Sorry Matt Thompson You Cant Count to 7 #GardenCities

Matt Thompson at CPRE Blog

Whether locally-led or not, Garden Cities, will make next to no difference to meeting housing need.

The most ambitious manifesto commitment to Garden Cities suggests up to 10 of them across the UK. Howard envisaged that Garden Cities would accommodate around 32,000 people – which in today’s money is about 12,500 homes – with the occasional larger ‘central’ Garden City of about 50-60,000 people (24,000 homes). Ten almost certainly highly controversial Garden Cities would give us an absolute maximum of 240,000 new homes across the UK.

Ok lets count then in Howards diagram below, 1 2 3, 4,5,6,7 Total population 250,000.  Not much different than Milton Keynes, or Stevenage and the cluster of new Towns and Garden Cities around it.  And thats at 12 to the acre, image we did the densities CPRE recommends like three times that.  10 proper ‘Scoial Cities’ at that density would produce 7.5 million homes.  Readers of this blog will know there are 10 such sites at least and they are pretty soft ones. It would meet Londons housing shortfall and overspill over the next 30 years and the rest of the countries to boot.

Try tellling any major emerging economy country now building 100s of new settlements that they are not capable of building enough houses because of a selective misreading of a 100 year old text they will fall about laughing.

So please less of this obscurantist Ken Shuttleworth math either distorting what Howard said or pretending that his estimates or diagrams are gospel to be discared if a narrow interpretation of them doesnt fit your world view.

2 thoughts on “Sorry Matt Thompson You Cant Count to 7 #GardenCities

  1. What Andrew actually means in his headline is “Sorry, Matt Thomson, you and I have a different understanding of what politicians mean when they say ‘garden city’”.

    But that clearly doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    Andrew assumes that when politicians say “garden city” they mean “social city”, i.e. Ebenezer Howard’s “group of slumless smokeless cities” referred to in the diagram that Andrew reproduces above, which has a total population of 250,000 people – about the same as Milton Keynes.

    OK, so politicians rarely mean what they say, but one should never let the opportunity for a civilised conversation about an interpretation of policy get in the way of the chance to give someone a healthy drubbing in one’s blog and on Twitter, eh?

    Andrew’s patronising (and I quote) “Ok lets count then in Howards diagram below, 1 2 3, 4,5,6,7 Total population 250,000” is Andrew’s whimsical way of saying “Ooh, look! You think a garden city has a population of 32,000 people, but what I think is that a garden city is actually 6 garden cities – 1,2,3,4,5,6 – look, count them in this diagram – around a slightly larger central city. So you’re wrong. Ner!”

    But I was taking politicians at face-value and assumed that when they said “garden city” they meant “garden city”, in the same way that Ebenezer Howard did (see the diagram referred to above, in which a garden city helpfully called “Garden City” is clearly seen forming a constituent part of the overall “social city”).

    Howard only ever referred to the wider grouping of garden cities as a “social city”, “cluster of cities” or “group of slumless smokeless cities” and never as a “garden city”. If you’re not convinced, read Howard’s actual book, or indeed any book on garden cities, and you’ll see that “garden city” and “social city” are terms used to mean two different things.

    Nick Clegg, the architect of the LibDems’ policy to deliver “at least 10 new Garden Cities in England” (LibDem Manifesto 2015, p.95) said at the LibDem conference last Autumn that these would each provide from 9,000 to 15,000 homes – roughly the same size as Howard’s cities of 32,000 people (about 12,500 homes by today’s standards). He was clearly talking about garden cities in the same way that I am.

    Once you recognise that difference of opinion about the underlying assumptions, both of our mathematical arguments are (largely) correct.

    My estimate is that the most ambitious manifesto programme for garden cities (and do please note that I was explicitly talking about manifesto proposals) would deliver less than a quarter of a million homes over a very uncertain time-frame. This estimate is based on Nick Clegg and the LibDems’ policy to deliver 10 garden cities each of 9,500-15,000 homes (although I was generous and assumed that a 21st century garden city would contain 24,000 homes). I consider that the grand resulting total of 240,000 homes that might, one day, be delivered in those 10 garden cities would be a drop in the ocean compared with the 200,000-300,000 homes that we need to build every single year. So, yes, I stand by my argument that the most ambitious proposal for garden cities expressed in a manifesto commitment would make next to no difference to meeting housing need. And it is less than a quarter of the 1,000,000 homes that could be built almost immediately on brownfield sites that councils have already identified as suitable for redevelopment, and which would have the added advantage of being located close to existing jobs, schools and infrastructure, as well as removing eyesores that suck the life out of our towns and cities.

    On the other hand, based on nothing at all, Andrew asserts that when the LibDems, whose policy I was referring to, say “garden cities”, they mean “social cities” the size (though hopefully not the shape) of Milton Keynes or most of the middle of Hertfordshire, and that we might get 10 of these, which could house 2.5 million people, and indeed that there are 10 sites of this size awaiting approval. I would argue that even if that is the case and they do get the go-ahead, no more than a fraction of the houses will actually be built in our lifetimes. But that’s not the point. The point is that the maths (up to here) is correct, assuming that what politicians are proposing is “social cities” and not “garden cities”, which I argue is not the case. We shall have to argue the merits or otherwise of this scale and type of development another time.

    Unfortunately Andrew’s logic (or maths) goes downhill after this point and he claims that, somehow, 10 of these social cities each of which would house 250,000 people in 100,000 homes would result in 7.5 million homes if you built them at CPRE’s preferred densities, which he claims would be “three times” his assumption. When I last checked, “three times” ten cities of 100,000 homes was 3 million homes, and I think what Andrew actually means is that they could house 7.5 million people.

    But then I can’t count up to 7, so who am I to judge?

    • Matt I dont care really about the political semiotics of what politicians mean. Im only concerned about what they should be doing.

      Ok the tone was jornalistic – too much, sorry, but ironic so lets not have a SOHF.

      To quote Mother Teresa -‘ A drop in the ocean – what is the Ocean made of’

      But a gear shift to social cities is the Pacific Ocean, not a drop.

      Yes lets have more brownfield sites, but its a Mediterranean solution. Closer, preferable but not enough drops.

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