Could our budding garden city at long last be about to bloom?

Between the lines with Kent Business associate editor Trevor Sturgess

At last, Ebbsfleet is poised to fulfil its long-delayed promise of a proper community – and a good-sized one at that.

The garden city concept is new. So too is the government’s rediscovered enthusiasm for this vast site.

But I remember writing about the expected tens of thousands of homes and a large population over a decade ago.

Cautious site owner Land Securities dragged its heels, frustrating local officials who wanted faster progress.

Its Kent-based former chief executive Francis Salway told me years ago that the project had been “paused”.

The former Eastern Quarry which will form part of a proposed Ebbsfleet garden city
The former Eastern Quarry which will form part of a proposed Ebbsfleet garden city

Yet this was a site widely touted as an eastern counter to the buzzing Thames and M4 corridors.

We were promised big name tenants alongside Ebbsfleet International. Inward investment agency Locate in Kent was gung-ho in its marketing. But the quarry-scarred east of London proved far less appealing than leafy Berkshire to bosses with daughters and ponies.

And the market changed, with fewer blue chip companies seeking new headquarters outside London, let alone back office operations.

Then came the credit crunch, and any grand plans were held up yet again.

Thankfully, Lend Lease had invested faith in Bluewater, opened 15 years ago, and the station began to attract commuters and international travellers, although only a trickle at first. HS1 is changing the trickle to a flood.

Ebbsfleet’s rail, retail and land offer was always immense. We in Kent could see it, but investors were slow to share our vision.

Thankfully George Osborne has cottoned on, although it suits him politically to back a project outside leafier glades (witness middle class HS2 opposition).

It should now be easier to attract investment. Suddenly Ebbsfleet, which no one outside Kent had heard of, has become cool.

This is good news for two other projects – Paramount Park and Ebbsfleet United.

Ebbsfleet Football Club, Stonebridge Road, Northfleet
Ebbsfleet Football Club, Stonebridge Road, Northfleet

Kuwaiti investors are involved in both and the garden city plan gives them and other money folk the confidence to inject cash.

It also offers park consortium London Resort Company Holdings a labour pool on its doorstep.

As for the soccer club, the Fleet should seriously consider moving to a new stadium close to the heart of Ebbsfleet city.

Vice chairman Peter Varney told he was open to the idea and it’s time for this small club with a proud history as Gravesend and Northfleet to think big.

It’s time to kick off planning for a well-equipped stadium with year-round facilities beyond the confines of Stonebridge Road. MK Dons wave the football flag for Milton Keynes in League One. Ebbsfleet can eventually be a big club doing the same for our garden city.

Why it’s too soon to ground flights at troubled Manston Airport

The Saga of Manston Airport – subtitled Will it Ever Take Off? – has all the hallmarks of a tragedy with a cast of heroes and villains.

The early heroes were those who created it, building one of the longest runways in the country. Later heroes were Kiwis at Infratil who thought they could make a go of it – but couldn’t.

Avuncular chief executive Charles Buchanan has been a tireless hero trying to make it work.
For all its difficulties with scheduled passenger services, it has served freight and charter operators and been used extensively for emergency flights.

Charles Buchanan with the first KLM flight from Manston in April 2013
Charles Buchanan with the first KLM flight from Manston in April 2013

There was uncertainty after ownership passed from Wiggins Group to PlaneStation, the business behind EUjet which failed because of an over-ambitious route structure.

Thanet Council has capitulated to local moaners by restricting late and early arrivals and departures. Locals grumbled too much about a resource that added economic and transport lustre to east Kent – and the wider county – and provided jobs at the airport and in related aviation businesses.

Heroic efforts by Flybe and Air France-KLM have run into turbulence. Villains included airport report authors like Sir Howard Davies who failed to properly identify Manston’s strategic potential for relieving overcrowded airports.

Enter new villain Ann Gloag. The Stagecoach queen snaffled up the complex for a song but now seems more interested in flogging the land for a tidy sum than developing the airport.

Manston does not have a huge catchment area – but Southend prospers under similar constraints.

Kent needs a prestige airport, not least for inbound tourism. It’s too early to give up on Manston.

Bus passes and butties

Pensioners come in for stick – but they vote, volunteer and have valuable experience.
Good for George Osborne for trusting them with their own money and removing the requirement to buy an annuity.

And don’t bash the bus pass. It’s green and a great mechanism for cutting car congestion.

As for the Budget, well done accountants at Reeves for entertaining us business buffs at a breakfast analysis the day after the Chancellor’s speech.

Staff worked late into the night to analyse, PowerPoint and prepare a summary card for printing in time for bacon butties and 200 guests.

Good sport Clive Relf – a rare accountant with comic timing – sashayed as much as skied into the Mercure Great Danes as a nod to the firm’s sponsorship of GB Freeski, to great amusement.

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