Could new garden cities following Letchworth’s lead help solve the housing crisis? Yes, say town planners in new book

PUBLISHED: 17:01 29 July 2017

Hugh Ellis, Katy Lock and Kate Henderson of the Town and Country Planning Association, who have co-authored The Art of Building a Garden City. Picture: TCPA

Hugh Ellis, Katy Lock and Kate Henderson of the Town and Country Planning Association, who have co-authored The Art of Building a Garden City. Picture: TCPA

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Could a fresh surge of garden cities following Letchworth’s example help to solve Britain’s housing crisis? Yes, say a trio of town planners in a new book.

The Art of Building a Garden City, by Kate Henderson, Katy Lock and Hugh Ellis. Picture: RIBAThe Art of Building a Garden City, by Kate Henderson, Katy Lock and Hugh Ellis. Picture: RIBA

Kate Henderson, Katy Lock and Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association make the case for a sustainable 21st-century renewal of Sir Ebenezer Howard’s ideas in The Art of Building a Garden City.

Ms Lock, who leads the TCPA’s garden city campaign, said 21st-century garden cities could be “not only beautiful, but affordable, inclusive and resilient”.

She said: ““We are in a unique position of having cross-party support for new garden cities as well as interest from councils and developers across the country.

“Our new book demonstrates that garden cities provide a powerful and unique model of development – and are much more than just homes with gardens, or a political buzzword for large-scale housing estates.

“The book explores the principles and values that should inform the design and delivery approach for new garden cities, and identifies the steps that need to be taken in order to deliver the highest standards of design today.

“Above all, it is designed to help reignite the ambition and enthusiasm for place-making that this nation once pioneered, and aims to provide a message of hope with a vital relevance for the future of our society.”

Ms Lock’s co-authors on The Art of Building a Garden City, Ms Henderson and Mr Ellis, are respectively chief executive and policy director of the TCPA.

Their heavily-illustrated book draws on lessons from the first garden cities and the new towns programme of the 1940s and 1950s, and is published by RIBA.

The garden city ideal has won support from national housing expert and former Lib Dem MP Lord Matthew Taylor, who has said creating new settlements with appropriate facilities could help protect existing communities’ character and heritage.

Keynote speaker Lord Matthew Taylor at the How Should Norfolk Grow? 2017 conference on housing at the John Innes Conference Centre in Norwich. Picture: Bethany WhymarkKeynote speaker Lord Matthew Taylor at the How Should Norfolk Grow? 2017 conference on housing at the John Innes Conference Centre in Norwich. Picture: Bethany Whymark

Following Lord Taylor’s review of the original garden cities model, the government announced plans in January to build 14 new garden villages and three new garden towns across England.

Speaking at a housing conference in Norwich last month, Lord Taylor endorsed building garden settlements rather than “ruining historic towns and villages” in Norfolk.

He said: “In the modern world people only move around eight miles from their home, so smaller communities to meet local need makes more sense and is likely to be more popular.”

Lord Taylor said a combination of high birth rates and longer life expectancies were fuelling greater housing demand, but that, on average, the UK had been under-building by around 100,000 homes a year.

He added that first-time buyers were bearing the brunt as demand increased house prices, with 700,000 more 20 to 40-year-olds living with their parents than a decade ago.

“Whatever people’s income, getting a deposit together is increasingly difficult,” he said.

He concluded: “There is a desperate need, but as long as the developments we are offered are densely-packed estates on the edge of historic communities they will be resisted.

“If we stop ruining historic towns and villages with new housing estates and instead create vibrant, attractive new villages with the facilities that people need, that is how we will overcome the housing shortage.”

Speaking alongside Lord Taylor at the conference organised by South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon was Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation strategic planning chief David Ames, who provided the benefit of his own experience in the original garden city.

Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation strategic planning head David Ames. Picture: LGCHFLetchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation strategic planning head David Ames. Picture: LGCHF

The Heritage Foundation reinvests between £4 million and £5 milllion into Letchworth each year, mostly raised through commercial rents to its 780 businesses – and Mr Ames told the meeting that investing money back into the community was key to sustainability.

“We think the core value of having a sustainable local economy to support the community remains relevant,” he said.

Speaking to the Comet, Mr Ames said that Letchworth – the first fruit of Sir Ebenezer Howard’s original garden city movement, initiated in 1898 – was still seen in other parts of the country as a pioneering town.

“The history of the town remains of interest in understanding the evolution of town planning in the UK,” he said.

“We can also demonstrate how long-term community-led governance and stewardship has been applied in Letchworth and could be replicated elsewhere, if incorporated as a core principle, before even a site for a new settlement is selected.

“The way that charitable services, such as the cinema, theatre, Standalone, Ernest Gardner Treatment Centre, Greenway and museum services are delivered is also of interest – as is how these additional services and grants are available to local people, funded through a commercial portfolio.

“The core value of land value capture which is reinvested into the community is still considered to be innovative and exciting to local authorities and groups interested in providing great places to live and work.

“There is sometimes a sceptism about if this can be applied today, but we do also highlight other examples where a financial model is applied at a smaller scale – such as the Parks Trust in Milton Keynes, which uses an endowment income to help look after their open space.”

A garden city near Ashwell has long been proposed as a possible long-term solution to North Hertfordshire’s own housing shortfall.

Broadway Gardens in Letchworth, the original garden city founded following the lead of Sir Ebenezer Howard. Picture: Danny LooBroadway Gardens in Letchworth, the original garden city founded following the lead of Sir Ebenezer Howard. Picture: Danny Loo

Wayne Hemingway, chairman of Building for Life – which assesses the design quality of English homes and neighbourhoods – is another supporter of garden city revival.

He said: “In these times when so much doesn’t seem to make sense, a return to garden city principles is total common sense.

Garden city thinking has always been rooted in egalitarianism, community participation, placemaking and good design. Good design can help to unlock delivery and break down the oft-justified opposition to the downright ugly estates that have become the calling card of some developers.

“Community participation and a sense of empowerment is what has been missing in so many people’s lives. Garden cities can do so much more than just deliver decent places to live.”

The Art of Building a Garden City is published by RIBA and costs £40. For more see bit.ly/2o9BInG.

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