TCPA Launches ‘Creating Garden Cities and Suburbs Today’ report #NPPF

Today at a parliament event the TCPA launched its experts panel report ‘Creating Garden Cities and Suburbs Today’ 

This report is a direct response to Government’s challenge for the sector to come together to show how the Garden City approach can be reinvented for the 21st Century. Drawing upon extensive feedback from two roundtable meetings of the Garden City and Suburbs Expert Group,  it is intended to be a catalyst for action by politicians, community and self-build groups, housing associations and housebuilders, investors and landowners, local authorities, and planners, spurring them to work together towards creating highly sustainable new communities based on Garden City principles – such as stronger community engagement and ownership, long term private sector commitment, and visionary design…

So what then is a Garden City/Suburb defined as?

At the heart of the Garden City ideals is the development of holistically planned new settlements which enhance the natural environment and provide high-quality affordable housing and locally accessible jobs in beautiful, healthy and sociable communities. The Garden Cities were among the first manifestations of attempts at sustainable development. Key Garden City principles include:

  • strong vision, leadership and community engagement;
  • land value capture for the benefit of the community;
  • community ownership of land and long-term stewardship of assets;
  •  mixed-tenure homes that are affordable for ordinary people;
  • a strong local jobs offer in the Garden City itself, with a variety of employment opportunities within easy commuting distance of homes;
  • high-quality imaginative design (including homes with gardens), combining the very best of town and country living to create healthy homes in vibrant communities;
  • generous green space linked to the wider natural environment, including a mix of public and private networks of well managed, high-quality gardens, tree-lined streets and open spaces;
  • opportunities for residents to grow their own food, including generous allotments;
  •  access to strong local cultural, recreational and shopping facilities in walkable neighbourhoods; and
  • integrated and accessible transport systems – with a series of settlements linked by rapid transport providing a full range of employment opportunities (as set out in Howard’s vision of the ‘Social City’).
A bit wordy though could they not have updated CB Purdoms famous one sentence definition adopted by the TCPAs precessessor the GCTPA in 1919?
A Garden City is a town planned for industry and healthy living; of a size that makes possible a full measure of social life, but not larger; surrounded by a permanent belt of rural land; the whole of the land being in public ownership or held in trust for the community
The concept of ‘social life’ – coming from Unwin, that the Garden City is essential as Garden Cities and Suburbs are as much community endeavours as architectural ones.
So what are the benefits of Garden CIties and Suburbs comprehsively planned?

Meeting the nation’s housing needs involves more than just delivering housing units – we need to create beautiful places which offer a wide range of employment opportunities (initially through the delivery of development, but in the long term through the promotion of lasting business growth); a complete mix  of housing types, including social and affordable housing; zero-carbon design; sustainable transport; vibrant parks; and local food sourcing. Comprehensively planned new Garden Cities and Suburbs can deliver all this, but they also provide a powerful opportunity to introduce governance structures that put people at the heart of new communities and give them ownership of community assets. Taken together, this approach provides a unique opportunity to encourage the emergence of more sustainable lifestyles.
The case for new Garden Cities, Suburbs or Villages can be made in three parts:

  •  First, large-scale new communities are an important part of the portfolio of solutions that will be essential in tacking today’s acute housing shortage – a shortage which cannot be addressed exclusively on a plot-by-plot basis.
  • Secondly, well planned new communities provide an opportunity to create high-quality sustainable places, allowing for the highest sustainability standards, economies of scale, and better use of infrastructure. A holistic approach to designing new communities provides an opportunity to consider how homes and neighbourhoods can be made attractive places in which to live and work, inenvironments which are socially inclusive and resilient to climate change. In the words of RaymondUnwin, one of the Garden City pioneers, Garden Cities offer a ‘more harmonious combination of city and country, dwelling house and garden’the exact opposite of the ‘bolt-on estates’ so often seen today.
  •  Thirdly, experience from the Garden Cities and New Towns shows that, properly managed and underwritten by the capture of land values, large-scale new developments can be good for business and society.

The Expert Group recommended that the best approachto aligning the vision for a new Garden City or Suburb is for local authorities, landowners and developers to enter into a Garden City Joint Venture or Local Development Agreement.

 A brief summary of the five principal areas that need to be addressed is set out below:

 1. Vision, leadership and governance

  • The Government must make a sustained commitment to the Garden City principles.
  • Local authority leadership and advocacy of Garden Cities and Suburbs are also vital.
  • Communities must be at the heart of debates about a locality’s future. We need a radical culture change in the governance of new communities, so as to rebuild trust in, and change public perceptions of, new communities and large scale development

2. Unlocking land

  • The Garden City vision cannot be realised without access to the right land in the right place at the right price.
  • The key to unlocking land and aligning the vision for a new garden city or suburb is for local authorities, landowners and developers to enter into a Garden City Joint Venture of Local Development Agreement.

3. Investing in infrastructure – balancing risk and reward

  • De-risking development for investors is the only way to unlock the potential of high-quality new communities. The Government can play a key role in laying the foundation for local action, for example by providing certainty about policy and fiscal measures in order to de-risk investment.
  • Local authorities should consider actions such as prudential borrowing against income from the New Homes Bonus. In return for greater direct financial commitment from the public sector, landowners could be expected to take a longer-term, patient and reasonable approach to assessing the value of their land assets.

4. Planning ahead

  • A compelling vision for sustainability must be integral to new Garden Cities developed today.  Delivery of the Garden City vision requires long term holistic masterplanning which sets out with boldness and flexibility local aspirations for high-quality communities.
  • There must be an effective strategic approach to maximise certainty for business and reap the benefits of economies of scale.

5. Skills, co-ordination and delivery

  • The government should provide a ‘one stop shop’ offering local authorities and developers direct access to statutory and support bodies that will influence the evolution and content of emerging policies.

The chapter on ‘unlocking land’ I felt was rather weak and reflected some divisions in the expert group on the use of CPO.  It rightly recognises that comprehensive land ownership is essential, but doesn’t offer a clear off the shelf model might be achieved.  It rightly recognises that a joint venture partnership is needed, but ducks what will happen where individual landowners don’t play ball or the main landowner does not return enough partnership share in uplift in land values to the community.  There has to be a ‘fallback’ cpo option here, a universal lesson from all large scale development and regeneration projects in the UK, and I was expecting from the report a new model that the government could adopt in this regard, although it does usually look at modifying the leasehold reform act to enable the kind of Garden City or SPAN freehold retention model.    It recommends a ‘New Garden City Development Agreements’ whereby for example the LPA used its CPO powers/LDO, whilst the landowner too a long term investment approach.  I don’t think this would work as there would be no certainty for investors beyond the local government electoral cycle.  The Dutch model of local development corporations with proactive powers seems much more practical.

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