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The part of Kent with 5,000 new-builds in five years as construction in county hits new high

Work on more than 53,000 new homes has started in Kent over the last decade – and the districts seeing the largest volume built have been revealed.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also confirm that between March 2021 and March 2022, building started on more properties in the county than at any point over at least the last 14 years.

Sales of new-build homes account for almost one in five of house sales in the county
Sales of new-build homes account for almost one in five of house sales in the county

The news will come as little surprise to many who have seen developments pop up across the county with often alarming regularity.

Work began on some 6,820 homes across Kent and Medway in the 12 months up to 2022 – the latest figures the ONS has released. That compares to just 3,480 between 2009-10.

“We're going to continue to see houses being built, because we have to,” says property expert Spencer Fortag, who runs Dockside Property Services in Medway. “New-build sales will continue to be healthy.

“The fact remains, there's a lot of land and we don't have enough homes for people to live.”

While many object to so much development, he doubts there will be any immediate slowdown.

Spencer Fortag of Dockside Property Services
Spencer Fortag of Dockside Property Services

He adds: “It's always those that moan about housing being built that already have a house. Having somewhere to live is a fundamental right.

“Kent and Medway remains a very popular place for people to live, especially since their work-life balance dynamic has changed immeasurably since the introduction of working from home.”

The district which has seen work begin on the largest number of homes over recent years is the county town, Maidstone.

Over the last five years of ONS figures, it has seen construction begin on some 5,340 properties. That’s more than the starts in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks combined (4,760).

Next is Dartford (with 3,340), followed by Medway (2,520), Ashford (2,500) and Canterbury (2,350).

How the building work is spread across the county
How the building work is spread across the county

At the other end of the table, Thanet has seen work begin on the fewest number of new homes. Between the five-year period of 2017-22 construction started on just 860. However, its figures were rising and, as anyone living in the district will report, there are extensive developments now underway or planned.

Gravesham saw starts on 1,360 properties and Dover 1,760. In total, the last five years across Kent and Medway saw work on 27,850 homes begin.

Few would bet against those figures rising again when the statistics for 2022-23 are published later this year.

Yet while housebuilding appears to be on a relentless march, there are some issues which senior industry figures suggest could point to an impending slowdown.

Steve Turner, of the House Builders Federation (HBF), explained: “We are also starting to see a decline in house-building moving forward as the government is making changes to the planning system. That is going to make it much more difficult to build houses as a result of a representation of the Nimby wing of the Conservative Party.”

New homes are being built around the county – much to the chagrin of local communities
New homes are being built around the county – much to the chagrin of local communities

House-building hit a low in 2012 just after the financial crash (across Kent just 2,760 homes were started – 40% of the 2021-22 figures) but has seen a steady increase in the intervening years – slowing, albeit only temporarily – when Covid ushered in the lockdowns.

Politically, it has always been a hot potato. The government knows there is a seemingly insatiable appetite for new homes. Local authorities know more homes in their district means more taxpayers – and traders are not adverse to a growing population to help swell their coffers.

“Different areas vary in terms of what is being built there,” he adds, “but the demand is greatest in the South East as it's where more jobs are.”

He hints the government’s tightening of planning conditions for developments comes very much with an eye on the upcoming General Election. MPs may have little to do with giving the nod to sprawling new estates, but that won’t stop them being blamed at the ballot box.

Yet we may have seen even higher building figures if it were not for what the HBF describe as a “moratorium” on house-building introduced by Natural England in 74 local authority areas in the country – Kent districts being among them – due to high levels of nutrients being found in rivers.

Pollution at Stodmarsh, near Canterbury, has slowed the building of thousands of new homes
Pollution at Stodmarsh, near Canterbury, has slowed the building of thousands of new homes

High pollution levels were found at Stodmarsh Nature Reserve in Canterbury in 2020. The HBF says anywhere between 33,000 to 50,000 homes planned for areas in Thanet, Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Deal and Maidstone have been stalled as a result.

He adds: “Only a tiny proportion of that [pollution] is due to housebuilding - the majority is agricultural run-off or the fact the water companies' infrastructure is out of date so they are discharging sewage into rivers. But the solution so far has been to put a moratorium on house building in these areas.”

But as big a dent as they may have caused, it doesn’t seem to have had an impact in those areas not close to the water sources which feed into the Stour which runs through Stodmarsh.

There are also factors at stake which may have an impact on the clamour for a new-build home.

One is the economic instability which has gripped the country – fuelled, primarily due to a cost-of-living crisis which put a squeeze on everyone’s budgets.

Work on new-build homes hit a record high in 2021-22
Work on new-build homes hit a record high in 2021-22

The ill-fated mini-Budget under Liz Truss last year didn’t help matters either as interest rates soared, dramatically increasing the cost of a mortgate. They continue to climb.

Housebuilder Dandara – currently developing sites in Deal, Hamstreet and East Malling – said it was making people think long and hard about taking the plunge.

Louise Norman, sales and marketing director of its South East division, acknowledged that consumer confidence has been knocked by interest rate rises.

However she said: “We are fortunate not to have seen a decline in sales over the past year and have met all of our targets.

“Interest in our products has been as strong as ever but we have noticed people are taking longer to make a decision when buying a home; they are definitely weighing things up very carefully and making sure that everything is 100% in order with their finances before they sign on the dotted line.”

Just don’t expect the building to end any time soon.

How hard is it for young people in Kent to but their own home? KentOnline reporter Ollie Leonard, 24, describes his own experience...

Getting your foot on the property ladder seems to be well out of reach for me and many others my age.

KentOnline reporter Ollie Leonard
KentOnline reporter Ollie Leonard

I have now turned 24 and the idea of buying my first property feels inconceivable. As someone who is currently single and would have to rely solely on my own income, buying my first house is not a possibility.

I feel ready to leave the family home, so I have been looking to rent with a couple of my close friends.

However, even this has been a great challenge. Many landlords do not seem interested in renting out their properties to "young men" and instead choose either families or couples to live in their accommodation.

I am currently looking to move to the Folkestone or Ashford area.

For a three-bedroom house to rent we are currently being quoted between £1,500-£1,600 per month. Saving for a deposit on top of the rent and bills would be extremely difficult.

I think the amount of new-builds being constructed around the towns are a good thing, but unfortunately we are being priced out.

Looking at the cheapest new homes available in Folkestone on Rightmove, it would cost £225,000 to purchase a one-bed flat in The Bayle, Folkestone. Meanwhile, a two-bed house on the Shorncliffe Heights estate would set me back £262,000.

With this in mind, I would need to save more than £20,000 for a 10% deposit on one of these homes.

Therefore, with the amount I would be paying out on a rental property, it would take me years in order to afford a deposit on a one-bedroom home in Folkestone.

This is a scary thought. Even with the amount of new homes being built, the rising property prices means young people like me are going to really struggle to buy a decent first home.

These prices are not suitable for young local people looking to take their first steps on the property ladder. I worry they are much more likely to be snapped up by Londoners, maybe looking for their second homes in a seaside town.

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