Top landscaper fears for garden cities

Garden cities, as they were defined in the past, are unlikely to be developed, believes Landscape Institute president Farrer.

Farrer: garden cities unlikely
Farrer: garden cities unlikely

Landscape Institute president Noel Farrer remains sceptical about the Government's plans to help deliver locally led garden cities.

The idea was touted in all three main parties' election manifestos as a solution to the UK housing shortage.

However, Farrer voiced his disbelief earlier this year, saying the policy was merely a "vote winner". He now says it is unlikely that garden cities will be developed, at least not as defined in the past.

"A self-sufficient city is a perfectly sound idea that we should explore. But the Conservatives called it a garden city because it was an expression that would chime with people, that people would vote for. The idea that it's got anything to do with garden cities as the expression is really known is nonsense."

"Now we're post-election I don't think we'll hear it anymore, because I feel that the housing numbers game is the only game in town. I see no sign that there's going to be any structured planning that might insist on any of the necessary mechanics of a garden city or a self-sustaining city."

He added: "Unless they're going to tell the private sector what garden cities are - 'these are the attributes and therefore this is what you have to provide' - which I would very much support, unless I see something along those lines it isn't worth the paper it's written on."

The Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA), which campaigns for garden cities, is more hopeful about the Government's intentions. Julia Thrift of the TCPA said a lot of thought is going into the concept, including that generated by 2014's Wolfson economics prize.

"Sometimes when politicians talk about garden cities they have a rather vague view of what they're talking about and it just sounds nice, but the depth of thinking in the professions and companies that might actually end up delivering them has really moved on a lot," she added.

While Thrift agreed it is possible that garden cities could disappear from the agenda, the "acute housing crisis" would remain a political issue, she said.

"There is a question about how, if we're going to build new garden cities, we're going to make it happen. For it to happen reasonably quickly is going to take political leadership and commitment, and at the moment it's not obvious that that's there."

She added: "The Government is saying to local authorities: 'If you want to build a garden city in your area, that's fine, go ahead and do it.' But for local councils that's a very difficult thing."

Ministerial response - Community support

Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis said the Government is committed to "working with local communities who want to build more homes in attractive and sustainable developments".

He added: "We've announced our support for new garden cities, towns and communities at Ebbsfleet, Bicester, Basingstoke and in north Northamptonshire. We are continuing to encourage other areas to submit their plans for garden cities that will provide affordable homes, good schools, and jobs for the next generation, while at the same time preserving the countryside."

Lewis said up to £200m of infrastructure funding would be made available for a new garden city at Ebbsfleet. Bicester is next on the agenda, with capacity for up to 13,000 homes. "Garden community" proposals are also being developed for Basingstoke and north Northamptonshire.

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