he worked on major housing projects across the country.
“I was impressed with the strong professional team they have here and thought I could offer something,” he said.
His first main job with the £310m pledged to the garden city in the government’s last autumn statement has been clearing the path for utilities to be installed in areas of the Eastern Quarry, where development has been slow because of the cost involved for house builders.
So far, progress has been lacklustre, with not many more than 80 homes built since the project was (re)announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his 2014 budget.
“We are trying to create a comprehensive utility corridor for water, gas, telecoms and all that to accelerate housing development here,” said Mr Spooner.
The Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, which has taken on the planning powers of Gravesham and Dartford councils, is developing a masterplan for the garden city, which is to become one of 10 “healthy towns” under a new NHS scheme announced earlier this month.
It is also working with developers at London Paramount to integrate the £3.2bn project, set to create 27,000 jobs, into the blueprint for the area.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to create a new theme park and we are working very closely with them to make sure it happens,” said Mr Spooner.
“We’re making sure there is detailed planning of the access to Paramount to enable them to have the development secured.”
Would the interim boss take on this job full time, if he was asked?
“I’m not thinking beyond the next six months,” he said.
“I want to achieve great things by the end of May. I’m thinking about the here and now. If we all decide it is going well then it is their call.”