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Garden cities can inspire our new communities

Can the principles behind Welwyn Garden City inspire a new generation of ‘locally led, comprehensively planned communities’?

The UK has an unprecedented record in building garden cities and new towns which continue to provide much to learn from. Indeed, our garden cities provide some of the most desirable places to live in the UK today.

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. This is why the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) is calling for a re-discovery and re-imagination of the garden city principles to overcome the stigma of new communities from too many poor developments with inadequate infrastructure provision.

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. New communities offer a powerful opportunity to deliver much needed housing in a holistic and comprehensively planned way, rather than through piecemeal development. Not only can they deliver more housing with potentially less environmental impact, they also present a significant opportunity to embed community governance structures, create jobs, and promote low-carbon living in high-quality, sustainable and inclusive places.

‘New communities offer a unique chance 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.’
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.

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 unique chance 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.

Finally, it cannot be underestimated the economic growth and job creation that new communities can generate.

Public-private partnerships – in which government provides the planning powers and certainty and the private sector the investment – present an opportunity where there is local support for new housing. However, this is going to need a radical culture change in how the public and private sectors work together. 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.

A new generation of locally led, comprehensively planned communities is overdue. We must seek to replicate the collaborative and progressive spirit of the garden cities, through a fundamental 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.

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Jeff Mowatt
Jeff Mowatt
12 years ago

That’s what we aim to do at P-CED, place people at the centre of business and local economic development.

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