Re-imagining garden cities for the 21st century
08 July 2011
A new report launched by the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) sets out why now is the time for Britain to rediscover its planning heritage. The TCPA chief executive Kate Henderson writes exclusively on the issue
Having begun as the Garden City Association and as the world's oldest charity concerned with planning, housing and the environment it should come as no surprise that we are keen to re-make the case for new communities. It is all too easy to forget the fantastic places we have delivered in our past when we have seen so much that has failed. However, in order to move on from the stigma associated with new developments we must recapture the pioneering spirit of the garden cities and the important connection between building high-quality homes and creating new jobs.
The UK has an unprecedented record in building garden cities and new towns. Although it is now over 40 years since the last of our new towns was designated, they continue to provide much to learn from. As Emma Cariaga, development director at Land Securities, noted at the launch, when looking to appeal to local people about future possibilities, we should tap into peoples' sense of nostalgia about places they like and where better example than the garden cities.
The radical nature of the Garden City Movement ideals remain of critical relevance to the 21st century, providing a foundation for high quality, attractive and inclusive places, creating new jobs and truly sustainable lifestyles.
Today's housing challenge is compounded by a financial crisis and an ageing population, as well as new global pressures from climate change and economic restructuring. Although the current economic conditions make large-scale investment opportunities look bleak, where council leaders and local people have identified the need for more housing, new communities could be a positive part of the solution.
To begin with, the government wants more housing delivered and has introduced a new incentive scheme, the new homes bonus, which in some areas may be able to encourage and support growth. At a time when finance is scarce, the bonus, coupled with a desire to spread the benefits and risks of development in public-private partnerships, could prove attractive to some local authorities. Responding to this report, Jake Berry MP, PPS to the housing minister, re-stated the government's commitment to delivering housing through the release of surplus public land and urged the sector to think of creative funding models that got the community support and governance right.
There is also a renewed interest from both the public and private sector in delivering new, well designed and sustainable communities, rather than a piecemeal approach. Planning a new community from scratch offers a unique chance to deliver much needed housing in a holistic and comprehensive way, potentially delivering more housing with less environmental impact, particularly in relation to carbon emissions.
New communities offer a powerful opportunity to re-connect people and planning and realise the government's ambitions for greater community empowerment. The garden cities were fired by a sense of idealism and enthusiasm, with numerous voluntary organisations echoing the government's vision for the 'Big Society'. Today, we can go further, placing local people at the heart of the process from the outset in order to shape our new communities and put in place longer term community governance models. This doesn't mean being prescriptive though. Cllr Barry Wood, leader of Cherwell District Council, explained at the launch how rather than imposing a governance structure on a community, they are using a step-by-step approach to evolve one that suits the emerging Bicester development.
Finally, it cannot be underestimated the economic growth and job creation that new communities can generate.
A new generation of locally led, comprehensively planned communities is overdue. In the new era of localism and non-prescriptive guidance it is down to the sector to act and find ways to drive this change. This is why the TCPA, following this report, will be bringing together developers, investors, designers, local authorities and community groups, to re-imagine the garden city principles for the 21st century.
We need a radical culture change which enables communities, local authorities, developers and central government to work together to build villages, towns and cities for the future. We must forge a new relationship between people and planning and find ways to combine the best of what we have achieved in the past with answers to the modern challenge of creating sustainable, democratic communities which truly place local people at centre stage.Kate Henderson is chief executive of the planning think-tank, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA). For a copy of the report, supported by Land Securities, click here