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Garden communities not yet making a dent in housing target

Words: Laura Edgar
Homes / iStock_000020788340

The government’s garden communities programme is expected to contribute more than 400,000 homes to its target to deliver 300,000 homes a year, but it could take five years before the programme has enough momentum to make a ‘significant’ contribution.

Research published today (9 December) by planning consultancy Lichfields states that the support of decision-makers is required for the contribution to be achieved.

Since 2014, Conservative-led governments have announced that 49 garden communities will be built, including in St Cuthbert’s Garden Village in Carlisle.

How Does Your Garden Grow? A Stock Take on Planning for the Government’s Garden Communities Programme found that these garden communities could provide 403,000 homes, as well as 180 primary schools, 56 secondary schools and 600 hectares of employment land.

The firm’s modelling suggests that it would take until 2050 for the programme to be built out in full, without consideration of unforeseen delays. The next five years would see 21,000 home delivered, after which the rate of delivery would be increased to 16,000 each year after 2030 until 2044, when it would taper off to 13,000 homes a year.

The report states: “Only a third have a permission and/or an allocation in an adopted plan. Another third are in emerging plans, and a full 30 per cent are yet to achieve formal planning status. This means two-thirds still need to establish the principle of development and are therefore subject to ongoing levels of planning risk.”

Stats in How Does Your Garden Grow? A Stock Take on Planning for the Government’s Garden Communities Programme:

  • The 49 garden communities designated by the government could deliver 403,000 homes; 180 primary schools; 56 secondary schools; and 600 hectares of employment land.
  • Approximately 82,000 garden community homes have at least outline planning permission and 18,000 homes have submitted outline applications.
  • 22 of 49 garden communities are stand-alone settlements, eight are new settlements linked to nearby towns, and the remaining 19 are urban extensions, such as those in Basingstoke, Bicester, Taunton and Wellingborough.
  • The stand-alone projects account for 35 per cent of homes in the programme, the linked new settlements 32 per cent, and the urban extensions 33 per cent.

It goes on to say that such risks have already resulted in delays to some schemes, often due to unanswered questions about whether the scheme can be delivered. The onus, the report emphasises, “is on promoters and local authorities to assemble the evidence base necessary to pass the key [National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)] test of soundness”.

Matthew Spry, senior director at Lichfields, explained: “The scale of the programme is undoubtedly ambitious, and it has progressed further than some ill-fated predecessors – such as ‘new country towns’ and ‘Eco Towns’. Across the 49 projects, there is genuine commitment among landowners, developers and local authorities to bring forward fantastic new places for people to live, work and play.

“While the garden communities are unlikely to deliver the lion’s share of their housing allocations until the mid-2020s, they could be delivering 16,000 dwellings a year by the 2030s making a significant contribution to meeting housing need.”

Once a garden community is incorporated into draft or adopted local plans, many councils are “heavily reliant” on such developments to meet their housing requirements. For some councils in these local authorities, a third of their local plan targets depend on a garden communities, but in some areas this is as high as two-thirds.

“Any delay in the delivery of these schemes risks undermining the plan-led system in those authorities,” the report states.

Spry said this means progress in meeting need is subject to the uncertainty associated with local plans, and planning inspectors in some places “casting doubt over the principle and/or feasibility of some projects”. This has already happened with the North Essex Garden Communities; in June 2018 an inspector found the plan not sound, although he stressed “this was not a rejection of plans to deliver three new settlements”.

He also noted that garden communities often require infrastructure to be provided early in the development, which can impact on the viability of the project. “Their call on government funding is shown by the £1.35 billion of Housing Infrastructure Fund devoted to areas with these projects.”

As the NPPF places the emphasis on the deliverability and viability of plans, those promoting garden community projects “need to ensure they can accompany a positive vision for a new community with robust evidence that it can carry the burden of delivery expectation placed upon it”, Spry concluded.

How Does Your Garden Grow? A Stock Take on Planning for the Government’s Garden Communities Programme can be found on the Lichfields website.

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