Bexley prepares for 'largest amount of building since the 1930s' with new college, 31,000 new homes, BexleyCo and more jobs too
PUBLISHED: 10:06 13 April 2017
The council has outlined its growth strategy
An ambitious future strategy for the borough - which will see 31,000 new homes built and 17,500 jobs created - has been unveiled by council chiefs.
The council discussed the proposals for its long-term growth on Tuesday night in proposals which have received support across the political divide.
However, as good as it all sounds, the proof will be in the pudding and just when the plans are delivered. What’s more it hinges on a host of key decisions - such as the extension of the Crossrail project.
Cabinet member Linda Bailey said: “This will be the largest amount of building since the 1930s. We don’t want to frighten residents to think its all going to happen in two years, it’s all going to happen over a long period of time, but it will be well worth it.
“We’ve always been clear from the start we wanted managed growth, not developments being built piecemeal, we want to keep Bexley’s identity as much as possible and grow mixed communities.
“We can deliver many homes and jobs but only if we get the transport infrastructure needed, and I know there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to achieve this.”
Some of the housing figures derive from existing development’s such as the 1,500 homes planned for Thamesmead, the first batch of which are expected to arrive by 2024, elsewhere the council revealed plans for more than 22,000 new homes to be built in Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green.
But such developments hinge on the possible extension of Crossrail, which is set to start running from Abbey Wood station from next year.
Together with other local authorities the council is set to put forward a business plan in the summer to extend the railway, known as the Elizabeth Line, through the towns toward Gravesend.
If approved, the council expects 6,500 new jobs to be created across the three towns including a potential luxury shopping outlet creating 3,500 jobs in Belvedere.
Council officers have suggested housing blocks between four and eight storeys as the main source of residential developments, while taller tower blocks could be built around train stations.
Tuesday’s meeting showed a united front from all sides of the council, as Labour and Ukip councillors sitting at the meeting echoed support for growth, and housing opportunities for all.
But infrastructure remained a key topic, with Labour councillor Brenda Langstead warning: “My concern is with health provision in the north of the borough, it’s really struggling to cope, so I would like to see provision built in the beginning, we need either a massive medical centre or a hospital.
“It’s great that we’re going to get new homes and regeneration, it’s something that we’ve always wanted, but we must get the right health provision and we must get the education to provide for families.”
As the council aims to create more jobs in the area, the meeting also saw the approval of a new skills college, which will see The Learning Centre Bexley and Resources Plus combined to create the Learning and Enterprise College Bexley.
Explained council leader Teresa O’Neill: “This ensures our residents can have the right skills to grab those opportunities brought about by our growth strategy, and that can mean jobs, but it can also mean real opportunities for our young people going forward.”
Cllr Bailey described the decision as a ‘no-brainer’ while Labour councillor Esther Amanning echoed support.
Bexley TwoFold, which provides support for adults with learning disabilities in the borough, will also be part of the college.
Labour councillor Stefano Borella backed the college, but warned: “The only caution is to make sure we don’t lose that focus on people with learning difficulties, because with amalgamating it can sometimes be diluted.”
The college is expected to launch in September with campuses in Bexleyheath, Sidcup and Erith.
To help cover the cost of these major growth plans, the council is set to follow other local authorities’ example by creating a council-owned development company, as we reported last week.
While the project remains in its infancy, it is expected the company, known as BexleyCo, would help boost development in the borough, while also providing a source of income as the borough bids to become self-sufficient by 2020, when local authorities lose out on government funding.
Initially it would be supported by council loans and external funding, but by 2023, the council predicts the company could make £1million profit.
Cabinet member Phillip Read said: “This company can act as a driver for the earlier development of the growth strategy, simply because of council’s obvious familiarity with the borough.
“If the business is successful as intended it will have succeeded in generating greater awareness amongst the private sector of the opportunities in bexley thus encouraging further private investment.”
BexleyCo will be subject to another meeting in June, with council documents suggesting it could be up and running by 2018.
A six-week consultation on the borough’s growth strategy is expected to launch in May..