One of the announcements in tomorrow's Budget that George Osborne has been very keen to trail is his support for a garden city at Ebbsfleet. It's not a new location, and the project has got many eagle economic eyes fixed on it; I wrote about the ambitions that Labour's Lord Adonis holds for the area back in February.
But one crucial difference between the Adonis plan and the Osborne plan is that the Chancellor doesn't see Ebbsfleet as a way of making the case for more garden cities in the future. This New Town or garden city or whatever you fancy calling it is remarkable because it has the support of the two local MPs and the local community, who would rather see brownfield land developed into pleasant, high quality housing than the land staying undeveloped and ugly. Adonis argues that a successful New Town development on this site will help allay the fears of people who oppose large-scale developments elsewhere. The Treasury, though, thinks that this is a unique situation, and sources tell me that they do not anticipate it catalysing other garden city developments elsewhere.
This raises the question of how politicians are going to get enough homes built without antagonising local people further. Number 10 may have the answer in the form of Policy Exchange's Alex Morton, who recently joined as an adviser, and the Treasury of course has Morton's old boss Neil O'Brien as an adviser to the Chancellor. Both are interested in a planning system in which local people feel truly consulted and consent to appropriate development that they want. And their think tank has long pushed for garden cities as a solution to the housing crisis. But Policy Exchange, like its founder Nick Boles who is now the planning minister, doesn't worship the Green Belt as a sacred and pleasant land, pointing out that more of it is ugly scrub or golf clubs than most people realise. Until ministers work out a way of having a proper discussion about that, showcase developments such as Ebbsfleet still won't make that much of a difference to the overall planning debate.