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NIC could support new garden cities – research

Words: Laura Edgar

Government funding for infrastructure as well as private finance from pension funds could support a new wave of garden cities, according to a study.

New garden cities would, says the research, help a generation of young people “locked out” of home ownership.

Garden Cities – Why Not?, the International Garden Cities Institute’s first research paper, suggests the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) could support garden cities in an attempt to meet housing need.

The NIC does not have a remit to make recommendations on housing policy. However, the report states, given that the government already makes “massive” infrastructure investments nationally, “it is logical to argue that it should invest in garden city locations, which ministers regularly repeat they want to encourage”.

Further to this, the report continues by explaining that this should “form part of the remit of the recently established National Infrastructure Commission”.

Particularly relevant, is that the NIC has “called for submissions on national infrastructure challenges”.

“Surely, this is one of them?” says the report.

Co-author of the report, economist Keith Boyfield, said that some new developments “badged as garden cities and towns” are in the pipeline, “do they deliver the key elements that conform to and bolster the brand?”

Regarding the government’s protestations that it wants to encourage garden city developments, Boyfield said it has been “less forthcoming on funding models”.

“The more adept the government is at using the instruments at its disposal – including the tax system, planning, governance capacity, infrastructure support and the release of surplus land where appropriate - the better.”

Dr Susan Parham, the institute’s academic director and co-author, said Letchworth and Welwyn are successful not just because of the way they look, but also “how well they work: socially, environmentally and economically”.

Parham and Boyfield suggest that as well as public finance, pension funds and life assurance companies should invest in new settlements, while planning and technology need to be address in the creation of new places.

The authors recommend that ‘Pink Planning’ could help with the delivery of garden cities. The technique, says the study, was successful in helping to regenerate the central core of Phoenix, Arizona.

Pink Zones, the report explains, are deregulatory planning initiatives that are designed to work from the community upwards.

The research also recommends:

  • A reassessment of the green belt. The report states: “We contend that it is high time to produce a well-evidenced, considered national review which sets out why we have a green belt, how it is developed, what it encompasses now, and asks what we want from it? Crucially, this analysis must answer the question: why have a green belt in the future?”

  • A new wave of garden cities provides an opportunity to explore the use financing, governance, building and management instruments (notably Community Land Trusts) that emphasise Ebenezer Howard’s egalitarian approach. In the shorter term, they are likely to help with community engagement and support; and, in the longer term, they will help ensure that such communities are better places to live, as Letchworth demonstrates.

The authors suggest that garden cities are well placed to become smart cities. Letchworth is self-financing through community ownership, which funds a community health centre. The authors think smart city technology could be adopted in new garden cities to support innovative health and wellbeing systems as well as a range of other smart technologies to help accessibility, housing and employment, among others.

Parham said: “The garden city might look traditional – but it can also accommodate all sorts of ‘Smart’ systems to make life better.”

The institute was founded by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, with a number of partners, including the International Federation of Housing and Planning. It was established last year as a research advocacy and resource centre for information on garden cities across the world.

Garden Cities – Why Not? is the first of a planned series of papers produced under the auspices of the institute.

The research can be found here.

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