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Adonis: Ebbsfleet garden city quango needs powers to speed up housing

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The planning quango proposed by the chancellor to oversee a new ‘garden city’ in Kent should have the power to buy sites through compulsory purchase orders (CPOs), former Labour transport minister Andrew Adonis has said

The government said it wanted a new development corporation for Ebbsfleet to be similar to the London Docklands Development Corporation, which oversaw the building of Canary Wharf.

The government has earmarked £200million for the area. It could be spent on major infrastructure.

Speaking to Construction News, Adonis said the proposed corporation, which would oversee land including a site owned by developer Land Securities, should be able make the provision of some infrastructure contingent on the developers building a certain volume of homes to encourage them to build more quickly.

‘Either a development corporation needs to take over ownership of the land or reach some agreement with Land Securities on the rate of build-out and how it relates to the provision of infrastructure,’ he said.

“There is no detail yet on the precise powers of the development corporation and how it will drive rapidly the building of houses given that the ownership of the land rests with a private company that has been glacially slow in building houses so far on the site.”

He said the proposed corporation could also re-plan the site to get houses built and commercial premises occupied more quickly.

The proposed would cover the Eastern Quarry site owned by Land Securities; Swanscombe Peninsula; and the area around the High Speed One/Channel Tunnel railway station. The government said it should provide 15,000 homes.

A Land Securities spokeswoman said it was “standard” for development corporations to make CPOs or tie provision of infrastructure to rates of housebuilding if they wished.

Land Securities does not build homes at Ebbsfleet but does deals with housebuilders on parcels of the site. The spokeswoman said the housebuilders build in line with demand for homes, adding “there isn’t currently demand for more than the housebuilders are currently building”.

She welcomed the infrastructure funding and the proposed development corporation. “They have made it clear they will be investing in infrastructure and the development corporation is to make planning process simpler and more flexible so it takes away the barriers that were there before in terms of infrastructure.”

In 2009 Land Securities took a £92.3million impairment on the carrying value of its trading properties which it told analysts at the time was ‘primarily related to development land and infrastructure at Ebbsfleet Valley’. A spokeswoman for the developer said the write down reflected the state of the economy at the time.

Lord Adonis had backed development in Ebbsfleet and the establishment of a development corporation in a document Go east: unlocking the potential of the Thames estuary published last month.

Urban development corporations typically take over planning powers from local authorities and have the power to compulsorily purchase sites. It could be set up within a year if a forthcoming consultation shows support for the plans.

Merrick Cockell, chair of the Local Government Association, which represents England’s councils, said a development corporation which is ‘unelected and accountable to central government’ was unnecessary and it was not clear whether the financial benefits of growth would remain in the area for the benefits of local residents and businesses.

Ebbsfleet history:

Ebbsfleet Ebbsfleet has been earmarked for housing for decades.

It was declared part of the Thames Gateway by Tony Blair’s Labour government and in 2003 featured in the government’s housing blueprint, the Sustainable Communities Plan.

It came under the Kent Thameside Delivery Board, which was set up the same year to help with the negotiations between various councils, government departments, quangos and developers.

The Eastern Quarry site got planning permission in 2007, although the section 106 agreement was renegotiated following the 2008 property crash. A new planning deal was announced in 2012.

In March 2013 Land Securities announced it had sold land to housebuilder Ward Homes to build 150 homes and is about to do another deal for around 170 homes.

It is working on another part of Ebbsfleet in a joint venture with Countryside Properties and the first homes in that scheme were occupied in 2008.

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