This half-day conference showcased the large number of developments in the pipeline that will transform this part of the county in the coming years.
Two historic towns in the heart of Kent, Ashford and Maidstone have long been centres of trade and community. But with the rapid economic and population growth of south-east England, and the rise of young professionals unable to afford life in the capital, these hyper-connected towns face a moment of exciting opportunity and development, not just as commuter hubs but as thriving places in their own right.
Design South East brought together a range of key public and private sector representatives, as well as design professionals, to discuss the myriad plans and projects both towns are undertaking, as well as the potential impact of these on the local and wider regional economies and communities. As both places transform, how can key stakeholders come together to integrate the new infrastructure, connections and growth whilst supporting identity, place quality, history and existing residents?
Summing up the discussions Chris Lamb identified some key takeaways:
The role of local authorities is changing and becoming more critical. Councils are delivering placemaking projects, because they realise the importance of delivering quality. Local authorities are taking risks and showing leadership, including in terms of investment.
There is value in context-led schemes. You have to get under the skin of places to meaningfully respond to them: understand a place’s history, context, and its people, present and future.
Connections are important: how we move is changing rapidly. There is an increasing focus on pedestrian links and healthy towns as the desire for sustainable transport grows. We need to connect places within towns as well as between towns. Stronger, better, faster, more consistent connections to HS1 will also be important.
The new demographic of millennials is changing expectations around place. The notion of a cultural experience is becoming a more important part of developments. We need to attract people through experiences not just homes.
Landscape is important, and one of Kent’s greatest assets. Successful projects need to enhance connections to that landscape.
Chris Lamb concluded that ‘There’s a really exciting story in Mid-Kent to be told’. Now let’s see where that story takes us.
The conference report can be found here.