Michael Cassidy, new chairman of Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, on kickstarting its expansion – this time as a garden city
Ebbsfleet has been described as a ‘stuck’ housing project for about a decade. Why didn’t the initial plans didn’t come to fruition?
The recession floored the original ambitious delivery plan. But some really good work was done in support of the planning application, which can be deployed in the new context, with possibly some revision to reflect the new government-backed drive to see quick progress on housing.
What was your first task after being given the job?
The first priority has been to meet the local authority leaders, the Department for Communities and Local Government team already working on the legislation and structure and the key stakeholders involved on the land aspects. I set aside August to do that and it has helped frame the next piece of work, around formulating action points and board recruitment.
Does any garden city proposal need cross-party support?
I have every reason to believe that [Ebbsfleet] has all-party support, which is why it is considered feasible to bring the Infrastructure Bill through so close to an election.
You have extensive experience working on Crossrail. What ideas can be brought from that project to Ebbsfleet?
There are some clever ideas within the Crossrail project which I am actively seeking to draw on in formulating my thoughts for Ebbsfleet. I need to test the transferability of these before being more specific on what they are.
You led the initiative to develop a mile-long cultural zone at the Barbican last year, what lessons did you learn from re-evaluating the Barbican?
The Barbican Cultural Hub ideas have progressed remarkably during this year, with good support from all at Guildhall and some great consultative/creative work by Lucy Musgrave and her team at Publica, which is going to emerge during the autumn as a thorough piece of analysis. Principal lesson learned: do not accept that what exists, derived from engineer-driven priorities of the 1960s, is necessarily right for today’s ambitions.
How will the country’s best architects be enticed to work on Ebbsfleet?
The selection of architects is essentially landowner-driven, with their house-building partners. I would expect the development corporation to be closely involved with the masterplanning exercise but drawing on architectural talent as part of that process.
Could Ebbsfleet be a test bed for innovative methods of construction?
I’m happy to look at that, but it is not yet part of my early remit.