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News analysis: New mechanisms needed to deliver garden villages

Words: Simon Wicks
Garden communities / Shutterstock_204267754

Mechanisms for encouraging landowners and developers to build for long-term gain rather than short-term profit may be necessary if a new wave of garden settlements is to be realised.

Land assembly, land value capture and infrastructure funding were seen as major obstacles to new garden villages by planners, developers and land promoters at ‘A new concept – British Garden Villages’, a seminar organised by LDA Design.

The government deadline for locally led garden village bids passed on 31 July.

Speaking under Chatham House Rules, attendees welcomed the potential of such places, but criticised the system’s inflexibility on:

  • Land assembly and land value capture;
  • Funding physical and social infrastructure;
  • Incentives to landowners and developers to put long-term gain ahead of short-term profit; and
  • Lack of trust and poor communication that left communities unclear about the potential benefits of development.

“The planning policy system at present doesn’t allow for this kind of development,” said one delegate, citing the local plan system’s focus on short delivery horizons. “It’s about constructing a different delivery system that accepts that you are buying into delivery over a long period of time that’s going to grow organically and will allow developers to make a bit of money out of it as well.”

A challenge to the “standard model”

The seminar began with presentations by Quod director John Rhodes Professor Robert Tregay, chairman of LDA Design. Rhodes said the review of the NPPF was looking to strengthen policy (as outlined in paragraph 52) on the construction of garden villages.

He said land assembly and land value capture was the main obstacles to building settlements, but local authorities already had the tools to overcome these hurdles. Two things are necessary for development to take place, he said: “For the development industry to be convinced it’s something they can promote, and community acceptance that this is genuinely a good idea.”

Tregay identified five “defining characteristics” of a garden village:

1. The right location;

2. Landscape fit;

3. Character and placemaking;

4. A village way of life; and

5. An enterprising community.

The standard model of development for new communities – urban extensions piggybacking on existing infrastructure in market towns – is not the best for delivering garden villages, he said. “We have an alternative model that protects the settings and characteristics of the market town and pushes development out into well-chosen locations.”

Garden villages would have strong transport connections with “higher order settlements” and would likely appear in clusters that shared services such as schools. It was critical that they should function socially and economically like traditional villages.

Citing Eynsham in Oxfordshire, he noted that it had five pubs for a population of under 5,000, a primary and secondary school, a library, a medical centre, 100 community clubs and 250 businesses.

“There’s social infrastructure here that would not be regarded as viable in a modern development,” said Tregay. “The standard development model will not deliver garden villages. What are the interventions that will enable that to happen?”

What does NPPF paragraph 52 say?

“The supply of new homes can sometimes be best achieved through planning for larger-scale development, such as new settlements or extensions to existing villages and towns that follow the principles of garden cities. Working with the support of their communities, local planning authorities should consider whether such opportunities provide the best way of achieving sustainable development. In doing so, they should consider whether it is appropriate to establish green belt around or adjoining any such new development.”

An “over-engineered” system

The roundtable discussion sought to answer these questions amid a general feeling that the planning system was “over-engineered and over-regulated” and inhibited development, putting pressure on developers and landowners to go for quick gains.

“It’s an extraordinarily regulated planning system that sets up land values that don’t achieve the right outcomes at the right time,” said one delegate.

But Rhodes defended the system, saying: “There’s no reason why an informed planning authority cannot create a bespoke policy for a garden village… that would help to suppress unrealistic expectations of value because the developer would know what they are in for.”

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