Monday, 24 March 2014

On locally-led Garden Cities

If a Garden City or two is to form part of the solution to the country's housing crisis then it would appear that a future Government of the current hue (and given Labour's embrace in opposition of 'localism', any hue) will not be yielding any influence on bringing them to bare.

The Telegraph reported in January that 'a secret Whitehall report recommending that two new cities are built in southern England to combat the housing shortage is being suppressed by David Cameron', but a FOI response issued by DCLG states that it 'holds no such report' (another Government department might though of course...).

Attention is instead directed to an answer by Housing Minister Kris Hopkins to a Parliamentary Question, which outlines 'the work of the department on supporting locally-led development'. Specifically, the answer states that 'my department has absolutely no plans to impose new towns on any part of the country'.

This language is consistent with that used most recently by the Chancellor in the budget, which said that 'the Government will publish a prospectus by Easter 2014, setting out how local authorities could develop their own, locally-led proposals for bringing forward new garden cities.'

Local government is, of course, home to vision, leadership and community engagement, but is it home to the strength of vision, leadership and community engagement required to deliver a garden city? Even if it is, is local government alone capable of capturing land value and putting community ownership at the heart of long-term stewardship?

Paragraph 52 of the NPPF already states that 'the supply of new homes can sometimes be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or extensions to existing villages and towns that follow the principles of Garden Cities.' Two years on and, Ebbsfleet aside (which, as GVA's Head of Planning Gerry Hughes notes here, is a a 'low-hanging-fruit opportunity'), it is fair to say that the embedding of support for Garden Cities in national guidance has not ignited interest.

The difference between 'large-scale new development' and Garden Cities include the core values above that the Government has to have a hand in nurturing. We shall obviously have to wait and see wait the prospectus itself says, but if it only goes as far as to say that 'Garden Cities are a good idea and local authorities should work with communities to explore their creation' then the next Garden City or two is probably still another generation away.

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