Mixed response greets prospectus

Government's garden cities prospectus labelled 'huge step forward' but not prescriptive enough.

Garden cities: guiding principles
Garden cities: guiding principles

Industry figures have welcomed the Government's focus on garden cities but voiced concern over the lack of detail in its Locally-Led Garden Cities: Prospectus published last month (15 April).

The 10-page document has been called "a huge step forward" but also criticised for not being prescriptive enough. Rather than defining what and where garden cities should be, it asks for local submissions by the end of August, offering a set of guidelines to follow.

The Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) said it is delighted its garden city principles are listed in the document, even as a guideline, and is optimistic for the future. It is holding a conference in central London on 15 May to assist planners.

Head of projects and events Julia Thrift said: "Rather than naming sites, the Government is waiting for local authorities to say 'build something here'. That will be interesting. We're not aware of any local authorities that have sites of up to 15,000 houses in the pipeline. Many don't have a large enough appropriate site."

Big sites exist across borders but multiple planning authorities would complicate matters, she added. "In the past when we have regional planning it was easier." But the only place that still has this is London.

"It's a very short document and it doesn't have a great deal of detail in it," said Thrift. "It's unclear about how this is going to work with the planning system, but it's a huge step forward."

But only days after publication, planning minister Nick Boles said no affordable home targets would be set on future garden city developments, something that attacks the foundations of the garden city model. TCPA policy head Hugh Ellis said the majority of homes in any new garden city must be affordable, with at least half of those for social rent.

Landscape Institute vice-president Ian Phillips said his personal view is that the prospectus is "not progressive and not prescriptive" and he suspects responses to the Government's call for submissions will simply be "dressed-up housing estates".

Given the deadline for submissions is the end of August it will be very difficult to work up completely new plans, he suggested. This will make it harder to ensure the kind of quality landscape, green infrastructure and sustainability landscape architects advocate and the garden cities model demands.

Phillips also questioned whether 15,000 homes could be classed as a city and the likelihood of such developments having adequate infrastructure funding.

"It's a PR exercise that may turn into something good but this is a bit of a drop in the ocean," he added. "The bottom line is we need 220,000 new homes a year."

Opportunities - Landscape skills in demand

Any scheme that is developed under true garden city principles will provide great opportunities for landscape architects, landscapers and amenity suppliers. But the former's skills will be in demand now as developers and local authorities develop garden city plans.

The Landscape Institute is reserving comment on the prospectus until a working group has meet to analyse it before producing a position statement. The meeting was scheduled on 30 April. The institute said in a statement: "We welcome the Government's discussions on the creation of a new generation of garden cities."

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