Garden cities: euphemism for yet more poor quality?

Kent is blooming with events devoted to garden cities.

Chris Blundell of Golding Homes and Huw Edwards of Barton Willmore – both shortlisted for the Wolfson Prize for their proposals – recently outlined their ideas at a Gullands-hosted seminar in Maidstone.

Michael Cassidy, chairman-designate of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, spoke at the annual Kent Property Market Report breakfast. Experts and council leaders were meeting for a major conference in Ebbsfleet. The topic cropped up at business shows.

Chris Blundell, left, of Golding Homes and Huw Edwards of Barton Wilmore
Chris Blundell, left, of Golding Homes and Huw Edwards of Barton Wilmore

The concept heralds big business opportunities.

But what does a garden city really mean?

What we can probably say is that it’s unlikely to be a garden or a city. The danger is that it will disguise unsightly development in a green and friendly wrapper. It could be a euphemism for yet more poor quality.

There is no doubt that many more homes are needed. The forecasts suggest about 300,000 a year nationwide are required, and tens of thousands across Kent.

Too few are being built and most are out of reach to first-time buyers.

Many argue that houses should be built first on brownfield sites – and many lay idle.

But the subject poses a real dilemma for those who love our Garden of England.

If we accept that more homes have to be built, does it follow that they should go piecemeal on green fields creating ugly estates totally inappropriate to the setting?

If they are to go on green fields, surely it’s better for them to be part of a carefully-planned community, with the highest standards of design, materials, energy efficiency, transport links – and above all, generous green spaces.

It must be where people want to live and where businesses are happy to operate.

The fear is that a garden city will not be built to those high standards because the private sector cannot commit to such high investment because homes will be no more affordable.

We are in an era when things are likely to be done as cheaply as possible, where house size will be small, and green areas slimmed down to maximise housing numbers.

All this poses a real dilemma for planners and campaigners for Kent’s countryside.

If they – and a sceptical public – are to withdraw instinctive opposition, they need to be convinced that any new garden “city” will prove worthy of the sacrifice of Kent’s precious rural heritage.

Construction builds up in MegaGrowth

MegaGrowth50 has been a superb barometer of company achievement since its
launch in 2002.

The latest annual listing is the 13th and once again highlights the strengths and diversity of our business landscape.

Every year, it reflects economic ups and downs, and it’s good to see construction bouncing back after recessionary gloom.

The inclusion of only enterprises hitting at least 50% growth – up from 35% in 2013 – is a strong sign of the upturn.

Congratulations to the Mega Growers!

No French connection

Well done Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis – and former MD of their Bluewater store – for calling France “sclerotic” – albeit with a chunk of tongue firmly in his cheek.

Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis
Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis

For all my love of French ways – civilised lunch breaks and Sundays, fierce protection of specialist foods, free car parks and the TGV – the place remains hostile to entrepreneurs.
With high taxes and the high cost of employing people, no wonder French entrepreneurs are flocking to Kent.


Maxim respect

Well done Maxim PR and Marketing of Tunbridge Wells for reviving the Kent media awards.
Shepherd Neame was a generous sponsor for 25 years but when that sponsorship ended in 2013, it looked like the last page had been written.

National tabloid journalists get a bad press, but regional journalism is respected, providing a vital service to the public and business – and deserves recognition.

Take legal steps

We hear a lot about fat-cat lawyers. Less is known about their hours of free advice and less still about their fundraising legal walks.

The first in Kent is in Canterbury on June 13 next year to raise £500,000 towards the expanded £5m Kent Law Clinic.

It offers free advice to the public – many now denied legal aid – and is a great learning laboratory for University of Kent students at its top 10 UK law school.

Give it your support – and non-legal eagles can put their best foot forward too.

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