Garden Villages to Bloom

Neil Brierley
Plans for a wave of garden villages creating tens of thousands of new homes in England have been given the go-ahead.

The government has confrmed the location of 14 garden villages across England. The January 2017 announcement also heralded three new garden towns, in addition to the proposals for seven already tabled.

The difference between a garden village and a garden town is simply a matter of scale. A garden village is a development of between 1,500 and 10,000 homes; a garden town is more than 10,000 homes. Taking the lower band values for all of the proposed schemes, a minimum of 121,000 new homes will be built – ambitious plans indeed.

The concept of garden villages is not new. Ebenezer Howard’s 1898 book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, outlined his vision for attractive, healthy and co-operative new communities. The government’s announcement, and the media coverage, have focused on the number of new homes, but, in line with Howard’s original plan, the homes are actually a small part of what will ultimately make a successful garden village.

A garden village is a development of between 1,500 and 10,000 homes; a garden town is more than 10,000 homes.

Since the announcement, the industry has voiced widespread challenge and comment. There has been strong suggestion that the garden villages are not correctly sited. Planning consultants Turley stated that only one proposed village is in a local authority ranked in the top ten per cent in terms of growth prospects between now and 2039.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), while broadly supporting the proposals, has expressed concerns about some of the sites. Most notably, a garden town on green belt land on the Essex Hertfordshire border would swallow the hamlets of Gilston and Eastwick. CPRE says that, unless carefully considered, some of the developments could fundamentally affect the well-established rural character of many parts of the UK.

Community engagement is critical and early dialogue is needed with local communities in all proposed locations to inform and shape the emerging plans.

Funding will inevitably be a challenge. While the government has announced a number of potential funding streams, many have a deadline for delivery by 2020 – a tall order. Government’s role must surely be to provide seed capital to pump-prime many of the developments, and to unlock private sector investment.

The model of delivery is not specified. There are many forms that this could take such as joint venture companies or, for particularly complex proposals, a statutory development corporation. However, if the developments are to be optimally coordinated and address the garden city and village design principles in full, there may be merit in the formation of a dedicated delivery vehicle for each development. Each garden village delivery team would then commit to the sharing of best practice and lessons learned, at all stages of the process. The government has pledged to legislate to update the New Towns Act 1981 to ensure that there is a fit for-purpose vehicle for the delivery of new garden villages.
The provision of good-quality civic amenities, new schools and associated employment opportunities are certainly exciting prospects. Local authority negotiation on appropriate S106 contributions should help ensure delivery of the local infrastructure needed to create vibrant and viable communities.

Provision of apprenticeships should be a key focus during the selection of construction partners...

There are also significant opportunities for the construction market. Delivery should involve not only the large-scale, volume housebuilders and main contractors, but SMEs and local businesses. This is vital for the longer-term sustainability of local economies, but it puts pressure on the labour markets in the areas concerned, at a time of construction skills shortage.

Provision of apprenticeships should be a key focus during the selection of construction partners, leaving a legacy of the next generation of local tradespeople.

The government’s commitment to garden villages is commendable, and certainly a great step towards addressing our housing shortage. The provision for a proportion of starter homes is also encouraging, given the inaccessibility of home ownership to young people. It’s now time for action and for the industry to rise to the challenge and ensure that these developments deliver real benefits to the communities in which they sit, during and after their construction.

Green Principles

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has identified the key tenets of garden city and village design, expressing them in a 21st-century context:

A garden city is a holistically planned new settlement that enhances the natural environment and offers high-quality affordable housing and locally accessible work in beautiful, healthy and sociable communities.

The garden city principles are an indivisible and interlocking framework for their delivery, and include:

  • Land value capture for the benefit of the community.
  • Strong vision, leadership and community engagement.
  • Community ownership of land and long-term stewardship of assets.
  • Mixed-tenure homes and housing types that are genuinely affordable.
  • A wide range of local jobs in the garden city within easy commuting distance of homes.
  • Beautifully and imaginatively designed homes with gardens, combining the best of town and country to create healthy communities, including opportunities to grow food.
  • Development that enhances the natural environment, providing a comprehensive green infrastructure network and net biodiversity gains and using zero-carbon and energy positive technology to ensure climate resilience.
  • Strong cultural, recreational and shopping facilities in walkable, vibrant, sociable neighbourhoods.
  • Integrated and accessible transport systems, with walking, cycling and public transport designed to be the most attractive forms of local transport.