The basic aim is to deliver up to 250,000 new homes between 2015 and 2020.
Unlocking large-scale housing development is critical to the supply of new homes in the medium to long term. Garden cities offer the opportunity to take a strategic development decision about how housing needs should be met now and in the future.
However, they are tremendously hard to make work, because they need complex land assembly, key infrastructure funding, cross-boundary co-ordination of local authorities and statutory bodies, an element of compulsory acquisition and, most importantly, a clear and long-term policy commitment.
The answer is to set up a new round of urban development corporations (UDCs) to focus on taking forward regeneration and development of particular areas over a span of seven to ten years, without their focus being diverted by the range of day-to-day local authority activities and the electoral cycle. This would show commitment to investors and overcome planning obstacles.
Development agreements would not work, as there would be no certainty for developers beyond the local government election cycle. The model of UDCs with proactive powers seems much more practical. UDCs typically take over planning powers from local authorities and have compulsory purchase powers. They bring all the various players under one roof, enabling a holistic approach, and they can be set up quickly.
This month's consultation on the proposed creation of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation is to be welcomed. It is positive that an 11-member board, including three representatives from local authorities is to be established, that it will hold its planning committee and board meetings in public, and that it will be subject to the same transparency requirements that apply to all Department for Communities and Local Government arms-length bodies.
As a public body, the corporation will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations. Refusal or non-determination of planning applications within the timescale allowed means that applicants may appeal in the same way as they would for proposals processed through local authority systems.
Little sleep should be lost over the involvement of an unelected body. UDCs can spearhead growth because they have focus, expertise and the powers to make a major difference. They can drive and promote their area, coordinate investment from government and solve the issues that have held back development. They can move swiftly past the planning phase into the building phase.
Martha Grekos is a principal associate at solicitors Eversheds