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‘Garden’ villages and towns to help grow country’s housing stock

Housing Estate Print publication

05/10/2017

Three new ‘garden’ towns and fourteen villages are to be built as part of the Government’s ongoing attempts to alleviate the housing crisis. Almost 50,000 new homes will be created in the villages, alongside approximately 150,000 new dwellings in the towns. In addition, the Government has now launched its consultation on ways to provide “the right homes in the right places”, following-up on the Housing White Paper of February 2017.  Richard Sagar of Walker Morris’ Planning & Environment team considers what may lie ahead.

What is involved?

Three new ‘garden’ towns and fourteen villages are to be built as part of the Government’s ongoing attempts to alleviate the housing crisis. Almost 50,000 new homes will be created in the villages, alongside approximately 150,000 new dwellings in the towns.

Funding is to be provided to support delivery, comprising £6 million for the villages and £1.4 million for the towns over the next two years. Local communities will bid for a share, with the Government’s press release explaining this money “will be used to unlock the full capacity of sites, providing funding for additional resources and expertise to accelerate development and avoid delays”.  In addition, new garden projects may access other infrastructure funding – such as the recent £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund.  This, at least, makes the towns and villages appear more commercially and economically feasible than previous comparable schemes.

Large-scale garden developments are not entirely novel, having a history dating back to the 1890s and attempts to provide alternatives to industrial slums. However, the new villages are arguably the first of their kind.  These are smaller in scale, with 1,500-10,000 homes each and built outside existing settlements.  Aiming to reduce concerns about urban sprawl and big schemes subsuming existing towns, they will turn small hamlets into larger communities.  The villages are to be spread across the country, with locations including Spitalgate Heath (Lincolnshire) and Long Marston (Stratford-on-Avon).  The three towns – to be alongside Aylesbury, Taunton and Harlow & Gilston – will be larger and comprise more than 10,000 houses each.  Both development-types are to have green spaces, strong transport links, a sense of community and good-quality affordable homes at their heart.

 What does this mean in practice?

The Government’s initial announcement regarding these new towns and villages came early in 2017. However, it seems most schemes are still only in their formative stages and no developments have yet been begun.  Whether this is due to logistical and administrative delays, concerns regarding adequate infrastructure, viability problems or widespread objections to the schemes is unclear.  Certainly, a number of similar schemes were previously halted due to concerns about loss of valuable green-belt land.  For instance, in 2016, the Ebbsfleet Garden City project was stalled following local opposition.  Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, has stated: “Locally-led garden towns and villages have enormous potential to deliver the homes that communities need. New communities not only deliver homes, they also bring new jobs and facilities”.  Yet when some schemes will create new and distinct settlements in their own right, rather than simply extending existing urban areas, it seems inevitable that green space will be lost.  The relevant areas will also need policy protection from other speculative planning applications in the future, to avoid small hamlets becoming overwhelmed.  Such developments will probably encounter strong local resistance and difficulties in overcoming planning hurdles.

On the other hand, the schemes offer welcome opportunities for landowners, residential developers and the construction industry – sectors that have experienced some ‘slow-down’ in the aftermath of Brexit. Once created, new communities also have the potential to boost employment opportunities and economic activity.

If interest in garden schemes is high, the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) is expected to make another call for expressions of interest from places with similar proposals later this year or early in 2018.

Housing certainly remains a Government priority. Following publication of the Housing White Paper in February 2017, DCLG has now launched its follow-up consultation seeking views on specific issues and changes to national planning policy.  In his introduction to the consultation, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid, states this is all with the intention of “creating a system that is clear and transparent so that every community and local area understands the scale of the housing challenge they face” and “giv[ing] local communities greater control so they can make informed decisions about exactly where much-needed new homes should be built…[and] help to tackle the lack of affordability of housing in this country”.

Commentators agree there is no ‘silver bullet’ to tackle the long-term under-supply and shortage of housing. Whether this ‘garden’ vision can be delivered in practice and help the situation, alongside changes proposed under the Government’s new consultation, will remain to be seen.

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