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Wolfson Prize winner calls for new Garden Cities Act

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Wolfson Prize winner calls for new Garden Cities Act

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Local Government

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The winner of the 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize has called for the next government to introduce a Garden Cities Act that would enable existing towns and cities to double in size.

David Rudlin says the act would lead to the building of "attractive" new homes for thousands of people while preserving the countryside.

Rudlin, of urban design and research consultancy URBED, was awarded the £250,000 Prize at a gala dinner in London last night.

His entry argued for the near-doubling of up to 40 existing large towns to provide new homes for 150,000 people per town, built over 30-35 years. The submission imagines a fictional town called Uxcester to develop the concept. It argues that expansion of existing towns is the best way to accommodate growth, regenerate town centres, and protect much-loved countryside and the setting of surrounding villages.

Rudlin argued that there may be as many as 40 cities in England that could be doubled in size in this way, such as Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Rugby, Reading and Stafford.
Other key points from the submission include:

  • Towns should be permitted to bid for garden city status and should not have expansion imposed upon them; the processes for bidding would be set out in a new Garden Cities Act
  • The Act would allow the Government to confer new delivery tools upon successful bidders – including financial guarantees (but not subsidy) and modernised land acquisition powers; and the power to create local Garden City Foundations to promote each garden city. The Act would also include a new statutory requirement to plan responsibly for housing development at the local authority level, with garden city status being one of the options that local authorities could draw upon to meet that need;
  • Expansion would take the form of town extensions connected to the city centre by a tram or bus rapid transit (similar to that operating in Cambridge), with each extension consisting of green, walkable neighbourhoods with primary schools, business uses, and local shops, drawing on modern Scandinavian, Dutch and German models.
  • Development of flood plains would be entirely avoided in the design of the settlement and extensions would be surrounded by country parks, allotments, lakes and other low impact uses.
  • The financial model shows how a modern tram scheme could be delivered to serve the new garden city, of the sort that most other European cities of the size of Uxcester would feel entitled to;
  • The expanded garden city would provide a new population who would use the town centre, helping to regenerate its shopping facilities and protecting it against out-of-town retail;
  • The financial model show that for every plot developed, the same area again could be allocated for parks and gardens which are publicly accessible to the whole community rather than kept in private hands;
  • 20% of new homes would be affordable housing;
  • The overwhelming majority of Green Belt land (if the town has a Green Belt) would be protected and enhanced.

In an appendix to the entry, contributor Dr Nicholas Falk applies the Uxcester concept to Oxford (2011 population: 150,000) as a case study. The study argues that if Oxford does not grow, Oxford University’s position as one of the top three in the world could be lost. It describes the County Council’s acceptance that 100,000 new homes are needed in the county by 2031 with Oxford itself in need of 28,000 new homes by 2026. It notes that Oxford City Council has recently published an informal assessment of the potential to release Green Belt land, but proposes an alternative strategy involving no use of flood plains and the protection of some smaller villages near Oxford which would otherwise be developed.

The award comes in the wake of polling conducted for the Prize showing that 68% of the 6,166 Britons polled thought that garden cities would protect more countryside than the alternatives for delivering the housing we need.

David Rudlin said: “I am delighted that our distinctive approach to building Garden Cities has been recognised by the judges, as will the good people of the fictional city of Uxcester that we created for the submission. We believe that the expansion of existing places like Uxcester to create Garden Cities has the potential to make a significant contribution to meeting our housing needs as well as creating places that are attractive and popular, and that fulfil their economic potential.”

Commenting on the Oxford case study contained in David’s submission, Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Oxfordshire is thriving. As a result, our population is growing and we face some big challenges. Our economic plan proposes that 80,000 new jobs and 100,000 new homes need to be built by 2031 across the county. Therefore , we cannot rely on small, short-term fixes – we need to think of larger, bolder solutions. We welcome the stimulus that the Wolfson Economics Prize has given to this debate.”

Founder of the Prize, Lord (Simon) Wolfson of Aspley Guise, said: "We urgently need to build more houses and great places in Britain. I am delighted that this year’s Wolfson Economics Prize has generated so many powerful and creative proposals for new garden cities. David’s entry is a tour de force of economic and financial analysis, creative thinking and bold, daring ideas. I congratulate him and his team on a fantastic contribution to the debate on how we can deliver great new places for future generations to live, work and play in.”

As the decision was very close, Lord Wolfson has agreed to award a £50,000 runners-up prize to Shelter, the national housing and homelessness charity, in recognition of the many merits of their submission. Shelter’s entry was led by Toby Lloyd and was prepared in collaboration with PRP Architects, with advice from KPMG LLP, Laing O’Rourke plc and Legal & General. The other three finalists receive £10,000.

Rudlin's winning submission was selected from 279 entries and was prepared in collaboration with Dr Nicholas Falk (also URBED), Pete Redman (TradeRisks Ltd) and Jon Rowland (Jon Rowland Urban Design), with input from Joe Ravetz (Manchester University).

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