The House of Commons Library has issued a new note on garden cities, towns and villages, setting their history in the context of current planning challenges that are especially prominent in southern England.
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The House of Commons Library writes:
New garden cities, towns and villages have been proposed as one way to meet the housing shortfall. A new garden city is under development at Ebbsfleet and the Government has offered support for a number of further garden town and village sites across the country. A number of studies propose different models for delivering garden cities. A House of commons library note sets out further information about the differing views on garden settlements and government support and policies in relation to them.
The original garden city concept
Ebenezer Howard’s 1898 vision advocated the principles of a garden city model. It would take the best elements of the city and merge them with the best elements of the countryside. This was broadly followed by the first garden cities in Letchworth and Welwyn. Separately, the New Towns Act 1946 established an ambitious programme for building new towns to aid post World War II recovery.
The current housing situation
It is generally accepted that not enough new homes are being built to meet growing need. Housing projections up to 2039 were published in July 2016, which indicated that around 210,000 new homes would be required each year. This exceeds the number of homes added to the dwelling stock in recent years by a considerable margin – in the 12 months ending December 2016, 140,660 houses were completed, which is 1 per cent lower than the year to December 2015.
Delivery of garden settlements
The idea of creating new garden cities remains an attractive option to meet this shortfall. For example, the Lyons Commission October 2014 report, Mobilising across the nation to build the homes our children need, commissioned by the Labour Party, called garden cities ‘essential to meeting housing need over the medium to long-term’.
There is disagreement over the delivery of new towns or garden cities and whether it should be done on the basis of public sector support or private investment. In their April 2015 report, Making New Garden Cities Happen, the Wolfson Economics Prize finalists set out the ‘fundamental principles’ and priorities of garden cities for the next Government. The report proposes that ‘smarter sharing of the land value’ between developers, investors and public authorities can deliver a wider range of benefits for local people.
Government support for garden settlements
The former Conservative Government announced in January 2017 a commitment to the support for 14 new garden villages across England. The Housing White Paper, published in February 2017, set out the Government’s support for ‘a new wave of garden towns and villages’. It planned to introduce legislation to allow for locally accountable New Town Development Corporations, which will enable local areas to use them as the delivery vehicle.
Garden Cities were not mentioned specifically in the 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto. It did however commit to ‘fix the dysfunctional housing market’ and deliver a million and a half more homes by the end of 2022. It also committed to deliver the reforms in the Housing White Paper to ‘free up more land for new homes in the right places’ and ‘give councils powers to intervene where developers do not act on their planning permissions’.
The Queen’s Speech set out proposals to ‘help ensure more homes are built’. It committed the Government to deliver the proposed reforms set out in the February 2017 Housing White Paper to increase transparency around the control of land in order to free up land for new homes in ‘the right places’.
Ebbsfleet: an example
An example of a garden city in progress is Ebbsfleet. In Budget 2014 the Coalition Government announced that it would support a new Garden City at Ebbsfleet in Kent, for up to 15,000 new homes based on existing brownfield land. It set out the plans for the future development of Ebbsfleet Garden City and invited views in a consultation on the project. In its response to the consultation the Government welcomed the overall support for the Corporation and set out its powers, which included the power to purchase land on a compulsory basis ‘for the purposes of its objectives and functions’.