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Garden Cities could be a game-changer in winning local support for new housing

3 June 2014

On Wednesday morning, the finalists for the Wolfson Economics Prize will be announced. This year’s Prize asked people to design a new garden city that is attractive, funded and locally popular.

It is well recognised that we are not building enough homes. Indeed we have not been building enough homes for at least a generation. We built just over 110,000 homes in the latest year (completions) and yet around 300,000 homes a year, or 1.5 million by 2020, are needed. In a Populus poll published today, 72 per cent of people agreed there was a serious shortage of good housing.

Much of the blame for our housing shortage lies squarely with the planning system, often entwined with endemic local opposition to sequential development, or NIMBYism. Unfortunately such NIMBYism is often well-founded, given the often poor quality of architectural design of new homes and a lack of new infrastructure for them, which places ever more pressure on existing local roads and schools. Many homeowners also object to new development on their doorstep because it can reduce the value of their home, particularly if built on greenfield land and their view is affected. They will (rightly) object as a result. All of these things are examples of what economists call negative externalities. Garden cities move us fundamentally away from the externality problem. That is why they are game-changing. That is why we shouldn’t be surprised that people not only back new garden cities, but that existing homeowners back them even more.


Of course it is important that new garden cities are visionary, popular and economically viable. Good architectural design, green spaces including for gardens (78 per cent of people in the polling thought private gardens for new homes are important), and careful attention to the sense of community and place are essential ingredients. We know that garden cities are popular with the people living in them, just take Welwyn and Letchworth as examples. If new garden cities are built on agricultural land, instead of the optioned land that often surrounds our urban areas, the land value uplift can massive. In high demand areas a hectare of land with permission for housing will be worth 200 times more than the same hectare used as farmland. Such uplift is more than sufficient to pay for the upfront infrastructure requirements of a new city and to handsomely compensate existing landowners so that everybody gains. It is worth remembering too that Letchworth did not receive a penny of public money when it was built. ​

No one is saying that new garden cities are the whole answer to getting us to 300,000 homes a year. But as well as making a significant contribution to our overall housing supply numbers, they will to help to change the way we think about and deliver new housing in our country; moving us away from fearing the next new mock-Tudor housing estate or sequential development near to where we live, to being inspired by well-designed and visionary garden cities that we can point to and be proud of.

Chris Walker is Head of Housing, Planning and Urban Policy at Policy Exchange

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  • Lussac

    These would be “Garden Cities” in name only. As someone who hails from Letchworth Garden City I can safely say that they would not allocate the space per household that would be necessary for a real “Garden City”. There’s a fairly modern development called the Lordship Estate that has a large amount of green space, no through roads and walkways all around the estate and most of the roads are at least twice as wide as any new development that gets built these days and most of the plot sizes are above average for the types of houses. The temptation for developers to cram as many houses in a given space as possible would ensure that they would not be building a “Garden City”. They should study Ebenezer Howard’s publications and ideas very closely before coming up with this drivel.

  • FrankS2

    Farmland may rise exponentially in value when redesignated for housing, but what compensates for the loss of food production? The UK is already far too dependent on food imports.

    • monty61

      Simply redesignate the golf courses and polo pitches that crowd out the housing in Surrey – would do the job.

  • andagain

    Garden cities move us fundamentally away from the externality problem.

    You seem pretty convinced that there can be no negative externalities to having a small city built around you. I would not be so sure. People who wanted to be living in a small city would not be living in the country to begin with.

    Right-to-build strikes me as being a better bet. No single house is going to have a big impact locally, for one thing. And I expect that most of the people who take advantage of it will be wealthy already, so people should see some advantages in having an expensive house being built nearby to house someone relatively well off. That sort of thing helps local property prices.

    The trouble with housebuilding in this country, is that people keep trying to use it to benefit poor unimportant people. If you want anything to happen, it has to benefit wealthy and powerful people.

  • HookesLaw

    300,000 new homes a year is 1.5million in the life of a parliament. Just mentioning that.
    There are over 800,000 empty homes in the UK. 300,000 of them long term empty.
    Where is the housing crisis?

  • Smithersjones2013

    [Yawn] it doesn’t matter whether you spin them as ‘New Towns’ or ‘Garden Cities’ or ‘heaven on earth’ anything that is planned by bureaucrats will inevitably end up as a carbuncle on our society. and those unfortunate to already live in the location where one of these soul-less abominations is to be built should receive the nations sympathy!

    There is simple way to reduce demand for accommodation in this country. Stop importing 1 million immigrants every 5 years

  • swatnan

    Essex has its Wooham Ferris N’Hamtonshire has its Milton Keynes and Herts has its Welyn. Lets have more Garden Cities, but no more mock Tudor please, no more fairy tale housing, but housing which is affordable and fit for architects to live in.

    • Sapporo

      LOL! Architects live in grand Victorian/Georgian townhouses, often in conservation areas

    • global city

      They tried that in Cumbernauld and Skem!

  • Colonel Mustard

    Remind me why we need 300,000 homes a year.

    But it is more than that isn’t it. It is the utilities and power supply needed for those new homes, the infrastructure to supply food and the public services like schools, hospitals and police.

    Your mates in government have truly f***ed this up. Demand, in this case the desire to live in the UK which because of EU free movement is unlimited and uncontrolled, is already outstripping the supply of all those things. Urban and infrastructure development is not going to keep pace with an influx of 250,000 people a year, even if birth rates are ignored. And a plan to extend London to the rest of England is not a great idea.

    But you and your mates carry on waffling about fixing the symptoms as the basic disease makes them worse. About eco systems and garden cities and game changing. But the reality is we will probably get a government in 2015 that doesn’t think any of this is a problem, that to be concerned by it is ‘racism’ and that the more foreigners who come to crowd in here to “enrich” our lives the better.

    • monty61

      Actually a big part of the problem is down to the relative wealth of the current retired encumbents of large houses and the fact we don’t tax property at all, leaving them with no imperative to downsize. A sensible approach to property taxes would go a long way to easing that particular bottleneck that sees 60 and 70 years olds in 4-bed detached houses, and young families cramped in 2-bed flats.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Tripe. People are entitled to live in the houses they have bought.

  • MirthaTidville

    Interesting that such a `city` is being proposed for the recently closed Manston Airport in Thanet area of Kent..Was bought for £1 by Ann Gloag of stagecoach last year and closed fully last month. No wonder the very rich like them..Coming to your back yard soon

  • Mr Creosote

    Chris – “Garden Cities” will not get support because they are bound to be situated in someone’s back yard. Witness the debacle in my local area of Stratford on Avon where two proposed garden city sites of roughly the same size are proposed. In the public consultation exercise, all the people who live adjacent to site A vote for the housing to go to site B and all the people who live adjacent to site B vote for the housing to go to site A – it’s a giant Nimby-fest, resulting in stalemate.

    This is the eco-town debacle repeating itself and while the planning system is snarled up with all the public consultation, the volume housebuilders carry on building acres of cr4p, pretty much wherever they like!

  • Blindsideflanker

    More tripe from Chris Walker. Nothing people said to him the last time he wrote here seems to have sunk in.

    Chris Walker when unable to fill his bath rather than seeing the obvious solution to his problem is to put in the plug, instead hires loads of Polish plumbers to install half a dozen more taps.

    While the Government fails to get to grips with mass immigration, they will fail to sort out the housing crisis, and until they can show there is an end to perpetual development to an ever expanding population, people will defend every piece of our diminishing green and once pleasant land from development.

    • Ricky Strong

      I’m glad you have pointed that out. 200,000 a year net migration into this country. This has nothing to do with race, religion, sexuality, politics, age etc As has been said time and time again it is a simple numbers game.

      There are profound issues that we need to deal with both internally and globally, we cannot carry on living the way we are, it is wholly unsustainable. More houses and growth in the economy will not tackle these issues.

      • Mr Creosote

        Tell that to Merkel and Juncker – there is no immediate prospect of controlling the numbers.

        • Blindsideflanker

          Or Cameron.

        • Ricky Strong

          It’s pointless. As the global population rises at such an alarming rate and resources are depleted mother nature will do what she does best.

    • dado_trunking

      What changed since last week?
      In the previous decade we have seen £60k homes competitions selling for £180k plus. Now those very same homes, if they were built, sell for £280k.

      There is no ‘homes’ crisis. There clearly is an affordability crisis.
      Britain’s way of dealing with that will be to return to Victorian-style occupancy rates per dwelling.

  • Sapporo

    What absolute rubbish. Planning rules are there to ensure appropriate development. They have been relaxed by successive Govts and locally opposition is now, almost, always over-ruled by Central Govt. There is a housing shortage due to mass immigration. It is only in London and the SE. There are streets of empty and boarded up houses in Northern towns and cities. The author is a civil servant turned lobbyist. The metropolitan elite want to enjoy the fruits of mass immigration, but they want the migrants to live elsewhere.

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