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Opinion: Garden cities provide an intelligent solution to the housing crisis

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Opinion: Garden cities provide an intelligent solution to the housing crisis

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Development

Berewood Berewood

By John Beresford, development director, Grainger plc

Since the last general election, there has been a discussion around the use of garden cities to meet the housing demand in the UK and, in this year’s budget, the government announced that it would support a new garden city at Ebbsfleet involving up to £200 million of public investment, driven forward by a development corporation. This was shortly followed by the Garden City Prospectus which invites local authorities to express an interest in developing garden cities.

This resurgent interest in an old planning concept comes as a result of a serious issue facing present government: how to fulfil the huge pent up demand for homes in the UK against a supply chain that has been under delivering for years. While housebuilding has been on the up since the crash in 2008, demand still considerably exceeds supply and we need to rethink the way we build. The scarcity of building land is a major factor behind the escalation of house prices and for this to be checked, local government needs to adopt a fresh approach to the release of land for new homes. This view now enjoys cross party support.

Unsurprisingly, the desire for yet more development is not shared in the countryside and, due to the piecemeal approach that has been adopted towards development over the last three decades, infrastructure provision remains the same despite the growth in population. Local communities are feeling the strain.

As a result of this, the garden city concept has returned to the fore, as it provides an alternative and intelligent solution to delivering much needed homes to the UK, especially in the south.

The garden city concept was developed by Ebenezer Howard, who at the time of his writing was observing a seismic shift in the economic, social and political landscape. The economic face of the UK was changing, during which time politicians, industrialists and professionals saw an opportunity to be more innovative with their urban strategy.

Inspired by his utopian vision for the city, Howard wrote ‘To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform’ which was published in 1898. Shortly after he funded the Garden Cities Association (now known as the TCPA) where he brought together investors to fund the purchase of Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City.

Central to Howard’s garden city model is the meeting of town and country, where the planned city centre would become home to civic, commercial and cultural space, as well as schools, libraries, and heath provisions. All of this would be set amongst parks and open space further catering for the community’s needs.

For Howard, once a garden city had reached its maximum population, a neighbouring garden city would be erected. In fact, he envisaged a cluster of garden cities that would act as satellites of a main city, all connected by rail and road.

Since working in the housing and development sector, I’ve long admired Howard’s philosophy of ‘total community’ as a template for housebuilding, and it has influenced my work as a development director at Grainger.

Using the principles of the garden cities model, we have master planned two schemes at Berewood and Wellesley, both in Hampshire which will deliver 2,550 and 3,850 homes respectively.

Central to our plan is to create communities where people will want to both live and work, and in so doing, we hope to engender a pride of place, a factor that has been missing from most modern developments. Unlike developers, we wish to retain a long term interest in our schemes, and work with leading master planners like ADAM Urbanism, a favourite of HRH the Prince of Wales. Extensive public consultation within the local community has led to master plans and design codes which ensure that our schemes are greeted locally, built to the highest standards and in keeping with the immediate environment.

As part of our Howard-esque vision, we invest in key infrastructure from the outset. At Berewood this will provide for all the elements of the scheme which will include 1 million sq. ft. of commercial space, 85 live/work units, two primary schools, a community centre, health and leisure facilities, public open spaces, children’s play areas, sports pitches and multi-use games areas. There will be plenty of green space, boulevards, a cricket pitch and pavilion, and a new pub.

In line with our interest in ‘total community’, we have set up a subsidiary for profit registered provider of affordable housing, Grainger Trust, which will manage the 40% of affordable homes on site. The Trust will not only manage and maintain the affordable housing but it will look after the site as a whole. For social housing tenants and owner occupiers alike, we will be outlining communal guide lines such as no satellite dishes on the fronts of houses and restrictions on alterations to properties. It’s simple rules like these that once adopted can transform a development into a harmonious community.

So while at Grainger we welcome these new government initiatives we believe we are leading by example and have been busy for several years delivering the garden cities of tomorrow.

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