Development is now decades in the making
ONE of the most historic announcements about Ashford's development was quietly made last week, when it was revealed that the first 100 houses would be built on the Cheeseman's Green Development to the east of the town.
This comes after a grant from the Government's "Get Britain Building" Fund was released to the developers Crest Nicholson.
These will be the first three and four bedroom houses in a community which will end up with 1,000 homes, a primary school and the usual leisure and community facilities.
The fact that Ashford has received this Government money at the current time is a vote of confidence in these tough economic times, when the demand from all communities for the reduced amount of central Government funding is inevitably very high.
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But it is the long and difficult history of Cheeseman's Green which makes this worth noting. This was the development plan that practically bankrupted the Church of England.
The Church Commissioners bought the land at the absolute height of the 80s property boom hoping for a profitable payback.
This proved to be a disastrous miscalculation. The recession of the early 90s hit before a house was built, developers stayed away as property values crashed, and the Church was left with serious losses which hit its ability to pay its basic needs, including the pensions of retired clergy.
I have been told by a number of clergy around the country that they have negative thoughts about Ashford, even though they have never visited us. I feel like apologising, even though it really was nothing to do with me!
Anyway I hope that all of this negative history can now be put behind us. Even when it looked unlikely that the development would ever happen, the Church Commissioners were adamant that it should not be a bog-standard set of standard houses, but should reflect well both on the Church and the wider community.
What is really important is that the original idealism of Cheeseman's Green survives, even though the first house is several decades behind schedule.
I want to see a proper mixed community emerge, with well-built homes meeting the highest environmental standards, and the provision of the necessary public services as early as possible in the development.
This will be very important for Ashford's future for the next 20 years.