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Opinion: Garden cities - A big opportunity for housing associations

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Opinion: Garden cities - A big opportunity for housing associations

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

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Image: Housing via Shutterstock

Miles Gibson, prize director of the Wolfson Economic Prize, argues that housing associations need to get involved in the garden city debate.

The housing shortage that the UK faces is causing huge resentment - it is as socially divisive as it is economically counterproductive. Lord Simon Wolfson believes that part of the answer to that shortage is to build new garden cities, and has offered a £250,000 prize to the person who best describes how we might do so.

Some commentators argue that garden cities are not needed and that urban infill and suburban intensification can deliver all of what we need. Urban redevelopment is certainly a laudable activity. And it has in truth been the nominal strategy of every government since 1979 because it avoids difficult questions about building on greenfield land outside existing urban areas.

Despite the limitations of this strategy (notably its cost, and the backlash generated by overintense urban infill), we have been focusing on it as “the answer” for so long that it has created a structural shortfall in housing supply, which has resulted in spectacular and widely-resented inflation in rents. Only when new settlements were on the agenda have we come anywhere close as a nation to achieving cheap and plentiful housing, while also protecting Green Belt. So it is wrong to present urban redevelopment and new settlements as alternatives. We will need both – and at high quality.

If that is true, then housing associations should be asking themselves what their role might be in helping develop tomorrow’s garden cities. As not-for-profit organisations concerned about making communities work, and concerned to provide for those who are otherwise priced out of decent housing, housing associations could credibly lead the debate by promoting and investing in new places, but with a social conscience and a long-term financial outlook. Entering the Wolfson Economics Prize would provide forward-thinking associations with a way of showcasing their ideas.

For more information, visit the Wolfson Economic Prize website.

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