Government has grasped new places need infrastructure and high environmental quality - but the location is wrong

New green villages and towns do not resolve housing need, they neglect towns and are a poor use of valuable countryside.

Noel Farrer - image HW
Noel Farrer - image HW

The good news is that Government and many followers of the launch of the "11 green villages and three towns" initiative have grasped that new places must include infrastructure, workplaces, schools and amenity, and be of high environmental quality. They rightly see the value of these components of sustainable place making.

Our countryside though must do more than provide land for housing. It has a complex and important role to play in healthy living, recreation, air pollution, forestry, biodiversity and food production. The requirements to build on it need to be driven by a clear set of long-term priorities rather than simply scratching the political itch of housing need.

I wonder why there is no outcry from town halls across the country. Surely mayors can see that every penny used building low-density detached rural homes is wasting the only serious investment money available that can and should benefit their towns.

The only way to invigorate our towns, make future provision of services more efficient, encourage walking and healthy living, reduce car use and improve the environment for all is to build our new homes in our towns close to transport, services, work and shops.

It seems a short leap from Government criteria for developing the green village initiative to taking the final step and seeing this should happen in our towns. I recognise proposing homes in towns is tougher. Politics, planning and nimbyism make dealing with urban regeneration more complex and costly, but it does not take away from the blindingly obvious fact that it is the right thing to do.

The much needed regeneration of towns transformed from the shadows of their past to desirable conurbations for living and working needs the only investment stream available, namely that of the housing developer. The placing of homes in countryside triggers car dependency and favours continued use of the free parking provided by out-of-town supermarkets. It starves town centres of the trade they crave by placing the customers out of reach.

The investment in the 14 initiatives is about £200m. To meet housing needs between now and 2050 is nearer £2.5bn.

Reintroducing strategic planning to allow towns to decide how they wish to evolve and benefit from investment in housing supply is better for our towns, better for our countryside and better for all our futures.

Noel Farrer is a founding partner of Farrer Huxley Associates

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