Coffee House

The legacy of the Wolfson Prize could be development by consent and not by diktat

4 June 2014

The Wolfson Economics Prize has unveiled its shortlist today of plans for a new garden city that is both economically viable and popular. There are five shortlisted entrants, listed below, which will develop their plans for a new settlement between now and August. The winner will receive a £250,000 prize, while all finalists have £10,000 to develop their ideas further.

  • Barton Willmore, led by James Gross. Barton Willmore is the UK’s largest independent planning led town-planning and design consultancy. Barton Willmore’s entry sets out a ten-point plan for the delivery of a new garden city, arguing for the development of a cross-party consensus and the production of a National Spatial Plan to identify suitable locations for new garden cities. Garden City Mayors, heading up Garden City Commissions, would be appointed to champion garden cities and find specific locations for development.
  • Chris Blundell FRICS FCIH, Director of Development & Regeneration at Golding Homes. Chris is a development professional with over 30 years’ experience and has entered in a personal capacity with the support of Golding Homes. His entry argues that a garden city should accommodate between 30,000 and 40,000 people (about the size of Letchworth) and that its delivery should be led by Garden City Development Corporations.
  • David Rudlin of URBED, with Nicholas Falk (also URBED) and input from Jon Rowland (John Rowland Urban Design), Joe Ravetz (Manchester University) and Peter Redman (Managing Director, Policy and Research at TradeRisks Ltd). URBED is an urban design and research practice. David’s entry argues for the near-doubling of an existing large town in line with garden city principles, to provide new housing for 150,000 people (about the size of Oxford or Canterbury). The entry offers a proof of this ‘urban extension’ concept based on a fictional town called Uxcester.
  • Shelter, the leading housing and homelessness charity, led by their Head of Policy, Toby Lloyd. This entry proposes a new garden city on the Hoo Peninsula (Medway, Kent) commencing with a settlement of up to 48,000 people (about the size of Welwyn Garden City) at Stoke Harbour as part of a larger cluster of settlements eventually totaling 150,000 people.) The entry proposes a model designed to attract massive private investment into the provision of high quality homes, jobs, services and infrastructure. The delivery model prioritises speed and volume over profit margins, aims to acquire land at low cost and transfer valuable assets to a Community Trust for the long term. Local people would be offered unique opportunities to invest in the city, including through buying shares.
  • Wei Yang & Partners in collaboration with Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, led by Pat Willoughby. Wei Yang & Partners is a London-based practice with an international portfolio of master planning, town planning, urban design and architectural projects. Dr Yang is also advising the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development on its urbanization programme. Their entry argues that an ‘arc’ beyond the London Green Belt (stretching from Portsmouth to Oxford to Cambridge to Felixstowe) is the best location for the development of new garden cities; and that the Government should publish a New Garden Cities Strategy identifying broad ‘areas of search’ for suitable locations, with a 30 year timescale.

One of the striking things about all the entries and indeed the aim of the prize itself is the attention each has paid to gaining consent for the new development, not just from local people who would be directly affected by a new city, but also those who generally regard new housing development as a bad thing. The polling – set out yesterday on Coffee House – shows that garden cities as a concept are popular: 74 per cent of voters think it is a good idea to build new garden cities, and the support rises among older voters, with 79 per cent of over-65s agreeing that it is a good idea to build new garden cities. This is perhaps because voters see garden cities as a way of concentrating new development away from their back yards: 70 per cent of those polled agreed that building garden cities would be a better way of delivering new housing than the current method.

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The question is, though, whether voters in an area feel rather less positive when it is named as the site for a garden city. And this is what the Wolfson entrants are trying to tackle, although only one of those shortlisted, Shelter, as specified a location for its garden city on the Hoo Peninsula. If they do manage to come up with a genuinely popular new garden city, they will go some way to cracking a long-term problem in politics and planning, which is that people no longer feel comfortable about new housing in their areas. This is because successive governments have taken the goodwill of the British people for granted for too long, imposing developments that were unattractive and in some cases unnecessary on communities without consent or local demand. They created Nimbys, and if the Wolfson prize wants an even bigger legacy than one garden city for tens of thousands of people, then it could be the unravelling of that hostility and powerlessness that many people feel as a result of our messy planning system.

P.S. As for what the Queen’s Speech has to say about garden cities, which politicians like to say they love, even if they then panic about locations, this is what the monarch’s address contained:

‘My government will increase housing supply and home ownership by reforming the planning system, enabling new locally-led garden cities and supporting small house-building firms.’

What this means is legislation enabling that Ebbsfleet garden city announced in the Budget, the already-published Locally-led Garden Cities prospectus and ‘two further programmes to provide infrastructure support for large-scale locally-supported schemes’.

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Show comments
  • Grrr8

    Rather naive to think that nimbyism is the product of the government testing the “goodwill” of the British people with unattractive developments (vs. protecting home equity). Maybe that is what needs to be said to make this article digestible for the average Speccie reader.

  • rtj1211

    How is ‘decision by Simon Wolfson’ ‘government by consent’?

    I quite like Simon Wolfson, but him deciding that a prize which gets £250,000 effectively selects those able to present government with the most advanced plans (and hence the ones they are most likely to choose for cost-minimisation purposes) isn’t exactly ‘government’. It’s private philanthropy trying to control Central Government agendas.

  • CortUK

    Isabel Hardman. Sigh….

    If I die, I want to come back as her favourite cocktail dress.

  • Mr Creosote

    ‘My government will increase housing supply and home ownership by reforming the planning system, enabling new locally-led garden cities and supporting small house-building firms.”

    The two are mutually exclusive…………..

    • dalai guevara

      Spoken like a volume housebuilder

  • Last Man Standing

    Why does the video look like it is some sort of comedy

  • Cooper1992

    The fact of the matter is that this country – England, and specifically Southern England – is just too full up now.

    I for one would like to keep England as a green and pleasant land, and one which is largely rural. Instead England is now the second most dense country in Europe, behind Malta and ahead of the Netherlands.

    The following traditional counties now have a density of more than 1,500sq.mi: Middlesex, Surrey, Lancashire, Warwickshire, Essex, Staffordshire, Kent, Cheshire and Hertfordshire. These are no longer truly rural counties.

    Only the following English counties have a density of less than 400sq.mi: Westmorland, Cumberland, Herefordshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland, Cornwall. This is in line with most rural areas of Europe.

    The fact is there is too many people in England and the government is doing s@d all about it.

    • foxoles

      And this has all happened in an astonishingly short space of time.

      • dalai guevara

        time is not a spatial entity, and Britain (nor any other nation in Europe for that matter) is certainly not ‘short’ of it.

    • Blindsideflanker

      Not doing sod all about it, for they are the ones creating the problem.

    • CortUK

      “England is now the second most dense country in Europe, behind Malta and ahead of the Netherlands”

      So you chose the most densely populated part of this country and compared it to the density of other whole countries?

      Did you know France has over a hundred towns and cities more densely populated than any part of the UK, even London?

      The UK is 92% green. If we took that down to 91.8%, we’d be able to build five million more homes and all the services needed to go with them.

      • kyalami

        Sure. My village has grown fivefold in the past 30 years. So you can take those five million homes and plonk them on your fields and parks and village green. We’ve had enough.

        • HookesLaw

          That’s the point of so called garden cities or new towns. That’s the whole point of this competition and this discussion. Grow up.

          • kyalami

            “Grow up”? After you.

  • RuralSolutions

    In response to coverage today announcing the finalists for the Wolfson Prize, Rob Hindle, Director of rural regeneration specialists Rural Solutions, makes the following comments:-

    Garden Cities? What people want is Garden Villages

    Whilst the Wolfson Prize for the design of a new Garden City is a pleasant distraction it won’t go very far to meeting this growing housing need. To do that we need to make land available to house builders where people want to live. Simple, but it requires an acceptance by local planning authorities, local politicians and existing residents that in many instances this means land on the edge of small rural towns and villages.

    England has a housing crisis. In their recent report (Land for Housing) the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that demand for extra homes in England is now
    estimated at around 210,000 properties a year, compared with average output
    from housebuilders and social housing providers of 154,000 extra homes a year
    over the past five years. The accumulating gap between demand and output points
    to a shortfall of 1.1 million homes in 20 years’ time. (JRF Land for Housing

    The market doesn’t lie. There is a reason why (outside of London) the highest property prices are often found in villages with a school, shop, pub and cricket pitch. People like living in villages. Housing is easy to sell in villages and it is easy to build. New housing adds to the vitality of village communities. New people create an increased demand for local services and businesses. They provide new blood to
    support village life; new people often bring new businesses and new economic
    opportunities. The internet means that people don’t have to travel to access
    all sorts of services and helps many more people to work at home.

    Enabling growth in our smaller settlements is a sure fire way meeting some of our housing needs. It is something that the market will deliver, and deliver quickly.

    It is the role of local authorities to make development plans and decisions that will significantly boost the supply of housing. Too many continue to ignore the potential of their rural areas to help meet this objective and in so doing they are adding to the housing crisis not addressing it.

    • Mr Creosote

      At last…someone talking sense!

      If every village in the land took 10 houses, we would not have a housing shortage.

      • dalai guevara

        there is no housing shortage in Britain. Jesus Christ, look in all the estate agents’ windows – plenty of homes everywhere you look (!)

        • Mr Creosote

          Not if we don’t start building them. Shortage of supply = rising price (the story of the last 20 years).

          • dalai guevara

            quality not quantity – we have quantity.
            Shortage of quality is ensured by ditching zero carbon standards, silently as always.

      • HookesLaw

        That is in fact what is happening. Communities are being asked to submit and or comment on plans to increase the number of homes by a certain proportion even as we speak. I attended a meeting on the subject at our village hall just a few months ago. Our allocation seemed to be about 100 and to my eye that did not seem a problematic number, indeed it is a valuable one if it preserves our local services and school.

  • starfish

    It is indeed fortunate that funds for the necessary infrastructure for such developments have not been committed to a grandiose and unnecessary rail project between existing cities

    • HookesLaw

      Existing cities which are themselves growth points …
      There is nothing grandiose about HS2. It will relieve congestion on the other lines which inhabitants of the spaces between the big cities can utilise. Not to mention freight which can relieve congestion on our roads.

  • dalai guevara

    Oh my word, look at this pathetic list of entrants, seriously.
    Where are the true greats, like Albert Speer and Partner, on that list?

  • wycombewanderer

    The Chinese would have built ten garden cities in the time it took to write this article!

    • dalai guevara

      correct, now who designed them?

  • Blindsideflanker

    10k people garden city

    We will need 20 garden cities to house the 212,000 people the Government added to our population last year alone.

    There is a simpler solution to our housing crisis. We all know it, unfortunately the same can’t be said for Westminster metropolitan bubble.

    • itdoesntaddup

      Around 150,000 of them were students, who live at 6 or more to an HMO converted from Granny’s home after she died and it was sold to a BTL landlord to pay IHT. Another chunk were single East Europeans, living at even higher density to be able to remit as much income as possible to their families. Then there were the Somali refugees with large families also living at high density. It’s getting to the point where immigration reduces the demand for housing! It’s the atomisation of British families through the incentives of the benefits system and the couple penalty that is doing most to add to demand.

    • HookesLaw

      Assuming families if 3 that’s 70,000 homes and at cities of 20,000 that’s about 3 not 20.
      Mr flanker gropes towards a point when he points out that many people in the immigrant figures are students. There are some 800,000 empty properties in the UK and many properties are indeed converted to flats. Much of the immigrant workforce is temporary and many will return home and indeed stop migrating once their own economies advance… then they will become markets for our own high value goods. But as we aspire to be a more skilled high earning workforce, who will serve us? This is the issue to be discussed not rants against immigrants.

  • William Haworth

    James…James, the camera’s on. Smarten up a bit.

  • William Haworth

    James…James, the camera’s on. Smarten up a bit.

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