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Making the case for garden communities


The Building Garden Communities conference coincided with two significant milestones this year – the 125th anniversary of Ebenezer Howard founding the garden city movement and the 75th anniversary of the UK’s first post-war new towns.

At times of crisis, these two visionary movements upturned the notion of how and where we build homes. The first was an ambition to clear towns and cities of Victorian slums, and the latter emerged out of the rubble of the Blitz.

The conference also marked a year from the government’s announcement to provide £15m extra funding for over 40 projects, to support its long-stated aim to develop a raft of new garden towns and villages across the country.

A supposed ambition from the government, but one which stands at odds with the impact being felt on the ground across the industry – in a large part, due to the NPPF reform and ‘flex’ in housing targets, despite the chronic need for more homes.

Against that backdrop, what rang loud and clear from the conference was a feeling of pent-up energy – with the industry willing to crack on with the job of delivering Garden Communities, even in the face of economic headwinds.

The first panel event of the day – making the financial and political case for garden communities – brought together a range of panellists to discuss the topic, including:

  • Andrew Reynolds, Project Director Manydown & COO at MGC LLP, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council
  • Katy Lock, Director Communities at TCPA
  • Nikki Davies, Managing Director at Meeting Place
  • Adrian Bohr, – Regeneration and Communities CEO, Places for People.

A sense of frustration towards the government for a lack of long-term strategy and direction was palpable among most panellists.

It was clear that Garden Communities are crying out for an approach which puts long-termism and risk-taking at the fore.

We heard from Meeting Place’s client Places for People, about the once-in-a-generation plans for 8,500 homes at Gilston – one of the country’s most significant garden communities being brought forward – which will usher in considerable benefits for the community.

It’s been 20 years from Gilston’s inception in 2003, and it’ll likely be another 25 years until completion, after it received planning approval this year.

These immense timescales transcend recessions and market fluctuations, but present the UK with a unique opportunity to help alleviate our housing crisis. It also spans way beyond our political election cycles.

With housing ministers and even governments ebbing and flowing over that time, it’s clear the current political landscape is out of step.

What is required across private and political sector players is an appetite for risk-taking and bold decisions when bringing forward Garden Communities.

But with size comes uncertainty… new projects which carefully explore and communicate the benefits these developments will bring to communities will come out top at committee.

The industry can certainly do more to get to know these communities better – hearing from the voices of the silent majority, finding out their needs and aspirations and working with a more diverse range of individuals and groups.

If the conference called for one thing, it would be a government with a clear direction and ambition to deliver the homes the country needs – something which will prove critical if we are to match the ambitions of the new town and Garden City movements of yesteryear.

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