The garden city movement began in 1898 and was initiated by Sir Ebenezer Howard, one of the founders of the town planning movement, as a response to overcrowding and poor conditions in UK cities. Garden cities were to be self-contained communities surrounded by countryside, in contrast to the cities.
More than a century on, we face different problems: a fundamental lack of housing, rising property prices and growing homelessness. Our cities are not subject to the same levels of smog and pollution that the Victorians faced. However, a key parallel that remains today is the requirement to provide more housing.
The government’s new prospectus emphasises a growing agenda that proposes garden villages, towns and cities as solutions to the housing crisis. The prospectus builds on the government’s current support for new garden communities in Bicester, Basingstoke, Didcot, Ebbsfleet, north Essex and north Northamptonshire, and its intention is to encourage local authorities, with support from local communities, to put forward proposals for new locations.
The key elements of the prospectus
- The government is encouraging ‘ambitious locally led proposals for new communities’ and it expects to see ‘innovative approaches and solutions to creating great places, rather than following a set of rules’.
- The use of brownfield land is encouraged.
- Good design is essential and the developments should be attractive and built to a high quality.
- Expressions of interest need to ‘demonstrate how the new settlement, including the necessary infrastructure, will be delivered’.
- Future national planning policy will be strengthened to provide more support.
- Expressions of interest are invited by 31 July 2016 for new ‘garden villages’ of between 1,500 and 10,000 homes. Expressions of interest without fixed deadline owing to greater their complexity are also invited for ‘garden towns and cities’ with more than 10,000 homes.
By producing the prospectus, the government is clearly providing further evidence of its support for the garden city re-imagination in 21st century. The prospectus puts the emphasis on local authorities to propose locations and designs for garden city developments. However, it will be interesting to see which local authorities grasp the nettle and offer proposals in the current climate of local cuts and the localism agenda, which tips planning decisions in the favour of well-organised local community groups.
As chartered landscape architects, RSK’s landscape team members absolutely support the principle of a response to the housing crisis that puts design to the fore. Relevant landscape-related concepts that should be embedded into the design of garden villages, towns and cities include the inclusion of green infrastructure; sustainable design; the creation of distinctive environments that engender a sense of place for their residents; and a fundamental understanding of the existing environment so that the inevitable change can be managed positively.
Given that the early-stage development of a landscape framework should form the backbone of any successful future residential development, we are optimistic that garden villages, towns and cities can provide an answer to our housing crisis and that landscape architects will be engaged fully in the process.
Chris Frain CMLI, director and landscape architect, RSK
Chris is a chartered landscape architect and has worked on various projects throughout the UK. His key expertise lies in landscape planning, landscape and visual assessment, and landscape design. For more information, please contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.