High-speed rail and thousands of affordable family homes in the towns of Gravesend, Dartford and Ebbsfleet are set to transform the 40-mile industrial landscape running from Docklands to the North Sea into thriving communities…
Communities have built their homes along the eastern banks of the Thames since Julius Caesar’s men arrived there 2,000 years ago. Today, plans for the thousands of acres of old industrial land along this part of the Thames involve London’s big developers and include bringing a huge number of new homes to the towns of Gravesend, Dartford and Ebbsfleet.
Many previous attempts have been made to kick-start this mammoth regeneration programme. In the Eighties, Tory environment secretary Michael Heseltine came up with the name Thames Gateway — a 40-mile industrial corridor running from Docklands to the North Sea — aiming to transform the largest swathe of brownfield land bordering any capital city in Europe into a new, thriving region.
In the Nineties Labour planned 120,000 homes and new “growth zones”, or mini Canary Wharfs. The latest idea is the Government’s garden city plan, centred around Ebbsfleet’s chalk quarries and now blessed with a station on the high-speed rail line between St Pancras, 17 minutes away, and the Channel Tunnel.
Transforming a landscape characterised by redundant power stations, quarries, rail depots, refineries, mudflats and flood plains is a daunting task. Yet the future looks more promising now than at any time in the last 35 years.
GRAVESEND: GETTING A FACELIFT
Historically, property prices in north Kent have been held back by poor transport. Values are still relatively low but train and road links have greatly improved. Neglected Gravesend, in Victorian times an elegant leisure destination to rival Brighton and served by paddle steamers from Tower Bridge, is getting a facelift.
The town’s cast-iron pier, the world’s oldest, has been refurbished and new apartments are springing up along the waterfront.
DARTFORD: NEW NEIGHBOURHOOD
Regeneration is also focusing on Dartford. Beside the River Darent, on the Mill Ponds site where the Phoenix Paper Mill was built in 1852, a new 400-home neighbourhood is being created. Bob Weston, chairman of developer Weston Homes, says: “It will be a garden village rather than a garden city — a place for families, singles and couples.”
Welcome Factory site in Dartford: there will be 400 homes, one and two bedroom apartments and three bedroom houses. Prices from £150,000. Visit: www.weston-homes.com.
Occupying a dramatic position by Dartford river crossing is The Bridge, a Taylor Wimpey scheme with input from celebrity designer Wayne Hemingway. Part of a modern-looking business park, the scheme will have 1,134 homes and 80 acres of communal green space.
Dutch “home zone” principles have been applied, with clusters of properties around courtyards and pocket parks, encouraging shared use of outside space and minimising the impact of cars. Houses cost from £154,000.
EBBSFLEET: THE GARDEN CITY
At Ebbsfleet, Land Securities is transforming an area equivalent in size to the patch between Hoxton and Oxford Circus — 1,035 acres of land and 17 millionsq ft of floorspace.
Springhead Park is trumpeted as the UK’s first “fibre-optic” residential community, with super-fast digital technology offering instant plug- and-play facilities, from video downloading to home office networking. A giant business and retail district is also being built.
Ward Homes is building 150 houses at Castle Hill, within the zone earmarked for the 15,000-home Ebbsfleet Garden City. Ebbsfleet Green is another imminent scheme, with up to 950 homes, a primary school, park, allotments and community facilities built by Redrow.
The region’s industrial legacy invites bold, contemporary architecture, and the proposed garden city is expected to set new architectural standards. A new development corporation is consulting local groups on how the area should be built.
Ingress Park, at Greenhithe, occupies one of the best positions on this stretch of the Thames. Empire Paper Mill once stood here and a listed Victorian mansion with an amphitheatre forms the centrepiece of the 72-acre site, which slopes down to the Thames and includes listed ancient follies that are part of a heritage trail.
The Pier, the latest phase, marks an architectural step change: modern, Docklands-style apartment blocks with angular elevations.