The first shoots of new development are emerging from the brownfields of North Kent. Building’s technical editor wonders if he’d ever be tempted to leave Greenwich for Ebbsfleet

It’s hotting up down in the Thames Gateway. Journalists were recently treated to a trip around a completed Ebbsfleet Station in North Kent, and now we have the news that Countryside Properties and Land Securities have won planning permission for the first phase of development in Ebbsfleet Valley.

Does this herald a brave new world of a stress-free 17-minute commute into London during the week and quiet residence in a quasi-rural paradise at the weekends? Well maybe if you are prepared to wait 20 years.

The commuting bit looks promising as the station is looking complete. But the snag is the platforms aren’t finished which doesn’t really matter as the first Eurostar trains won’t stop here until November next year. Even then London city folk will be disappointed to learn they will have to squeeze onto one of twelve daily Eurostar trains as a dedicated high-speed commuter service doesn’t come into operation until 2009.

Instead Ebbsfleet is going to be a place to commute to rather than from. Parking for 9,000 cars has been provided because Eurostar see Ebbsfleet as a catchment area for 10 million people. The hope is people will drive around the M25 to Ebbsfleet rather than Stanstead, Heathrow or Gatwick. I have to confess it occurred to me that it will be much easier to drive to Ebbsfleet from my home in South East London rather than struggling with luggage and the kids on the tube all the way up to St Pancras International.

What about those houses? Well it’s a start, but there is a very long way to go. I visited Land Securities Observatory, which isn’t for gazing at the heavens but for peering out over the Thames Gateway. Indeed you can see everything traditionally associated with the area: power stations spewing forth; docks; pylons strutting off into the distance; the QE2 Bridge; Bluewater and plenty of post-war down-at-heel housing.

But the main event is right in front of me in the Eastern Quarry, a huge earthworks package is in progress preparing the ground for 6,250 homes. Over to the East is Ebbsfleet Valley where work can now start on those 388 homes, which have just won planning permission. Still if you are thinking about a new life in Ebbsfleet take comfort from Canary Wharf, which went from grot to boom city in 15 years. And if things don’t work out, Paris is only 2hrs 5 minutes away.