England’s first garden villages announced

England’s first garden villages announced

After the announcement by the government of 14 new garden villages, online estate agency Tepilo takes a closer look at what this involves and the role they could play in easing the housing crisis.

In its latest effort to increase levels of home ownership, the government has announced the creation of the first garden villages in England, with plans proposed for 14 sites across the country, from Cornwall to Cumbria.

The 14 proposed developments, which ministers have now lent their support to, will each help to deliver between 1,500 and 10,000 new homes, creating new villages in their own right at the same time.

The government insists that the garden villages could offer up to 48,000 new properties once completed.

One of the proposals involves a 1,000-home garden village on the site of a former airfield, given over to agriculture in the 1960s, in Deenethorpe, Northamptonshire.

There are also plans for garden villages in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, Halsnead in Merseyside, Longcross in Surrey, Dunton Hills in Essex, Culm in Devon, Long Marston in Stratford-upon-Avon, Welborne in Hampshire, Handforth in Hampshire, Bailrigg in Lancaster, West Carclaze in Cornwall, St Cuthberts in Cumbria and Spitalgate Heath in Lincolnshire. What’s more, Infinity Garden Village will be built in Derbyshire.

The garden villages aren’t being built to a specific blueprint or design – with no one set model for developers to follow. However, there are a few defining characteristics which the garden villages should adhere to. They should be well-designed and pleasing on the eye, built to a high quality and meet local housing needs, in particular catering for first-time buyers.

The new villages, according to the government, will also be distinct areas with their own community facilities and amenities, rather than acting merely as an add-on to existing urban locations.

The government will hand over around £6 million in funding over two years to aid delivery of the new villages, ensuring that the developments have the necessary infrastructure – GPs’ surgeries, jobs, school places, transport links, etc. – to function on their own terms.

As well as the plans for 14 new garden villages, the green light has also been given to large garden towns in Buckinghamshire, Somerset and the Essex-Hertfordshire border. This comes on top of already proposed plans for garden town and cities in Aylesbury, Basingstoke, Bicester, Didcot, Ebbsfleet, Taunton and north Northamptonshire.

The original Garden City movement was pioneered by Sir Ebenezer Howard in 1898, with the intention of creating planned, self-contained communities surrounded by greenbelt areas. The first two garden cities to use Howard’s plans were Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, both in Hertfordshire. Both still exist to this day. The post-war New Towns Act, which saw the development of many new towns and communities across the UK, was also heavily influenced by Howard’s ethos.

Taken together, the new garden towns, cities and villages aim to provide 200,000 homes to help ease the housing shortage.

Some of the plans, however, have drawn opposition, in particular the plans for a garden town on green belt land on the Essex-Hertfordshire border. Critics say the proposals will swallow up the existing village of Gilston and the small neighbouring hamlet of Eastwick.

The Hertfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) insists the plans herald “the death knell of the rural character of whole swathes of Hertfordshire. Beautiful villages, supposedly protected by green belt, look set to be swallowed up by the urban sprawl of neighbouring towns.”

Mary Parsons, group director of developer Places for People, which put forward the proposals for the garden town, disagrees. The new green town, she says, “would help bring the infrastructure, jobs and much-needed homes to the area”.

Labour has questioned the government’s plans. “In the last six years we built fewer homes than under any peacetime prime minister since the 1920s,” said John Healey, Shadow Housing Secretary. “The country deserves a proper plan for fixing the housing crisis, not just more hot air.”

The CPRE are also sceptical, reasoning that garden towns and villages will only help to address the housing crisis if done properly and with genuine local consent. Although some of the garden village proposals meet these guidelines, the CPRE point out that others are being greatly opposed by local people. 

“We will look closely at these specific proposals to ensure that they really are locally led, that they respect the green belt and other planning designations, and that they meet real local housing need,” Shaun Spires, CPRE chief executive, said.

As always, there will be opposition to new projects, particularly those that involve the green belt, but if the plans for the garden towns and villages are carried out sensibly, compassionately and with the support of local people, they are an excellent way of upping supply and helping to reduce the housing shortage. If they also increase the chances for first-time buyers, all the better.

It worked at the turn of the last century, and, more importantly, after the Second World War. So, with the right planning in place, there is no reason why that can’t be replicated in the 21st century.

Again, it is not something that is going to solve the supply shortage on its own, but it’s a step in the right direction. The government has been heavily criticised for its lack of action when it comes to housebuilding, but more decisive measures like the above would represent a welcome change in approach.