How Would You Deliver A New Garden City?

By Victoria Hunter

The finalists of the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014 have today been announced. The second Wolfson Economics Prize poses the question:

“How would you deliver a new garden city which is visionary, economically viable and popular?”

Entrants were advised that their visions should ‘inspire’ with the possibilities that a modern city could offer in terms of quality of life and cost of living. The garden cities were to be self-financing, with entrants devising innovative funding and financing structures that will help to harness the future value of the city. Finally, entrants were to convince the judges that the proposals would be popular and stand a good chance of winning a local referendum.

The idea of Garden Cities is not a new one, nor is it a concept without its critics. Jane Jacobs famously criticises the ideas of what cities should be like by ideologues, such as Le Corbusier and Ebenezer Howard in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) to what they are in reality, complex organic systems. However, the recently published Government prospectus for locally-led garden cities and the prominence of Garden Cities in the Town and Country Planning Association’s research shows that Garden Cities are here to stay.

Five entrants have been shortlisted for the prize. The shortlist comprises town planners, architects, urban designers and Shelter – the housing and homelessness charity. The entrants ranged from redefining processes, to using existing towns as a base for expansion, to the creation of a series of new garden cities.

Redefining Processes

Barton Willmore’s entry focuses on the process of creating garden cities, uncovering what can be used, with some amendment, from existing systems and legislation we already have in place. Their strategy is not to necessarily speed up planning, it is instead focused on slowing down the political process, improving longer-term certainty and correcting the imbalance between national growth strategies and constricted local implementation. The 10 point road map is considered to provide ‘just enough guidance and certainty for the market, but allowing plenty of free reign for a model of neighbourhood-based city expansion.’ The national/local imbalance is proposed to be addressed by a high level review of growth in the UK from a cross-party base in the House of Lords, arriving at a National Spatial Plan, determining broad areas for Garden Cities. Whilst these broad areas are determined at a national level, delivery would remain at a local scale, resting with democratically elected Garden City Mayors, supported by Commissions with planning powers to determine actual locations.

Growing Existing Towns

Uxcester Garden City is the focus of Urbed’s entry, which plans to create a garden city of almost 400,000 people by doubling the size of an existing city. Urbed take a similar approach to Barton Willmore in the principle of using an existing asset (albeit in this
instance a town rather than legislation) rather than starting from scratch. Urbed’s Garden City expands on the existing city of Uxcester by adding three substantial urban extensions each housing around 50,000 people. The concept is that for every hectare of development another will be given back to the city as accessible public space, forests, lakes and country parks. With regards to transport, each satellite extension will be served by a tram or Bus Rapid Transit running from the existing mainline station. The housing would be developed incrementally to create space for small developers and self-builders alongside the volume housebuilders.

New Garden Cities

Shelter’s entry proposes a new garden city on the Hoo Peninsula (Medway, Kent) commencing with a settlement of up to 48,000 people at Stoke Harbour as part of a larger cluster of settlements eventually totally 150,000. Shelter proposes a model designed to attract massive private investment into the provision of high quality homes, jobs, services and infrastructure. The delivery model prioritises speed and volume over profit margins, aims to acquire land at low cost and transfer valuable assets to a Community Trust for the long term. Local people would also be offered unique opportunities to invest in the city, including buying shares.

Whilst the shortlist provides a plethora of ideas on how to deliver a Garden City, it also raises a number of questions. The Garden City principles are good yet, should garden cities be the focus for planning policy? The NPPF has recently celebrated its second birthday and still a number of Local Planning Authorities remain without an up to date Local Plan – clearly there is an imbalance between national growth strategies and constricted local implementation.

Britain needs to deliver 300,000 houses a year, more than double the current number, and Local Planning Authorities must look to release surrounding greenfield, and in some cases Green Belt, sites to ensure that this demand can be met. The delivery of garden cities would not assist in meeting short term supply, by virtue of their scale garden cities are mid to longer term strategic initiatives, however the wider Garden City principles could effectively inform Local Plans. Fundamentally, Local Planning Authorities need to ensure that they are delivering their objectively assessed housing needs, after all it is the role of the Local Plan to direct the quantity and location of new development and without an up to date Local Plan there is no certainty or clarity for housebuilders or the local community alike, and uncertainty will not deliver much needed homes.

Full details of the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014, including the shortlist, can be viewed on the Policy Exchange website:


Published: 06/06/2014

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