Learning the lessons from the garden city movement

Katy Lock TCPAOver the past three years the TCPA has been leading a campaign for a new generation of garden cities as part of a portfolio of solutions to meet the nation’s housing needs. This period has seen the leaders of the three main Westminster parties announce their support for a new programme of garden cities in England.

The government made reference to the principles of garden cities in the National Planning Policy Framework, and invited bids for new ‘locally-led garden cities’, while it explores how to bring forward the long-planned strategic growth area at Ebbsfleet informed by the garden city principles.

Last week it was also announced that two former eco-towns are to receive support for accelerated development; the ‘Eco-Bicester’ development in Cherwell is to be given support to be developed as a ‘garden city’ and Northstowe is to receive support to accelerate its housing delivery (the TCPA has been working with both local authorities since 2009 through its New Communities Group).

Meanwhile Lyons Housing Review, commissioned by Labour, recommended an immediate programme of new garden cities. This is also an issue of debate elsewhere in the UK, with the RICS Scottish Housing Commission recently recommending a programme of new towns in Scotland, and MPs in Wales discussing the role of new garden cities in dealing with Cardiff’s housing needs.

A strong emphasis on community development delivered by

the New Town Development Corporations was recognised as an important legacy.

TCPA’s campaign has shown that modern garden cities should be predicated on a fusion of the very high social and environmental standards of gardens cities and the highly effective delivery mechanisms of the post-war new towns – which delivered 32 new towns and today provide homes for over 2.7 million people – combining the best of both approaches and drawing on the lessons of what has worked in the past and what has not.

Last week the TCPA published the first of a two stage research project looking at these lessons; New Towns and Garden Cities – Lessons for Tomorrow provides an overview of the garden city and new towns story, and uses the latest data from the new towns themselves – and surveys with local planning officers – to understand the impact of the new town legacy and provide a snapshot of the state of these communities today.

Some common themes emerged. Positive legacies included the emphasis on green infrastructure in the new towns which provides character and amenity. Another was good accessibility due to well-planned transport networks (albeit some favouring the car). A high proportion of social housing had brought its own problems but was recognised as encouraging a good social mix and housing affordability, a strong emphasis on community development delivered by the New Town Development Corporations was also recognised as an important legacy.

The role of artists and town architects in the new towns was also recognised as an asset – with many still benefiting from a wealth of public art. Conversely, the speed of delivery and quality of materials used in some of the new towns means that today many are facing whole-estate renewal. Another negative legacy was a lack of resources for the long-term management of green space and the public realm – the very assets that were designed to provide residents with a better quality of life. The challenges of finding space for growth and the claw-back clauses on land in the new towns which is owned by the successor of the Development Corporations – the Homes and Communities Agency – were also noted.

The report recommends further analysis and a shared learning on the detailed reinvestment needs of the new towns today.

Earlier this year the TCPA published ‘New Towns Act 2015?’ which considered how new towns legislation should be modernised to make it fit for purpose today. Our latest study supports these findings by providing further evidence that a fundamental flaw of the new towns programme was that the need to provide for long-term stewardship was not enshrined in law, allowing the valuable assets to be sold to the highest private bidder when the Development Corporations were wound up. Contrast this with Letchworth Garden City, whose economic and governance model allows for around £3.5m every year to be reinvested in the town through charitable activities.

Amendments to new towns legislation through the infrastructure bill were tabled in the Lords and are due to be revisited as the bill passes through the Commons.

In the lead up to the general election we must work together to ensure political leaders do not miss this opportunity to use lessons from the past to inform a new generation of communities that will stand the test of time and create the places the nation truly deserves.


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9 years ago

Astonishing! Not one mention of landscape architecture, when that profession was/is the core of the whole movement and has spent the last few years formulating and developing so much in relation to the whole design and thinking around delivering just about everything mentioned in the article. However, it’s all down to artists and town architects..and ‘planners’ of course..amazing, you can find all those roles in the body of…er…a landscape architect! No wonder this country lags so far behind. In both North America and throughout mainland Europe where the profession is both understood and appreciated it would be the first port of call for expertise, here? Not even thought about being mentioned, no wonder people are leaving the profession and this country remains one of the ugliest in the world – mainly thanks to post-war planners.

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