Why Not Garden Cities and Vital Cities? – FSF Report Presents a False and Unrealistic Choice

The report issued today by Ken Shuttleworth’s Future Spaces Foundation

The world’s worst Architect expands into Urban Planning – dont hold your breath

Vital Cities not Garden Cities

Although Ken Shuttleworth founding a brains trust on good design is like Elmer Fudd launching a school on hunting rabbits.  (The  Dunning-Kruger effect comes to mind).

Lets look at his stale argument.

Much of the current Government narrative focuses on a version of the Garden City, a planning model originally developed by Ebenezer Howard in the 1890s. A model that was built within the context of late Victorian population levels, industrialisation and technological advances….is the late Victorian period really the right place to be looking for your policy panacea?

So were reinforced concrete and the telephone.  Does that mean we no longer use them?  This is a good example of Ad hominem which we might call the Shuttleworth fallacy– because something was invented a long time ago it is now out of date and cannot be adapted.

The modern day version of Howard’s Garden City appears to be new settlements of about 15,000 homes, incorporating large areas of open space and parkland within the town limits. Is this a sustainable model for a projected housing shortage of one million homes over Foreword the next 25 years on an island of less than 250,000 km2 ?

Who says 15,000 as the government arn’t promoting them? (ill come onto the issue of size).  So Ken is against  ‘large areas of open space and parkland ‘  Lets build Tower Blocks on Hyde Park then, after all this was created it in the 19th Century so it must be out of date and useless mustn’t it.

Only Ken could make a quarter of a million square km, within which you could fit Singapore 350 times, look a small area.

The experts panel includes some notable people, Trudi Ellliot, Christine Whitehead, Richard Hebdich, Toby Lloyd, one wonders how they managed to be dragged into this nonsense.  And nonsense it is as you examine the argument that we dont need any Garden Cities and instead we should knock down very large parts of Suburban England instead. [Update they have confirmed there names were used without consent and they didnt see or approve of a copy of the final report].

The report makes your heart sink with the number of false canards it throws at Garden Cities – which appear to be dragged up from the usual dodgy editorial pieces you find in architectural magasines.

Some of the towns created in response to the New Towns Act of 1946 include Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, Basildon in Essex, and Cumbernauld in North Lanarkshire. Although these settlements undoubtedly were crucial in alleviating overcrowding in large cities following an increase in birth rates at the end of the war, in the ensuing years many came to suffer from challenges inherent in their geographical and economic situation.

So in a report on Garden Cities you find the ugliest New Towns (which of course arn’t Garden Cities) you can to discredit them.  A classic example of the straw man fallacy. Ok we should never build a tower block again because Ronan Point was a tower block – same argument.

In a ridiculously misleading section called ‘Garden Cities – The myths, busted’ it presents a whole series of such straw man arguments. Lets bust Kens Garden City Myths.

An average of 70% of New Town residents use their car to get to work, compared to the average for England of 63% and the London average of just 31% of residents

They are not Garden Cities but post war New Towns, at the time diregiste architects like Ken Shuttleworth were arguing that Garden Cities were ‘out of date’ and must use the car.  Note the bait and switch here.  Real Garden cities designed around walking, cycling and public transport have much lower car use than typical compatible developments in the same broad area.  Take Herts where car use in Letchworth is lower than surrounding towns.  This is a classic research era not using a matching control set and choosing your own misleading control set to support your preconceived view.  Howard, Unwin and John Nolen (who built more Garden Cities, in Florida, than anyone else) envisaged a community with propinquity, where facilities were within walking distance, and of walking distance of public transport and where regional highways were separated out.  Their is copius research evidence that suggest Garden Suburbs and Cities at appropriate densities and locations can be very low carbon both on the continent,  in the States/Canada, and in China.

 Myth – All Garden Cities are true to Howard’s original vision …one of these fundamental principles have been clearly expressed in the proposals for the existing Ebbsfleet development, begging the question: are these new styles of Garden City at risk of becoming the byword for ‘suburban dormitory town’?

Again why does George Osborne get to define Garden City, shall he be defining long term planning next? As we have long said Ebbsflet is not net, new or a garden city, its a brownfield site at high density, mostly surrounded by existing housing areas, on the cards for 20 years. Is Ken against high density brownfield developments then – I thought that’s just what he said he was for?

We can continue to build sustainably in low-density settlements The term ‘Garden City’ certainly evokes a warm glow, but it also distracts us from more important and relevant questions about how we are going to live in the future. With 371 people per square kilometre in England and Wales alone , the UK is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, and land is an increasingly scarce and valuable resource. And yet Garden Cities are by definition low density, consume large amounts of green space and will inevitably deplete agricultural land.

They are not by definition low density – Howard did not specify a density just lots of greenspace – which Ken it seems is oddly against.  Ken is simply repeating the modernist typically prejudiced  inaccurate and snobbish treatment of architectural and planning history, devoid of scholarship. he picked up at the first year at De Montford.  Certainly Unwin advocated 12 to the acre – but not lowering densities but developing the same gross density  (including roads) as middle class Victorian terraces by law housing (30 DPH) but swapping wasteful roads for open space – as he explained in his classic ‘Nothing Gained by Overcrowding’.  This is higher than most suburban developments today. Indeed Unwin would have criticized most modern housing estates as low density and having the same flaws as Victorian by law housing. Unwin also advocated high densities in town centres and around stations – just look at Letchworth, and greatly admired some German schemes built at 4-6 storeys. The Shuttleworth report willfully misrepresents Letchworths high density by including figures derived from net rathr than gross density (an error made in most reports on the issue missing Unwins whole argument),  I think including industrial areas and parks in the gross area calculation but not doing so for Victorian terraces – as well as not accounting for the fact that at Letchworth all trees bar one over 14 Sq Km were preserved.    There is nothing essentially low density or suburban about Garden Cities and Garden Suburbs – they are about greenery and openness and that can be achieved at 20+ storeys.  Just look at the many Garden Cities being built in China some of which actually meet the  TCPA tests including land value capture.

Garden Cities alone will solve the housing shortage However, perhaps most importantly, under current plans Garden Cities will only provide a fraction of the accommodation we need to meet our housing shortfall. Twenty Garden Cities with 30,000 inhabitants, each at an average household size of 2.4 persons, would only provide 250,000 units – the equivalent of just one year’s worth of house building needed each year in England.

No one has ever claimed they can.  Straw Man.  No source given for the claim (this pamphlet is hardly going to get peer reviewed for publication). The myth is one of Ken’s own making.  The real issue is whether the housing shortage can be solved without Garden Cities.

The report then descends into farce

The Government’s plan to build 250,000 new homes in Garden Cities is certainly ambitious, but would deliver just a third of the unmet demand that is expected to arise in the next five years.

This is unsourced and unreferenced again and is made up.  The government has never announced a figure. Not in Cameron’s Garden City Speech – a limp  announcement with no figure, no backing and fiercely opposed by the Minister in charge of planning and housing, or in the equally weak Garden Cities prospectus. This contains the quote

‘We are investing over £1 billion of funding over 6 years, together with a wider support package, to unlock locally supported housing schemes capable of delivering up to 250,000 new homes. ‘

But as everyone in the planning and housing world knows – part from it seems the Chief Executive of the RTPI – this refers to all government backing for all large sites in the The 2015-2020 Large Sites Infrastructure Programme  – all they had to do was look this up.  But this ‘expert panel’ were too lazy too do proper research because they had already made up their minds so the facts would have disturbed them.  At the time of this announcement only Ebbsfleet was one of the many sites on this programme which was a ‘Garden City’ though other large sites from the Ecotown Programme – rebranded Garden Cities – are.  They seem to have picked up this figure from bad Telegraph journalism of the speech without checking the source,. I pointed out this error by the Telegraph here at the time.  The matter was compounded when the Dilay Mail confused the 250,000 / annum figure household formation figure used in a speech by Nick Clegg with a total Garden City target.

In summary, we have a shortfall of around 500,000 homes between now and 2020 and that is a best case scenario, based on current estimated population growth. Clearly this massive shortfall will need to be met largely, if not entirely, from within and around towns and cities across the UK. Thus, the Foundation believes that attention needs to be refocused, and quickly, on how we are going to build the homes we need in places where people are already living.

This logically conflates too issues.  The first – correct- that Garden Cities cant do a lot in the next 5 years, the second that Garden Cities is not part of the solution for bridging the long term housing gap – a gap that can only be filled over the 25-30 year development period of Garden cities anyway. There is no logical connection between the first part and the second part of this assumption.  If you want to develop in 5 years you need to bring forward shovel ready sites not new ones, new sites are for the long haul, especially big new sites, but without big new sites over the long haul you wont match need.

The large sites programme includes several large new settlements, the 4 survivors of the Ecotowns programme (Brown branded Garden cities) and Ebbsfleet  (Bicester is unique in being launched under both programmes) and many large sites which are extensions of new towns and settlements, as well as two private new settlement at Cranbrook and Sherford.  Sadly no precise year by year and site by on the breakdown of units prior to 2020 under the ATLAS large sites programme and local infrastructure fund has been published, as far  as I know, though it is always been mentioned in ministerial speeches (with the same project being announced multiple times of course).  So we see a basic lack of research and failure to acknowledge that New Settlements even with hostility from the SoS are already delivering large amounts of units in the short term.  Either they knew this and deliberately concealed it or they didn’t do there homework – in either case the proper place to file this report is a small plastic plastic and floor mounted Ikea made filing place

This argument is a particularly weak one.  Of course any large scale NEW site whether Greenfield or Brown will have a long lead in time, as I said last year

The problems with this argument is twofold.  Firstly we stopped building New Towns in the mid 1970s, they eventually delivered over 500,000 homes.  Now 35  years later, together with the ceasing of council house building, we are 1 million houses short.  You do the math.  The failure to build Garden Cities is one of the main reasons we have a housing shortage

So a long term Garden Citiies programme, and other measures will be needed to solve a long term problem.  It is high risk as this group propose to suggest only one solution rather than as Shelter has proposed previously a portfolio solution.

The Government has announced that its second Garden City will see 13,000 new homes built on the edge of Bicester. This focus on an urban extension, as opposed to a brand new settlement on isolated greenfield land, is reassuring.

Every new settlement ever built in the UK has been an extension of an existing market town (most cases) or villages (a handful of cases) in either way an extension or completely new site will use up almost exactly the same amount of greenfield land, and sites need not be ‘isolated’.  A site on the edge of a large city with no rail link is more isolated than a Cranbrook say on a rail line.

History tells us that our track record of building new towns has been patchy at best – there is substantial risk that entirely new Garden Cities become the next generation of commuter towns, generating limited employment opportunities for residents and struggling to establish their own community and sense of identity. The most sustainable approach therefore is to provide housing where need has been registered so new settlements are close to sources of employment, and preexisting public services.

True, so the answer is to build larger new Garden Cities that generate sufficient employment critical mass, of MK or Telford size for example, and/or to build them close to or adjoining existing larger towns, as is the plan in most cases anyway.  This is not an argument at all against Garden Cities, but against poorly designed located and scaled Garden Cities.

They then go on to look at housing shortages, with an odd and undocumented definition which implies that Sevenoaks, most of Devon, the whole of Norfolk and South Cambridgeshire have no housing shortage,  Laying aside this statistically dodgy assumption, which appears not be be based on housing market areas, they state:

Clearly the densification of existing cities is dependent, to a large degree, on the availability of brownfield land. In 2010, local planning authorities estimated that 34,980 hectares of brownfield land (51% of the total) in their districts was potentially suitable for housing and could accommodate around one million dwellings. The Foundation has examined the potential of these sites as part of the solution to the housing shortage and our findings show that, assuming these sites were brought forward for development and all projected demand for new homes was met, local authorities in England with housing shortages would have brownfield supply for an average of eight years

So we are short by half over a 15 year plan. Short by a million homes in this reduced set of local authorities alone.  At this point most objective observes suddenly get it that we dont have enough brownfield sites where they are needed.

There then follows a decision framework which suggests which option is right for which LPA depending on their supply.  This is all basic process mapping of strategic planning stuff but is is useful to see it mapped out.  Having set up a sensible decision framework then Ken decides reality doesn’t fit it and therefore must be distorted so that it does fit.

Where a housing shortage has been identified and a solution is required it is critical to note that, when using the decision framework, decisions are not equally weighted. …  the Foundation believes that densification of existing urban areas and the utilisation of brownfield land is the clear and obvious solution. What’s more, our analysis shows that there is the land available to support this type of development over the course of the next 10-15 years, particularly in the places that need it most, namely London and the South East (page 23)

Yet on page 18 their analysis shows there is only exterminated supply by LPAs for 8 years.    The 10-15 year figure appears to be made up.  Even if it was 10 years what about the other 5?  The data doesn’t fit the preconceived architectural narrative and so is ignored.

There then follows case studies of Brum and Guidford.  I use the term case studies advisedly as there is no data no architectural studies and no evaluation of how much additional housing could be provided on brownfield sites over and above the levels which the local planning authority considers is deliverable and viable.   Ken is the sort of hyperventilating witness that turns up at EIPs & vent fine flowery speeches without any numbers attached to which inspectors smile at and then totally ignore – as they have to its not evidence based, its not deliverable, its not viable.  Of course the figures for Brum have just been tested.  Their chief planner has said many times he would like to see higher density housing in Brum but he has exhaustively tested it and it isn’t viable.

The euphemism in the report for proposing something that isn’t viable is to suggest that ‘new funding models’ are needed, by which they mean massive extra support to the housing Corporation etc. when the current government want to halve its funding if they win the elction and cripple the sector by giving away its assets.  Ken appears to be thinking we still live in the 1960s, as anyone who has seen some of his buildings will know.

The report says good stuff about high densities and urban vitality but overall its fluffy unresearched nonsense, barely achieves the level of a report by a first year planning student.  It hasn’t checked its facts or even done some simple area case studies, typologies and valuations to test its prior assumptions. Its assumption that we dont need any Garden Cities is not backed up even by the reports own data and it doesn’t provide any data to show that urban intensification alone can both meet the future housing shortage and current backlog.

There is a real debate to be had here about what mix of solutions we need in a balanced portfolio of housing solutions suitable for each real world area.  It is a false dichotomy to suggest we need only Garden Cities or only urban intensification, or only piecemeal edge expansion, we need all 3 and the mix will vary from area to area.   How far does this report advance the argument over what the right mix is – sadly it adds not one jot to the corpus of human knowledge on the issue.

They conclude

In comparison to global cities such as Paris (21,196 people per km²) or New York (27,562 people per km²), London (10,122 people per km² for inner London, and 5,199 people per km² for Greater London) and other major cities around the UK are low density and so opportunities certainly exist to increase the density of the UK’s urban areas. We live on a small island with a fast growing population and we simply cannot afford to continue catering for this growing demand via low-density houses on greenfield land. Although of course there is no onesize-fits-all answer, the Foundation firmly believes that in the most part, densification of our existing urban areas must be the priority to meet future challenges.

So is the solution then to build Manhattan densities in Guildford to make up for the very little urban brownfield supply their is in the Rest of the South East, East of England and South West, towns like Oxford, Cambridge, Guildford, Bath, Canterbury, Tunbridge Wells etc.  Whenever anyone tries to build above 4 storey in these places there is an outcry locally. Is this really the solution backed by reps from the National Trust and the RTPI?  It just is not politically feasible.  It could only be done by an authoritarian English State driving it through and confiscating land and redeveloping existing houses.  certainly it could not be done in 5 years, not in 50 probably, it is far more of a long term solution that Garden cities, far less viable and far less politically savvy.  Most of the big urban brownfield sites for very high densities are already happening, especially in London.  And London groups claim that this is just benefitting billionaires and not locals as it creates safe deposit box housing.  If you want to demonstrate the potential for new high density housing over and above existing plans you realistically have to do it on extra sites outside existing urban areas away from high densities of objectors, whether on brownfield or green, here you can have urban vitality and Garden Cities.

The most shocking thing about the report still is how figures like Trudi Ellliot, Christine Whitehead, Richard Hebdich, and Toby Lloyd could be persuaded to place their names on it and consequentially besmirch the hard won research based reputations of the institutions and bodies with which they are associated with.  Especially as the basic premise of the report seems to have been based on a fundamental error in misunderstanding nature of the government large sites infrastructure programmer.   One suspects Ken steamrollered them in the final edit [update they didn’t even see or approve a draft], in which case they should withdraw their names, and their respective institutions should clarify this doesn’t not change at all their expressed support for well planned, located and designed Garden Cities.

3 thoughts on “Why Not Garden Cities and Vital Cities? – FSF Report Presents a False and Unrealistic Choice

  1. Andrew – I didn’t see this report before publication, and am a little troubled to see that it is implying that I am one of its authors….. I went to a discussion in October on the topic, and approved the three quotes of mine in the report, but that’s it.

    It’s not clear from the published report who the author actually is, and I will be asking FSF to explain this – but I can assure you it wasn’t me!

  2. Pingback: Ken Shuttleworth’s ‘Panel of Experts’ Didnt See Draft of Garden City Bashing Report | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

  3. Pingback: Every Major Party Manifesto Promotes Garden Cities But Not the Shift in Policy to Deliver Them | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

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