Nick Clegg told to focus on cities after detailing garden city housing ideal

Landscape architects question deputy prime minister's ideas for meeting nation's housing needs.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who last week said he wanted to turn back the clock to pioneering garden cities of a century ago to blitz the housing crisis, has been told to focus on cities.

Landscape architects spoke out after Clegg's speech to the National House Building Council in which he said meeting housing needs is a choice between haphazard urban sprawl or new garden cities and suburbs.

Landscape Institute policy chair Noel Farrer said: "Using a larger-scale planning approach likened to the garden city movement is an idea I applaud but have concerns about. Simply adopting ideas that are the best part of 100 years old is too crude.

"We must embrace the complexities of sustainability and modern needs as well as multiculturalism, which must lead to innovative new thinking rather than rolling out what is likely to be a poor-fit model.

"Towns and cities constantly evolve and we have much unused and poor housing in urban areas. Stitching these places effectively back into the urban network has delivered the best developments, such as exciting city dockland schemes."

Wilder Associates director Peter Wilder said: "The one issue that continues to plague the idea of sustainable cities is urban sprawl. The garden city concept today is symptomatic of our throwaway society. We have removed our population to a safe distance away from all the problems of the city, leaving our cities to fester. We should be investing in cities.

"We need new, well-serviced developments in the urban fringe. Our cities may not have sexy eco-bling credentials but there are many good things such as culture, heritage and community. Often new towns are devoid of such things."

Landscape consultant Peter Neal said: "Renaissance of garden cities could offer strategic ambition for housebuilders. It is a better suggestion than the Government's recent attempt to jump-start the economy by relaxing home extension restrictions.

"The original garden city vision needs updating to deliver truly sustainable development and we must be sure to build garden and city at the same time. This would put landscape and the landscape profession at its heart."

Campaign to Protect Rural England planning officer Kate Houghton added: "Making the most of existing towns does not mean, as Clegg suggests, 'cramming ever more people into existing settlements, concreting over gardens and parks'. Good design and smart growth will offer the best of both worlds."

Sector responds

"The revival of the garden city is a nice gesture but has many flaws and unanswered questions on who provides key infrastructure that makes it sustainable. We are learning to walk on wobbly sustainable legs. Until we have proven ourselves capable of fixing our broken cities we should not go near a greenfield site."

Peter Wilder, director, Wilder Associates.

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