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30/07/2018

Garden communities – not just a buzzword

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Garden communities / iStock-172280318

Last month Rosie Pearson of campaign group Cause put the case against a new wave of garden communities in Essex. Emma Goodings, head of economic development & planning policy at Braintree District Council, which is a one of the councils that owns North Essex Garden Communities Ltd, responds

In North Essex the term ‘garden communities’ is not the latest convenient buzzword to get a standard housing development through. The councils are committed to delivering the true principles of garden communities with homes where current and future generations want to live, work and play.

North Essex is naturally beautiful, with vibrant communities. But we face big challenges. Our economy is performing below the regional average, which means many people must travel out of the area for work. Our road and rail systems are overloaded. Homes are unaffordable for most. Put simply, we don’t have enough of the right sorts of homes in the right places.

We believe it is not sustainable to keep adding large  housing developments to the edges of our urban areas. Often small market towns and villages with limited capacity, these historic cores are incapable of dealing with unlimited population increases.

Schools and GP surgeries are often in old buildings or constrained sites, and changes to the road networks and public transport routes are limited. Green spaces come increasingly under pressure, and distance and ease of access to the countryside becomes more difficult as towns become larger.

"Planning isn't just about taking the safe option and it shouldn't just be a housing numbers game"

That is why Braintree District, Colchester Borough and Tendring District Councils, along with Essex County Council, are proposing three new garden communities of 43,000 homes. These communities will unlock funding for road and rail improvements, new schools and health facilities, as well as creating business opportunities and jobs for now and the future.

Long-term deliverability and viability are two areas that the councils are working on. Clearly the scale of the proposals creates economies of scale, and innovative use of land value capture, one of the key principles of the Garden Communities Charter, is key to the success of delivering the necessary infrastructure.

The largest of the new communities of up to 24,000 homes could take 40 years or more to be fully built. So, having a long-term, but flexible plan is key – one that is able to accommodate changing economic and social conditions. The recent changes to the New Towns Act enabling the creation of ‘locally led' New Town Development Corporations could be a significant opportunity and is something we are exploring.

Garden communities on this scale are bold. Planning isn't just about taking the safe option and it shouldn't just be a housing numbers game.

Emma Goodings MRTPI is head of economic development & planning policy at Braintree District Council

Emma is writing in response to a commentary in the July issue of The Planner by Cause, a campaign group opposed to the creation of new garden communities in Essex. In June, an inspector found the current strategic plan for the communities unsound and advised that further work was needed on areas including long term viability and road infrastructure. The Councils are now reviewing the available options.

Photo | iStock

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