Leading landscape firms have described a slew of manifesto pledges to create garden cities as "inadequate" and "empty words" because they lack details on delivery.
The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos each contain pledges to build garden cities. Labour promises to "start to build a new generation of garden cities" while the Conservatives vow to "support locally-led garden cities and towns in places where communities want them, such as Ebbsfleet and Bicester".
The Liberal Democrats pledge to build "at least 10 new garden cities in England, in areas where there is local support" and to "encourage rural local authorities to follow these principles on a smaller scale, developing new garden villages or suburbs as part of growth plans".
Landscape Institute president Noel Farrer said support for garden cities is a "vote winner and an easy tick box", but without details such commitments are "empty words".
On the current Government and housing minister Brandon Lewis, Farrer said: "He can talk the talk but there's not been any substantial policy that's gone beyond that to back it up. All parties can take a passive policy stance in generic areas. Until I see details, I'm dismissive."
Grant Associates director Andrew Grant said there is nothing about how garden cities will be delivered, the timescales for delivery or details on the homes' quality, space standards or green infrastructure. "It's totally inadequate. It's a huge departure from the momentum we had at the last election."
BALI chief operations officer Wayne Grills welcomed the support for garden cities but raised concerns about the need to plan for the creation and ongoing maintenance of urban green landscapes. "My concern is that, with swingeing cuts to local authority budgets already seriously affecting the maintenance of our existing parks and urban landscapes, a failure to consider funding for the ongoing maintenance of public green space in garden cities at the planning stage could result in them becoming untended, derelict and overgrown urban wastelands," he said.
Independent landscape consultant Peter Neal added that delivering garden cities "can't simply be a matter of copying what was done in the past or cynically rebranding standard approaches to development" and it needs "ambitious new thinking".
Neal said: "To succeed they have to adopt far more robust and radical sustainability credentials - higher density, closer to existing towns and cities, much better public transport, comprehensive renewable energy, richer community infrastructure, and, of course, far more functional, productive and connected parks, green spaces, allotments, wetlands and woodlands."
Meanwhile, all the major political parties have been promoting measures on food, farming and employment, with some degree of overlap. For industry reaction, see p27.
Garden expo - Possible event linked with garden city development
A UK garden expo is being discussed as something that could be based around new garden cities, which feature in the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos.
International Association of Horticultural Producers secretary-general Tim Briercliffe said the idea for an exposition event, to raise consciousness of gardening, could happen within five-to-10 years of the election and be delivered for EUR100m after infrastructure costs of EUR100m-EUR200m.
Events are planned for 2016 in Turkey and China. "I hope people will look at it seriously in the UK," said Briercliffe. "It is on the ornamentals round table list of wants delivered to Defra. But the initial investment in these things is so huge, the questions is who will pay and how will it be done?"
He added that an expo is being discussed by round table members including the HTA to be sited near to garden city or development areas. "Exhibitions like that in the run-up to a new development tick lots of boxes for funding. Anything like that is a long-term thing.
"For Floriade in Almere in the Netherlands in 2022 they are already building roads and other infrastructure that will benefit the city afterwards. If you do it in that way it does work and gets a full return on your investment."
Briercliffe said the UK is looking at systems and locations but plans are at an early stage. Funding could come from a mix of national and local government as well as sponsorship, as in the case of the London Olympics.
Developers can "easily" recover costs through tourism, housing and commercial development, he added. "In my opinion it has great potential.
If you get influential people behind it then you can really achieve something."
Briercliffe said the idea could have even greater benefits to the industry than the £175m planned London Garden Bridge.