Britain needs 15 garden cities to help meet housing demand but the skills shortage in horticulture and local government funding cuts are likely to thwart such an ambitious target, an expert said last week.
Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) head of policy Hugh Ellis said: "Britain built 32 post-war new towns and if we are to chip away at today's housing crisis then we need to think about 10-to-15 free-standing communities."
Ellis was speaking at the TCPA's Garden City Principles conference last week. The event was run in response to Government prospectus Locally-Led Garden Cities on affordable housing surrounded by large gardens and parks.
However, Ellis questioned the seriousness of the coalition's support for garden cities, citing the proposal to make Ebbsfleet in Kent a 15,000-home garden city.
"It's hard to see how that will achieve the high standards demanded by garden cities because it was agreed before current talk on garden cities. We question whether the Government is serious. It will have to up its game."
He also questioned the ability to build and maintain garden cities given the local government funding crisis, the skills shortage in horticulture and construction and possible lack of materials. Ministers must encourage closer working among the professions but are "crossing their fingers and hoping these places will happen".
Ellis said: "We urge the Government to make the most of the opportunity garden cities present to address the ever-escalating housing crisis and to ensure all of the key principles are embedded into proposals so that local authorities can deliver high-quality, sustainable and inclusive communities."
Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation chief executive John Lewis told the conference that he welcomed the Government's 10-page prospectus but warned the term "garden cities" is a "nice brand and comfortable way of describing new development".
He added: "Skills shortages are a huge problem not just for horticulture but other sectors. Schools and departments are closing down and we are losing skills, which is a real issue when it comes to the wherewithal to build garden cities."
Leaders at Letchworth, an Edwardian village of which 60 per cent is made up of green space and other natural environments, teamed up with the RHS 18 months ago to look at developing a horticultural education programme for residents.
Government help Ambitious and innovative
Department for Communities & Local Government garden cities policy manager Cathal Rock said the Government is looking to help people who want to be ambitious and innovative in their approach to delivering the homes that they need.
"The locally-led garden cities prospectus therefore sets out a broad support package that Government will offer localities that are ambitious in terms of scale and delivery, and set high standards for design, quality and the provision of green space."