I was fortunate enough to get a meeting with Mark Quinn of Quinn Estates and what follows is the discussion that took place. I should make it clear that I am not a fan of this scheme and that I do not necessarily agree with everything that was said, but in fairness you can make up your own mind.
So how did this come about?
"We looked at the costs and also the need for it, because there is no point in going for a scheme this big, with this big a piece of infrastructure if you didn’t need it. So, the starting point for us was, is there a logic to this, is there something you can hang this off."
"We were approached by Trinity IM, who were the purchasers of the nine science parks, we got to know them and then we met the other land owner’s GH Dean (owned by the Doubleday family) and Attwood."
"The idea behind it was to create three villages around Sittingbourne, a necklace of villages around Sittingbourne. You would have a dual carriageway which would come off a new motorway junction that would basically take the traffic out of Sittingbourne town centre, it would also take 80,000 lorry movements from Fowler and Welch."
"That motorway junction would also create connectivity for Kent Science Park which since Trinity IM have taken over has grown employment numbers by 20% and it is growing now off of a single-track road."
"So, it had all the key ingredients that we needed, it has a need."
So how would you define the need?
"The need is, we have spent £600,000 on highways evidence and transport assessments, we have probably spent more money than anyone else in the area, including KCC and Swale Borough Council."
So, has the transport assessment concluded that there is a need for this?
The general concept of Garden Villages is the acquisition of land below commercial rates for land that has not been allocated in the local plan, so that was clever of Kent Science Park and the land owners to duck out of the last local plan, because otherwise you would never have got this through as a garden village.
"For us it isn’t about whether it is a garden village, you can use the principles of it, without actually doing a garden village. We don’t know what form this will take, we see ourselves as a master developer, and then probably a community land trust running all the land. And that will be run by the residents and the council."
"We never went forward with this as a garden village, what we’ve said is this, we set the minimum land value at a level that means that we can provide £400 million of infrastructure."
"So, what they are giving away is vast tracks of land and £400 million pounds off their land value, that means that this would be the first privately funded motorway junction in the history of Great Britain"
"We have had several positive conversations with Highways England."
"This has basically been on the drawing board for years. What I’ve learnt over the last four years is, what the need is for this, and that will come out to you when we put our evidence out there. So, for us what we are saying is we have got some good landowners who have basically accepted they are going to have to do something extraordinary in order to get the community to accept the scheme and to get the politicians to accept the scheme."
"And that is the whole community not just the people who want to talk, getting a hundred people to turn up to something isn’t the whole community."
Over 3,000 people signed a petition against a previous version of this scheme and took it to 10 Downing Street, so it’s not just a 100 people pitching up in a village hall.
"But 3,000 out of 70,000 people who live in an area isn’t actually significant, it’s about what happens in the borough, it’s not just about what happens in people backyards."
"The backyards that this happens in is owned by these landowners, its not owned by anyone else."
"Over 30% of this will be given over to the community land trust, so you will have 500-600 acres of land will be gifted over in to that, and that is green infrastructure which will provide parklands, sports facilities etc."
"The road will go in at the beginning, so before any of the houses are occupied, this goes in. The reason why we do this, is because one the land isn’t worth anything unless you have a road to it."
"We could have built here (around the A2 near Bapchild) first, but there is already an air quality issue."
It is interesting you say that the road is going to be a dual carriageway, because all the previous proposals have been for a single carriageway.
"Doesn’t work, it’s about road capacity. How can it work if you have got the biggest industrial estate Kent basically coming out of the back of it. It will probably be a 40 mile an hour road, but it will be dualled, you need that capacity."
"After the road and the motorway junction have been built, we will take a loan out which enables us to pay it back over a number of years, the loan comes from Homes England secured against the land."
"The other things we will do is put aside for 4 primary schools and 1 secondary school."
But it is up to KCC to delivery those, and KCC have proven unreliable in that respect.
"We have an agreement from KCC to build the schools ourselves, the quality of the school we build will determine how successful the housing is and that is affordable and private housing. If you have got a school that either isn’t built or is basically overcrowded because you have got too many houses coming on stream, then that means that we won’t be able to sell the houses. So, for us we want to be in control of it, so basically, we can make sure that the level of education here makes it an attractive place to live."
"We have also spoken with Kent University about whether we include a new campus within development. However, if we don’t do that, we might put some money in for a college in the centre of the development. Sittingbourne needs a FE college without a shadow of a doubt. We would offer land and we would offer to put money in, but we may end up just putting money in. But again, an FE college is an important for this to make it an attractive place to live."
"There are also 80 acres of commercial space which we are really excited about and will provide a massive opportunity"
"We are looking at new sports facilities, a new football facility FA compliant community sports facility for Sittingbourne football club, we are also taking to a number of other sports clubs at the moment."
"Massive parkland settings which would be owned by the community trust."
"There is a lot of self-seeded stuff within the quarries, we would curate that to make it much more ecologically advantageous for the area and that is 94 acres. We would look at walking facilities, trail facilities within it, so people can actually get in and use it"
"We are talking to the clinical commissioning group, again trying to find ways of actually proving what they want, where they want, rather than space that changes to something else."
"For us we are looking at this as if we wanted to live here and all we are trying to do is put a bit of common sense back into it. We want to do something decent here."
"On the affordable we are going to do a ratchet, we’ll do a viability, it is producing £400,000 million, we think at the moment it is going to deliver 10-12 percent, it depends what happens in terms of cost and it depends of what happens with house prices. It will deliver of 1,000 affordable homes, it might end up delivering 2,000, it might end up delivering 3,000 it will depend on what happens."
"If we get to build this during a recession, they will be cheaper to build which means we can get more affordable housing."
So how does that sit with the local plan, because short of you classifying this as an urban extension you would have to deliver 40%?
"No, what happens is one that is a review. Just so you know I think the average amount that Swale has delivered is 7%."
I have stats from Swale Borough Council that claim that they have delivered more than 30%.
"No, I don’t believe that. Common sense will dictate that in London they can only deliver 35% and everyone is moaning about it, how can they deliver 40% in a place that is worth a third of the value."
"We won’t just stick at 10%, if it goes up it goes up and I think there is no issue for us with that at all."
"Sittingbourne has the highest house prices increases in October in the entire country, 15.5% which is double the average for Kent."