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I want to discuss the proposed garden city at Ebbsfleet in my constituency. Provided that certain assurances and safeguards are put in place, it will be welcomed by the local people.
Ebbsfleet is as much a concept as a place where we can build houses and development can take place. The proposal is not new; there have been other attempts to build houses in the Ebbsfleet valley. The first proposal was made back in 1996, and seven years ago Dartford council granted planning permission for thousands of homes to be built. What is new this time is the creation of the development corporation and, crucially, up to £200 million of investment in infrastructure in the area to complement the house building. The scheme is bold and forward thinking and, if implemented correctly, will enhance the local area and help ease some of the pressure on housing in the south-east.
The former Housing Minister, my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps, endeavoured to kick-start the housing project by getting all parties around the table, but to no avail. For some reason, landowners have always been reluctant to get on with building houses in the area and consequently the Ebbsfleet valley is now a muddy quarry. The Chancellor suggested in his Budget that fewer than 300 houses had been built in the area, but I would put the figure far lower. The experience has been frustrating, so I am pleased that we are witnessing the beginning of some action on the site.
The development is on a brownfield area some 20 miles from this Chamber and represents a great opportunity to bring jobs and investment to my constituency. It is next to the High Speed 1 line station at Ebbsfleet, 17 minutes from central London and less than two hours from both Paris and Brussels. It is also adjacent to some of the most beautiful countryside in Kent and to the villages of Betsham and Southfleet, which must be protected under the scheme. I am pleased that reassurance was given to my hon. Friend Mr Holloway and me that the green belt area surrounding Ebbsfleet garden city will be protected from any building under the proposed development.
It is also crucial that local people form part of the decision-making process. There must be a role for Dartford council, which has proactively tried to make the development happen in recent years. There must be opportunities for local people to input their thoughts and suggestions, as the concept simply will not work if the development is imposed on local residents. The Red Book makes it clear that local residents will be involved in the consultation process for any decisions made by the development corporation, which is a welcome announcement.
The importance of infrastructure’s complementing house building has not been lost on local residents or the Government. That is why the £200 million figure cited by the Chancellor is so important. Families will not move to a muddy quarry without transport infrastructure, school places or medical provision. The development needs to work with the residents and the local council to be successful, but it must also work with the private sector. The site is adjacent to the Bluewater retail complex, which views the announcement as a positive step, and it is also next to a proposed Paramount theme park, the developers of which have also welcomed the idea.
The announcement is pro-enterprise, bold and ambitious. It will create thousands of jobs in the area, help alleviate some of the housing pressures in the south-east and kick-start a faltering project. The possibilities are endless. I have always recognised the huge potential in the area, which, in my biased opinion, adds to what makes it the area with the most exciting prospects in the country.