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14/04/2015

Wolfson Prize finalists recommend Royal Commission to deliver garden cities

Words: Laura Edgar

A Royal Commission should be set up by the next government to identify locations for new garden cities, say the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014 finalists.

The finalists – Barton Willmore, Shelter, Urbed, Chris Blundell and Wei Yang & Partners – have published Making New Garden Cities Happen.

The paper sets out three fundamental principles “which are essential to the garden city concept, and three priority actions for the next government”, aimed at unlocking the delivery process.

“If we are to have any hope of addressing the housing crisis then we need to be prepared to think and act differently, listening to the silent majority desperately in need of a new home as much as the siren voices of the politically engaged Nimby lobby” James Gross - Barton Willmore

The three fundamental principles are:

1. Retaining Value in the Place

  The report says “the belief that the uplift in the value of the land, arising from the development process, can be shared more equitably than is currently achieved”. If the land value uplift between landowners, developers, investors, public authorities and local communities is shared in a smarter way, the quality of development can be improved and a variety of benefits can be delivered to local people.

2. Localising Stewardship of Community Assets

  Section 106 agreements, including for infrastructure are, the report explains, paid from the development budget, with “little or no engagement by the community in the discussions”. New garden cities, however, can grant community ownership of assets to the local community.

Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “The Wolfson Prize entries might have been theoretical, but the housing shortage is a very real problem, and new garden cities are a key way to help solve it.

“Creating new garden cities is something that is constantly bandied around by politicians, but we have yet to see enough real evidence of turning this statement into a reality.

“By joining together all of the expertise from the Wolfson Prize finalists, we have produced this guide to taking garden cities from pie in the sky to spades in the ground.

“All we’ve seen so far are piecemeal schemes and broad promises - now is the time for a big, bold plan that can fix the housing shortage once and for all. Only this will give back hope to all those struggling to keep up with sky-high housing costs.”

3. Unlocking access to patient capital

  Financing new garden cities for volume house builders is “impossible” but institutional fund managers have the capabilities. The report says that new garden cities are attractive to patient capital from long-term investors.
”Securing land at lower than open market values means the new garden city model reduces the total amount of debt finance required”.

To put these principles into action, the finalists recommend setting up an independent Royal Commission. The commission would identify broad locations for new garden cities within 18 months.

The commission, says the paper, would encourage local authorities, landowners and other bodies and groups to put forward sites for consideration.

James Gross, urban design director at Barton Willmore, said: “Establishing a Royal Commission will enable politicians at national and local level to be given an objective view on where new homes should be built. Once this principle has been established the onus is on the development industry to work with local communities to demonstrate that, far from being a burden, new settlements can be a tremendous force for the better.”

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