Hon. Members will be aware of the government’s ambition to create a new garden city at Ebbsfleet, and of our intention to establish an Urban Development Corporation to drive forward its development and delivery. I would like to take this opportunity to update hon. Members on the progress we have made to date.
This country has faced a shortfall in housing for many years, with young people and families struggling to find the homes they want and need, particularly in the south-east.
We are committed to increasing their chances and our programmes to accelerate house building are already seeing results.
Our £1.5 billion large sites programme is expected to unlock 100,000 homes by the end of this month, and a further 200,000 homes could be unlocked as we take the programme forward. This is in addition to the plans in place to create housing zones on brownfield sites across the country.
Last year we published our prospectus for locally-led garden cities, and we are now working closely to support the development of a new garden town at Bicester, with capacity to deliver up to 13,000 new homes. Our approach is a locally-led approach. We invite local areas to come forward, without any top-down centrally imposed requirements. This approach will help make new garden cities locally acceptable, and so make them a reality.
Ebbsfleet – background
With close transport links and large areas of brownfield land, the Ebbsfleet area has huge potential as a place to deliver a substantial number of new homes. It has long been identified as an ideal location for major development – in fact as far back as the last government’s Sustainable Communities Plan.
Yet despite these ambitions, progress has been slow and Ebbsfleet remains largely undeveloped. Our plans for Ebbsfleet aim to change that and drive forward this historic development.
Government vision for Ebbsfleet
At last year’s Budget, the government therefore announced plans to create a new locally-led garden city at Ebbsfleet, Kent, capable of providing up to 15,000 new homes based predominantly on brownfield land, or former quarries.
The government is seeking not only to increase the pace of development, but also to create high quality development. To build homes that are supported by local employment opportunities, green space and the necessary infrastructure, so that Ebbsfleet becomes a place where people want to live, work and raise families.
To help realise this vision, the government has announced that up to £200 million of infrastructure funding would be made available to support delivery. We also announced that a new statutory body – an Urban Development Corporation – would be formed to bring real focus on driving forward delivery.
Since then, we have been working closely with each of the 3 local authorities and other partners on the preparatory work to establish the Urban Development Corporation, and set the scene for the future garden city. I welcome the cross-party support that the Opposition has given to these proposals.
I am pleased to report that house building is already underway in some areas of the proposed garden city. Last October, I opened the first phase of housing being led by Ward Homes at Castle Hill. And today Land Securities exchanged contracts with Persimmon Homes for the next phase of 170 new homes at Castle Hill. Much remains to be done, to increase the rate of development at Ebbsfleet. But this is welcome progress nonetheless.
Consultation / powers of the Urban Development Corporation
In August last year we consulted on the proposal to set up an Urban Development Corporation. We set out the powers we are proposing that the corporation will have, including compulsory purchase powers, the transfer of the planning management powers that are currently exercised by the local authorities. And of course the ability to invest money to secure the regeneration of the area.
In our consultation, we asked for views on the area in which the Urban Development Corporation would operate, the planning powers it would be granted, and the composition of the Board. The consultation was supported by an active engagement campaign and the results demonstrated overall support for the proposal to create a Development Corporation for Ebbsfleet. In December last year (2014) we published our response to the consultation in which we therefore confirmed our intention to continue with the proposal to establish a Development Corporation at Ebbsfleet.
The consultation, although supportive, did highlight some areas of concern such as the impact of development on existing infrastructure. These issues were not unanticipated, and at Autumn Statement, the government announced that there will be a review of the transport provision for the Ebbsfleet area. At Autumn Statement the government also announced the provision of the first £100 million to fund infrastructure and land remediation to kick start development – obviously subject to due diligence. We are working closely with local partners to understand the scale of infrastructure required and how best to accelerate delivery.
Setting up the Urban Development Corporation
We want to ensure that on establishment, the Urban Development Corporation has in place the tools necessary to enable it to hit the ground running. It is crucial that the Urban Development Corporation is able to pick up the reins from the local authorities and deliver on its objectives seamlessly, without causing any unnecessary uncertainty amongst the local communities and local businesses.
In August last year we appointed Michael Cassidy as the Chairman Designate, who was the Chairman of the City of London Property Investment Board, and has extensive experience in a range of roles across the business and industry sectors. Since his appointment he has been actively engaging with local partners and the major landowners to develop a shared understanding of the work required to drive forward development.
More recently we launched the recruitment process for a permanent Chief Executive. However, as this post will take some months to fill, we are appointing key interim personnel to maintain momentum and continuity. These interim posts will, in the meantime, continue to drive forward not only the set up of the Urban Development Corporation, but also progress with the work to develop a shared strategy for the garden city.
We have also made progress with the process to recruit, through open competition, the remainder of the Urban Development Corporation’s Board members. Ninety applications were received and interviews are underway. These will be in addition to the local authority representatives from Dartford, Gravesham and Kent who, as we have already made clear, will have a seat on the Board.
Future garden city
The Urban Development Corporation will develop a shared vision and master-plan for the locally-led garden city, which reflects the views of the local people. However, there is much that can be done in the meantime to set in place the foundations for this work, and provide a platform for the Urban Development Corporation to work from.
We are therefore progressing with the production of a development framework for the area. This will provide critical baseline data and act as the starting point to the design of the future Ebbsfleet Garden City. In parallel, we are preparing the procurement process for a full master-plan which can then be taken forward by the Urban Development Corporation. We want the design of the garden city to be as collaborative as possible. We will therefore use this preparatory work to make sure that future master-planning is carried out in a way that encourages the full participation of the local communities and local businesses.
We recognise that there is likely to be a transition period between the establishment of the Urban Development Corporation and the point at which it will be fully resourced to operate as the local planning authority. We are therefore working closely with the local authorities to agree and put in place a service level agreement. This will enable the local authorities to administer the planning service for the Urban Development Corporation for a transitional period to ensure a smooth handover and develop a partnership to deliver a locally-led garden city.
We are also pushing forward with the final key stages of the physical set up of the Urban Development Corporation. Putting in place the accommodation and technical facilities needed to ensure that the Urban Development Corporation is fully resourced and equipped to undertake its objectives.
Hon. Members will be aware that in the other place, the government tabled an amendment to the Deregulation Bill to change the Parliamentary approval procedure, from affirmative to negative, for the establishment of Urban Development Areas and Urban Development Corporations.
This amendment was accepted and is now part of the Deregulation Bill. I should like to place on record my thanks to the Hon Member for the City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) for her participation in discussions on how to proceed on this matter. I know she shares my view that we want to see progress in taking this proposal forward.
The government therefore intends, subject to Parliamentary approval, to lay a negative Statutory Instrument immediately following Royal Assent to establish the Urban Development Corporation.
A separate Order to grant the Urban Development Corporation planning functions, making it the local planning authority responsible for the development of the area, will be laid at the same time.
I trust that this update will reassure hon. Members of government’s commitment to drive forward with creating a locally-led garden city at Ebbsfleet, fit for the 21st century.