Are Garden Towns this seasons new trend?

11 January 2018

Garden Towns, New Towns, Garden Cities, Eco Villages…the name variations go on and on but the principles of creating self-sustainable settlements remain consistent with those first established by Ebenezer Howard back in the early 1900’s.

Whilst their popularity has fluctuated since the originals of Welwyn and Letchworth, it would appear the prospects for Garden Towns are looking healthier.

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget announcement in November 2017, stated that the Government will back five new Garden Towns, with support from increased funding from the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency. Following this announcement came the publication of draft regulations designed to allow the creation of a new generation of locally accountable development corporations.

The announcement came in conjunction to a revised commitment to support the 220,000 new homes which currently form part of Labour’s legacy to Garden Towns, 14 of which are Garden Villages (less than 10,000 homes) and 10 for larger Garden Towns. However, it is worth noting that only 4 of these are actually in a stage which is nearing construction.

The Budget documents make clear Hammond wants the five towns to address "areas of high demand such as the South East”and that they will likely be delivered by development corporations. Legislation enabling new locally-accountable versions of these previously centrally-controlled vehicles was included in this year’s Neighbourhood Planning Act. Draft regulations published last week set out how these locally accountable ‘New Town Development Corporations’ (NTDCs) will work, while also giving a nod to calls from the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) for a more comprehensive review of NTDC powers. The draft regulations require councils to plan "for the long-term stewardship of the assets of the new town for the benefit of the community."

Despite the Government’s confident stance, the proposals have been met with some criticism. Katy Lock, Garden Cities Policy Manager at the TCPA said the campaign group was concerned the Government had failed to effectively reform compulsory purchase, and that proposed regulations don’t go far enough to ensure long term stewardship of new town assets and address climate change. She said:

"This all gets us one step closer, but we’re still a long way from the strategic, comprehensive programme of Garden Towns we need."

Furthermore, the £100m borrowing limit for development corporations is unlikely to allow for developments of above 10,000 homes to come forward and as such there is some criticism over the critical mass required to make these gardens towns truly sustainable.

All in all, it would appear the Government announcement has affirmed a revised commitment to Garden Towns. However, given the pace at which they have progressed in the past, it will be interesting to monitor how successful they can be this time around.