During the Labour years I responded to their Barker Review into housing supply. That government identified four major areas for housing growth – Ashford, Cambridge, Milton Keynes and the East Thames corridor.
I agreed with them about the fourth on their list. Fresh from the success at encouraging major development in London Docklands, extending the renewal eastwards seemed a natural idea. I proposed a new city called Thames Reach to rise between the M25 and the Crossways Park in the west, and Gravesend in the east.
Piecemeal developments have proceeded in this area, reclaiming land and filling in old quarries. Now we learn that the Coalition government wishes to turn the Ebbsfleet area into a garden city. That implies lower density developments with good public spaces and a mixture of sizes and prices of homes.
There is a substantial shift going on in our country from north to south. In parts of the north we have a surplus of accommodation and weak house prices. In most of the south we have a scarcity of housing and high and rising prices. All parties would like to find ways of stimulating more development in the north, and relieving some of the pressure on the south. The problem is the economy of a Cambridge or a Milton Keynes is taking off, creating many more jobs and offering a good market for anyone wanting to set up in business. Just as Liverpool grew and grew a hundred years ago thanks to the dynamism of its dock based activities, so today Cambridge grows and grows owing to the success of its knowledge based activities.
We need both to reinforce success, ensuring lack of transport, homes and other infrastructure does not stifle the fast growing parts of the country, and to find ways of harnessing that success to more parts of the country. We will need a new garden city at Ebbsfleet and more besides in the south. We also need more triggers for private sector led growth in the big northern cities. Meanwhile Wokingham is offering builders scope to construct 12,500 extra homes just in the one relatively small district.