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09/03/2015

Garden city policy falls 500,000 homes short

Words: Laura Edgar
Allocating housing land won't increase supply / Shutterstock_141093886

Government plans to deliver 250,000 homes through garden cities would still leave a shortage of 500,000 homes by 2020, says think tank Future Spaces Foundation (FSF).

The report, Vital Cities Not Garden Cities: the answer to the nation’s housing shortage?, examines the proposal of building garden cities in response to the housing crisis. It suggests that the focus should be densification of existing settlements instead.

Vital Cities Not Garden Cities says if the housing shortage is to be met by garden cities, then 67 such developments - each with a population of 30,000 - would be required to meet the one-million-home shortage in London and the Home Counties alone.

The report argues that dense, or ‘vital cities’, offer residents easy access to employment, public services and shopping, meaning they are more sustainable, both economically and environmentally.

“Higher density settlements are also more effective in generating mixed communities, social integration and safety whilst reducing the costs of transportation and local services.”

It continues by saying that in comparison with cities such as New York City and Paris – with 27,562 and 21,196 people per square kilometre respectively - London stands at 10,122 people per km², while other major cities across the UK are also low in density, therefore “the opportunity to densify certainly exists."

“If we are going to densify we need to make sure people have access to space” – Kate Henderson

As case studies to demonstrate their point, the Future Spaces Foundation considered Birmingham and Guildford, Surrey, both of which face a housing shortage.

The Future Spaces Foundation explains that higher-density settlements “fostered better transport infrastructure, industry clusters and greater economic activity, and the construction of more appropriate homes to match the housing need”.

In conclusion, they continued, it was found that Birmingham’s new homes requirement will be worth £11.6 billion to the local economy, supporting 100,000 direct construction jobs in the area up to 2035.

Furthermore, using data from local authorities, the report argues that 350 km² of brownfield land has been identified by the Future Spaces Foundation as being potentially suitable for housing.

Local authorities with a housing shortage, the report says, have enough brownfield land to provide homes for the population for an average of eight years.

Ken Shuttleworth, founder of Make Architects and chair of the Future Spaces Foundation, said: “As a nation, we are in danger of sleepwalking into policies that will exacerbate the current crisis of housing availability, suitability and affordability, not to mention the irreversible environmental impact that will have dangerous and damaging consequences for generations to come.”

Shuttleworth added that every option to densify must be considered before greenfield land development.

“Far from being the dystopia that they are sometimes perceived as, dense, or vital cities, are efficient environmentally and economically and by incorporating smart design, can enable communities to thrive in a sustainable way.”

Speaking to The Planner, Town and Country Planning Association chief executive Kate Henderson said: “I think that no one is suggesting that garden cities are the only solution to the housing shortage. We do need to develop different solutions – the effects of the shortage differ across the country, therefore the solutions will differ.”

Henderson said densification can be entirely appropriate if it is in the right place, for example, around transport hubs.

“If we are going to meet the one million-home shortage, we will need to densify some areas. But we should not forget how people want to live.”

Garden cities, she said, are not just about tree-lined streets, they are a development model enabling the community to have a say about their future. She added: “What is unique about a garden city is that it captures the land value, which can be invested in the community.”

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