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​Garden Cities: a panacea for the housing crisis?

​Garden Cities: a panacea for the housing crisis?

17 April 2014 Written by By David Waterhouse Associate Director, Strategic Development

As someone who grew up in a Garden City, it’s been with particular interest that I’ve watched the idea rapidly grow in political currency over the last few weeks ahead of the publication of the government’s long-awaited Garden City prospectus.

It’s been four years in the making, but sadly the document does not actually tell us how these new settlements could be delivered, what their design principles are, or how we translate the beauty of the original garden cities in a modern day context.

We need to look afresh at how we plan for and deliver large scale housing that is genuinely locally-led

Having been involved in a number of government and industry-led new settlement and growth programmes, including the Eco Town programme, the concept of locally-led Garden Cities feels like too little, too late.

We need to look afresh at how we plan for and deliver large scale housing that is genuinely locally-led. This starts with investing in the skills of professionals across the built environment disciplines, empowering planners and civic leaders to start taking difficult decisions.

Crucially, we need to give local authorities the resources, skills and freedom to plan large-scale housing that is relevant to their local community.

Britain has a long history of planned town making, dating back to the philanthropic endeavours of the great industrialists Titus Salt and Joseph Rowntree, through to the Town Development Act and the post war era of new towns.

Locally-led Garden Cities and new settlements, as described in the prospectus issued by DCLG are not new. There are many examples that have come through the planning system over the last 20 plus years, from South Woodham Ferrers in Essex, to more recently Cranbrook in East Devon and Dickens Heath in Solihull. Garden Cities can only be part of the solution to building the homes that this country so desperately needs.

The numbers are clear and well argued. The general consensus is that 240,000 plus units per annum does not take account of the backlog of need and only just keeps up with current demand.

A balanced approach is required, an approach that looks at inner city brownfield land, suburban redevelopment and intensification, as well as urban extensions and free standing new settlements. 

Good design, and high quality sustainable environments can be achieved in all cases provided that common principles are built in from the early design stage, these include:

  • The right mix and type of tenure 
  • Building high quality communal facilities
  • Well-designed multi-functional green space
  • Creating attractive, walkable neighbourhoods that encourage physical activity
  • Using existing physical assets to act as an anchor and focus of new development

Critical to the success of any large scale new development, be it an urban extension, a new settlement or a Garden City -  is having the right support and checks in place throughout development.

In 2010 CABE published Getting the big picture right setting out the common principles and approaches to ensure that large scale development is well designed in a thorough and comprehensive way. These principles hold true whether development takes place in a dense urban context, a suburb, or a new settlement.

Beautifully imagined, well-designed homes should be delivered everywhere.

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