Lucas Clark, Account Executive, has been watching the political changes across Kent closely, and considers how to reduce the political risk of larger schemes in the Garden of England.
If you’ve been living in Kent or following the news here for any length of time, chances are you’ve come across the term “Garden Communities” or some variation thereof. We aren’t the only county seeing developments like these being put forward, but you’d be forgiven for thinking maybe we are seeing more than our fair share. I’ve lived in Kent for the better part of my life, and development has always been a contentious issue. If the results of the May 2023 elections are anything to go by, this won’t be changing any time soon. Conservative councils across the county saw massive losses, and while this isn’t unique to Kent, many councillors and residents have pointed to overdevelopment as a reason for their discontent.
While this might sound a bit doom and gloom for the planning industry in the Garden of England, we have seen recent progress. With major projects such as Otterpool Park and Ebbsfleet Garden City getting approval, Kent will continue to attract investment, despite its political volatility and resistance to development. However, developers planning on promoting garden communities will need to tread carefully to mitigate the political risks.
So what do we mean by a Garden Community? This isn’t the first iteration of new communities which have been proposed. Who remembers Eco-Communities? Anyone? Anyway – to summarise some very lengthy government press releases, the plan is to build entirely new, eco-friendly neighbourhoods, providing thousands of homes while putting green and wildlife-friendly spaces at the heart of these developments. These plans envision the creation of 43 different garden communities across the country, backed by £15M in government funding.
Although these communities, in theory, spread from “Cornwall to Carlisle” as the press release puts it, residents in Kent feel they are being unfairly targeted. Some proposals include:
- Garden Village – Swale: 5,000 homes.
- Binbury Park Garden Village – Maidstone: 1,700 homes.
- Langley Square – Dartford: 728 apartments
- Otterpool Park – Folkestone: 10,000 homes (we’ll be back to this one)
- Ebbsfleet Garden City: 15,000 homes.
- Tunbridge Wells Garden Village: 6,500 homes.
- Borough Green Gardens: 3,000 homes.
At a glance, and especially for the average resident, that’s a lot of development all at once, especially when these developments are not happening in a vacuum.
Garden Village Swale, for example, is located just south of Faversham, the town where I went to school, where other large development projects are ongoing, and not without some controversy. This was one of a few garden village schemes which were considered by the Council as part of their Local Plan strategy. This strategy saw the Conservatives in Swale lose control of the council in the 2019 election.
So, what’s happening here?
In short, the NIMBY movement in Kent has been growing in recent years, with opposition to large-scale developments being driven by a desire to protect the green spaces that earned the county its slightly flowery nickname.
Now this isn’t to say it can’t be done. Otterpool had its first 8,500 homes approved in April of 2023, and the Ebbsfleet Garden City Project had already seen 5,000 residents move to the project as of September 2022.
If you have a site in Kent, make sure to consider the following:
Firstly, you will have to address the same concerns as any other scheme. First, consider the relationship the community has with developers and be sure to build your understanding of the community’s concerns early on and address them as thoroughly as possible. Secondly, local politicians will need to be reassured that supporting your scheme will not be detrimental to their electoral prospects going forward, especially given the May election results in Kent.
Most importantly, you need to be able to tailor your approach to Kent itself, addressing the unique concerns I have seen play out in Kent during my time living here.
Many concerns about newbuilds in Kent often centre around a lack of social infrastructure like GP surgeries or a lack of public transport, especially buses. This is especially true in more rural areas, and the recent 300-house development announced in Teynham is a good example of this, with the village’s GP (my GP, as it happens), being shut last year. Making efforts to work with the council and community to improve these services would go a long way.
There’s also the question of what we in Kent like to call “DFL’s”, or “Down From London’s” (someone wrote a whole novel about this, honest). In short, this refers to people that have decided they want to move from the city to the countryside, attracted by the kind of homes that have been built in Kent in recent years, and whose presence is often seen as taking housing away from residents. Addressing this issue by building affordable homes or incentivising locals to move in would go a long way to winning communities over.
Kent will continue to be a tricky area to work in, but luckily, we at Kanda are specialised in not just public interactions, but crucially we are keyed into the political landscape that underpins it all. Alongside our in-depth political knowledge and analysis, we can not only provide you with the tools you need, but we know exactly how and where to use them to ensure the best chance of success.
If you have a site in Kent you are looking to develop or are working on one of the many upcoming green communities, then please get in touch to get the ball rolling on the future of the county I have been fortunate enough to call home.