Meeting to shape our built environment

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The 21st Century Garden City Conference

Eastgate, Springhead Park, Ebbsfleet

On 24 October 2014 over 150 delegates and speakers attended the Kent Design conference The 21st Century Garden City. As plans develop for a new garden city at Ebbsfleet, the conference represented an important opportunity to both examine proposals for the first garden city of the new century, and to look at how and whether garden cities can become part of the solution to Britain’s housing crisis. In bringing together leading opinion leaders and decision-makers responsible for delivering 200,000 new homes a year, this was an event of both regional and national importance.

Speakers included:

  • Sir Terry Farrell: Chairman, Farrells
  • Sue Riddlestone: Chief Executive, BioRegional
  • David Lock: Strategic Planning Advisor, David Lock Associates
  • Cathal Rock: Garden Cities Policy Manager, DCLG
  • Dr Nicholas Falk: Director and Co-founder, URBED
  • James Gross: Director of Masterplanning, Barton Willmore
  • Cllr Jeremy Kite: Leader, Dartford Borough Council
  • Cllr Paul Carter: Leader, Kent County Council
  • Cllr John Burden: Leader, Gravesham Borough Council

The conference was followed by an invited roundtable discussion for 23 participants chaired by Chris Lamb (Director, Design South East). This explored the challenges and opportunities of delivering new garden cities in more detail, through a discussion led by Dr. Richard Simmons.

Richard’s proposition that Ebbsfleet needs to be a unique response to its setting and circumstances – a “place of its place” – prompted discussion about the influence of place and identity, and the fact that Ebbsfleet seemed to lack identity or explicit special qualities. It was agreed that Ebbsfleet garden city was in reality an extension of existing places and communities rather than the creation of a new satellite commuter settlement.

Chris moved discussion from “place” to focus on “delivery”, encouraging contributions on employment (or not), the value of UDC Compulsory Purchase Order powers, the impact of low land values, and the need for social and physical infrastructure. Participants identified the challenge of balancing the necessary long-term thinking for such ambitious generational development with the short time windows afforded by the existing funding model. A clear warning was sounded that ambitions for Ebbsfleet are probably already out of sync with the funding models and opportunities.

The roundtable found agreement that it is unacceptable to wait for the conditions and systems to be right – there is a need for action now. There was also clear consensus of the need to build a sense of excitement within the development – possibly linked to a new homes exhibition.

The following points were offered as a framework for action:

  1. Develop a VISION for the Ebbsfleet Garden City and proactive engagement of the planning framework to embed expectations of place and definitions of quality.
  2. Develop and sustain an exemplary engagement model for existing and new neighbourhoods.
  3. Creation of a flexible and tuned delivery mechanism.

Realisation of place curatorship of the Garden City, the London Paramount Resort Holdings and Dartford and Gravesham.

We are extremely grateful to Barton Willmore and Thomson Snell & Passmore for their generous sponsorship of this event.

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