Roberta Blackman-Woods: Progress has been abysmal on garden cities. Here’s what Labour would do differently

Posted On: 
10th December 2018

In contrast to the government’s poor progress, Labour will ensure garden cities are built in line with their visionary principles, writes Roberta Blackman-Woods

The Government has taken time to get to grips with what creating a garden city or village actually means, writes Roberta Blackman-Woods
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The government’s prospectus on garden cities is welcome if a tad late. It has been years since the government announced its intention via the Ebbsfleet proposal to support a new generation of garden cities, but progress has been abysmal. This is despite the Lyons Commission report (2014) ‘Mobilising across the nation to build the homes our children need’ commissioned by the Labour Party showing that garden cities are essential to meeting housing need over the medium to long term. Almost five years ago it set out clear mechanisms for the planning and delivery of garden cities including dealing with locations that cross local authority boundaries and yet few new garden cities have begun in recent years never mind be completed.

Not until January 2017 did the government announce a commitment to 14 new garden villages across England and the Housing White Paper in 2017 set out the governments support for ‘new wave of garden towns and villages’ but there was nothing in the Conservative manifesto in 2017 and only in 2018 has a prospectus emerged.

It seems to have taken time too for the government to get to grips with what creating a garden city or village actually means. Key planning stakeholders – such as the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) – have long argued, and Labour supports their view, that garden cities must be built on garden city principles. Garden cities cannot simply be large scale housing developments of questionable quality that are plonked anywhere with little infrastructure or access to transport and jobs.

The prospectus issued by the government in August 2018 at last acknowledges that garden cities mean a particular type of development that concentrates on place shaping and producing high quality of life developments. We owe much to Ebenezer Howard for setting out the principles that should underpin garden cities and to TCPA for being determined to uphold their value and to update the principles for the modern day. I would also add that if it was possible to build communities of high quality 100 years ago it should definitely be possible today.

In short, the principles require that places should be planned in a way that ensures people have a direct say in planning their future. Community ownership and long-term stewardship of assets need to be built in to the design of garden cities from the outset.

Services should be fully accessible and local with positive health outcomes central to the design of the city or village itself. The quality of design needs to be excellent and contain exemplars of best practice that will stand the test of time across housing and the general built environment too.

Garden cities should have open spaces where adults and children can breathe and take part in a range of sports, leisure, arts and cultural opportunities.

In the current day they need to address climate change, promote and give access to renewable energy and pursue sustainability as much as possible. People should also have opportunities to grow their own food. The natural environment should be protected and enhanced alongside safe walking and cycling routes and good, reliable public transport.

A major emphasis needs to be placed on the creation of job opportunities so that securing future prosperity is an important asset of garden cities too.

The government’s prospectus does nod at these principles and does mention the need for good quality deign, transport links, infrastructure, sustainable scale, local vision and engagement, healthy green spaces and future proofing but it falls far short of outlining how these place shaping mechanisms will be funded or delivered. The government will need to either produce new guidance to the New Towns Act or bring forward primary legislation so that garden cities can only proceed when their distinguishing characteristics and features are in place or there is clarity about how they will materialise. It is also worth asking how it is possible for them to proceed without further support to local authorities so that communities can genuinely participate in the process, suitable locations can be found and prepared and the number, type and tenure of home that are needed determined alongside the necessary supporting infrastructure that will enable the community to thrive. Local authorities are also key to setting up delivery mechanisms for the new garden cities and /or villages.

This also means enabling local authorities to demand high quality neighbourhoods that are inclusive and resilient and where people, really want to live, work and play. It remains it be seen whether this will be the case especially as the revised NPPF is so lacking in detail about how garden cities will be achieved.

In contrast, Labour plans to build on the work of the Lyons Commission and would forge a partnership with local authorities to identify sites that are suitable for the setting up of new development vehicles that would be charged with developing garden cities in their totality and in line with their visionary and inclusive principles. We are also developing new planning polices through the work of our Planning Commission launched in September 2018 to put communities at the heart of our planning system – a central plank of the garden city movement.