Skip to main content


Volume 760: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2015


My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on his excellent timing. With the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my honourable friend the Minister for Housing:

“Honourable 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 honourable Members on the progress we have made.

The 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 housebuilding 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.

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.

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 are seeking not only to increase the pace of development but to create high-quality development and 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 have 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 three 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 have given to these proposals.

I am pleased to report that housebuilding is already under way in some areas of the proposed garden city. Last November, I opened the first phase of housing being led by Ward Homes at Castle Hill. 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 none the less.

In August last year, we consulted on the proposal to set up an Urban Development Corporation. We set out the powers that 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 that 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, 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 the Autumn Statement the Government announced that there will be a review of the transport provision for the Ebbsfleet area. At the Autumn Statement, the Government also announced the provision of the first £100 million to fund infrastructure and land remediation to kick-start development, subject obviously to due diligence. We are working closely with local partners to understand the scale of the infrastructure required and how best to accelerate delivery. 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 among the local communities and businesses.

In August last year, we appointed Michael Cassidy as the chairman-designate. He 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 mean time, 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 under way. 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.

The Urban Development Corporation will develop a shared vision and master plan for the locally led garden city which reflect the views of the local people. However, there is much that can be done in the mean time 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 for 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 it is fully resourced and equipped to undertake its objectives.

Honourable 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 the urban development areas and Urban Development Corporations. This amendment was accepted and is now part of the Deregulation Bill. I would like to place on record my thanks to the honourable 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 intend, 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 honourable Members of the Government’s commitment to drive forward with creating a locally led garden city at Ebbsfleet fit for the 21st century”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating a Statement made in the other place. We are strong supporters of the development of Ebbsfleet and agree with what has been said about it in the Statement about it having huge potential to deliver a substantial number of new homes, which are desperately needed. The development of Ebbsfleet provides opportunities but by all accounts challenges in difficult terrain. We want to see a new generation of garden cities and new towns, and Ebbsfleet could be an important contribution towards such a programme. As the Minister said in his Statement, that is why my colleagues in the other place have sought to work constructively and on a cross-party basis with the Government on the delivery of Ebbsfleet. When because of their tardiness the Government fell foul of the Delegated Powers Committee we supported them on the amendment to the Deregulation Bill. The Minister will be aware that we remain unconvinced that the negative procedure, accompanied by a statutory duty to consult, was the best one for establishing the UDC.

As the Minister in the other place said, my honourable friend the Member for the City of Durham participated heavily in the discussions with the Government on this. She has a strong commitment to the delivery of a new generation of garden cities and has spoken eloquently on these issues in the other place and elsewhere. We of course welcome the forming of a development corporation to drive the development, but we have concerns about the use of urban development corporations to deliver a full programme of garden cities. Perhaps the Minister could take a moment to say in what way the garden city principles are to be encapsulated by the Government in the plans for Ebbsfleet. As he knows, UDCs are not set up to deliver garden cities or developments formed on the basis of garden city principles. That is also why we pushed for the inclusion of a sunset clause in what was then the Infrastructure Bill.

Although we welcome the initiative that the Government are taking to set up a UDC, it is safe to say that over the past five years they have given mixed messages on Ebbsfleet and garden cities. These were summarised by my honourable friend Emma Reynolds MP. She reminded us that in 2011, the then Housing Minister spoke about “rebooting” garden cities. Three years ago the Prime Minister announced that he would be publishing a consultation on garden cities by the end of the year. Six months later, the Deputy Prime Minister said that there was some lively debate going on within Government, but promised incentives that would deliver projects that were “big and bold”.

In December 2012 the Government announced that Ebbsfleet would be a site for the large-scale development of 20,000 homes. Early last year, instead of the big and bold projects that were promised, there were reports in the newspapers that the Prime Minister was suppressing a document and had gone cold on the idea. In January last year the then Housing Minister said that he was not aware of a report that was supposed to have been published, but the Deputy Prime Minister said that there was a prospectus and that the Government should be honest about their intentions. Then the Secretary of State contradicted his Housing Minister and said that he had been told by his department that there was a report, but not a report from the Department for Communities and Local Government—so that is all very clear.

In the Budget, the Chancellor announced that there would be a new garden city at Ebbsfleet with 15,000 homes. But today we should not be churlish. We finally have the welcome step of the setting up of a development corporation, but after five years of confusion and lots of announcements but very little action, I am afraid that many people will have concluded that this Government are not serious about tackling the housing crisis.

I shall conclude with a few questions. The Government made it clear earlier in the year that, once established, the Ebbsfleet urban development corporation would be expected to identify sources of additional funding further to the £200 million earmarked by the Government for basic infrastructure. Will the Minister tell the House how much additional funding is necessary to get Ebbsfleet moving and whether this additional funding has been identified from the private or public sector?

Will the Minister explain why he has not mentioned affordable housing today? Can he reassure the House that in the master plan there will be a commitment to a significant number of affordable homes? The Government’s garden city prospectus invited communities to come up with garden city proposals—or “big and bold” projects, as the Deputy Prime Minister called them. Will the Minister tell the House how many bids have come forward so far? Finally, will he say why is it thought that the urban development corporation is an appropriate model for the development of garden cities?

I reiterate that we support the development of Ebbsfleet. Now is the time to make real progress after the delays of recent times.

My Lords, I record my thanks and those of the Government to the Opposition and, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for his co-operation and support in the discussions that we have had about the Ebbsfleet development. Indeed, the noble Lord suggested the sunset clause he alluded to, which was taken up by the Government. I thank him for the constructive discussion we had in this regard on the important issue of moving forward.

The noble Lord asked a series of questions, and I will address them. He mentioned the importance of housing and the need to move forward. The Government share that objective, and we are driving forward on a raft of different initiatives that I referred to in the Statement I repeated.

The noble Lord raised the issue of the principles of garden cities, with specific regard to Ebbsfleet. We do not seek to prescribe what a garden city will mean at Ebbsfleet. That will be for the UDC to establish with the local community—but, as noble Lords would expect, we expect it to include good-quality design and green space. The noble Lord asked why a UDC was necessary and perhaps answered that question in that, as I mentioned in the Statement, we have seen delays on the development at Ebbsfleet, and the UDC will provide the necessary focus and commitment in ensuring that we move development forward in this area.

The noble Lord asked a series of other questions about the funding of the Government’s commitment. Again, it is for the UDC to establish what is needed and to make progress with development in the Ebbsfleet area—which will be the funding over and above the £200 million. He also asked about the garden city prospectus and said that there was confusion about whether it existed, whether it was a secret report and where it sat. It is not a secret report; the Government’s position is set out in the prospectus.

The noble Lord asked about the number of bids. I have announced Bicester—I mentioned that in the Statement I repeated—and we continue to work with other places interested in the delivery of large-scale development and garden city principles through the large-sites programme.

Once again I thank the noble Lord and Her Majesty’s Opposition for their support in moving this development forward with the creation of the UDC. I hope that once it is created we will be able to move forward rapidly in seeing housing developments progress to the target of 15,000 homes that has been set.

The noble Lord also asked about affordable housing. I have previously said from the Dispatch Box that the affordable housing requirement will reflect what is contained in the local plans of the authorities that will make up the UDC and will sit on its board.

My Lords, we, too, welcome the statement that £1.5 billion is being made available to the large-sites programme. I know that had already been announced, but that has been taken a stage further with the news that Bicester has applied for funding under the infrastructure support route, as mentioned in the Statement. The Minister did not quite answer the question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, about whether the £200 million that will be made available to Ebbsfleet for infrastructure is supposed to cover the whole of the cost of the infrastructure development or whether some money has to come from other sources and, if so, what they are. The Minister said that was a matter for the UDC to press forward. Will it be able to come back to the department if the £200 million proves insufficient or does it all have to come from private sources, which is what the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked?

The Minister said that the first £100 million is to fund infrastructure and land reclamation and to kick-start development. Will he amplify that a little? What does he mean by “kick-start development”? I understand that a lot of work has to be done on the infrastructure because the state of the land means that a lot of remedial work has to be done on it. Does “kick-start development” mean that part of the £200 million that has been allocated for Ebbsfleet is for the construction of homes or facilities for the people who live in the homes? I know that the funding of schools has already been arranged with the developers. It would be useful if the Minister could say a little more about how that will work. If the developers are responsible for providing public services, such as schools or health centres, it would be useful for us to know that at the start.

The Statement says that—

I will try to be as brief as possible. What is the work required to drive forward development which the head at Ebbsfleet is now discussing with others? Will the Minister be a little more specific about that? Will he amplify what was said in the Statement about the development framework for the area? Will he give us some indication of what the baseline data which are to be provided are and the timescale for them to be provided? Finally, local authorities are to administer the planning service for the UDC for a transitional period. What does he envisage that will be? When will the UDC be in a position to take over the planning functions that it will ultimately have to deliver?

My Lords, my noble friend has raised a series of questions related to infrastructure and funding. With the leave of the House, I will answer one or two to allow for more questions, and will then write to him with specific details, which I will of course share with noble Lords.

The mainstay of my noble friend’s questions was about the £200 million and the further money required. This is not a cap for the UDC to work out what is needed and to make the case to the Government if more money is required. As I have said, the first task for the UDC is to draw up a business plan with details on how to spend the first £100 million—not on homes, as he asked specifically, but on infrastructure. That could include—to answer some of his questions—schools and community facilities. We very much want the UDC to be in the position of telling us how it can move this forward.

The important element is that this is not about giving the UDC specific targets or parameters in which to work. Once the UDC is created and appointed with local expertise, including representation from local authorities on its board, it is then up to the UDC to identify the priorities for the area, to ensure that whatever garden city develops reflects local needs, as I said in my response to an earlier question from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. As to the other specific questions that my noble friend asked, I will write to him.

My Lords, I join my noble friend in welcoming the Statement. I will ask a few very short questions and will be perfectly content with the Minister replying to most or, if necessary, all of them in writing.

First, what proportion of the affordable housing might be expected to be for rent, and will that include social housing? Secondly, to what extent will environmental concerns about housing design—particularly around energy efficiency—be incorporated into the scheme? Thirdly, will there be provision for extra care housing for the elderly? Since there will probably be 40,000 people or more we are going to see a town here, so it might be sensible to have extra care housing as part of the development. Fourthly, what steps will the Government encourage the UDC to take to ensure that there are employment opportunities—including training—for local people from the Kent area and the district councils there?

At what point, if any, will the local community—once it is becoming more of a town—be involved with the UDC? Will there be opportunity for local residents to become members of the UDC board once they become established there? Finally, what is the position regarding the provision of health facilities? Presumably NHS England will be involved in that, although normally of course the CCG will be commissioning hospital services. At what point will NHS England and the UDC be looking at the provision of appropriate health services?

The noble Lord rightly asks a series of quite specific questions. If I may, I will take up his offer and come back to him in writing on some of them. He raised—for example—the issue of affordable housing and clean energy and there is a target of 30% in the local plans, covering all forms of tenure. It is for the UDC to look at issues such as clean energy, and the board will be recruited on the basis of a wide variety of skills including expertise in this area. He asked specific questions about the elements of affordable housing. As I said earlier, this will reflect the priorities of the local authorities which will be represented on the UDC board. Specific questions on care homes, again, are very valid concerns to raise. On the specifics of affordable housing, I will write to him, because it is important we cover these issues in the detail he asked for.

My Lords, could I put this in a wider context? Progress on Ebbsfleet is welcome but, as the Statement indicated, it has been complex and slow and at the end of the day, we are talking about 15,000 dwellings. Best estimates suggest that we need 200,000 dwellings or so a year, of all forms of tenure. Can the Minister indicate in terms of other potential garden cities, or similar large sites, what proportion of that 200,000 is likely to be provided by initiatives such as Ebbsfleet and, I hope, Bicester? What proportion of that would be affordable housing, because we really need a much more substantial effort on the total housing crisis? While progress today is welcome, it is a very, very small step indeed.

I thank the noble Lord for his welcome support. He mentioned Ebbsfleet, but Bicester has certainly put forward a bid and we are looking at other areas to come forward with bids which will reflect their local needs. As to the specific issue of housing and the need to meet the requirements that we currently have, I share his concern.

I talked earlier about unlocking 100,000 homes through the large-sites programme. This is the aggregate number of the impact the Government have made on housing delivery through providing investment, capacity funding and brokering solutions. We have talked about unlocking a further 200,000. This is what we expect to be delivered through the current shortlisted schemes, and the Government are investing a great deal in various initiatives that we have undertaken. One example I will share with your Lordships’ House is the issue of housing zones. We are in the process of announcing the list of successful housing zones, whereby we are looking at innovative solutions to actually provide the housing which is clearly needed up and down the country.