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09/02/2017

Garden villages - the start of a home grown revolution

Rural village / Shutterstock_422928433

"Patient capital" is the key to successful garden villages, says Bernie Foulkes

England’s first garden villages have the potential to change the way development is delivered, and change public attitudes to new housing development. They promise a distinct kind of place, designed for 21st century living and at a scale where people feel connected to each other.
 
The danger is that instead we get dormitory housing estates built from corporate pattern books, silenced by mass commuting, and isolated in the countryside but with no heartbeat of their own. 
For the 14 garden villages to deliver on their promise, planning needs to start with people rather than buildings, and with a clear vision for the community that will live there. 

At the heart of what you could call ‘enterprising communities’ is self-reliance. This requires a variety of land uses and space for start-ups, such as a carpenter building a workshop and taking on an apprentice. You need new-build community barns or market buildings; contemporary yards; and a work hub. A vibrant working economy promotes vibrant streets, with busy shops and cafés and popular community facilities. 

"A vibrant working economy promotes vibrant streets"

The local economy can be jump-started with a community-owned company to manage commercial assets, including retail units and renewable energy. In time, it can manage green space assets: Milton Keynes gifted district centres to the MK Parks Trust, and Letchworth Heritage Foundation funds community activities from its property portfolio. 

Current development processes are predicated against the enterprising community because it requires investment and active management. Garden villages need a different business model, whereby developers, landowners and investors come together to raise finance to pay for upfront infrastructure and design quality against the future uplifts in value. 
This model is about ‘patient capital’. Its returns include substantially reduced planning risk, in response to the practical measures being taken to promote a thriving community. 

Some short-term returns are exchanged for longer-term rental/revenue streams from the assets created. Property and land values rise through the creation of a desirable and sustainable place. This approach has worked for large rural estates and is promoted by the public sector, and chimes with the investment culture of London’s family estates.

Finally, 21st century communities can thrive in social media long before they become a reality. The offer is about buying into a lively community, not just buying a house off plan. From Cornwall to Cumbria, people with the right skills and trades can be attracted, and with the help of crowdfunding, networks could be running from day one.

Bernie Foulkes is a board director of LDA Design

Image | Shutterstock

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