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New Garden Cities must meet the highest standards to succeed

14 April 2014

This morning the Deputy Prime Minister published the Government’s prospectus for ‘Locally-led Garden Cities’.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is pleased that the Government is inviting expressions of interest from local authorities who would like to bid for funding for a “garden city" development of more than 15,000 homes. This is more appropriate than seeking to impose new developments on areas.

We also welcome the decision to confront the housing crisis by allocating £1bn of funding for these “locally supported housing schemes”. We have identified a number of issues which need to be addressed if new settlements are to be part of a sustainable solution to England’s housing needs.

Key points:

 

•Local democracy: We welcome the Government’s ambition for the planning of new settlements to be locally-led, with communities able to “take control” of sites and designs. However, recent CPRE research has highlighted that the planning system is currently failing to give local communities and councils a say, giving rise to the problem highlighted in the prospectus of “sprawling extensions to communities which place additional pressures on local infrastructure.”

•Green Belts: Part of the aspiration of community control should be to guarantee that the new settlements have a properly designated Green Belt – a founding principle of Garden Cities. As it stands, the prospectus’s advice is that applications “may wish to consider a surrounding belt of countryside to prevent sprawl”. This does not go far enough to meet national policy aspirations (in paragraph 52 of the National Planning Policy Framework)  to both prevent new settlements from sprawling, and provide residents with open countryside within easy reach.

•Brownfield first: The prospectus gives encouragement for proposals which include a “significant element of brownfield land”. But we are concerned that new garden city proposals could still come forward which risk undermining the regeneration of urban areas. Brownfield sites are currently available for 1.5 million new homes. If garden city funding is used to encourage more greenfield development and consign brownfield sites to a future of decay and dereliction, it will be a major missed opportunity.

•Sustainability: National planning policy calls for the ‘fullest possible use’ of public transport, walking and cycling. If new settlements are not going to clog up existing roads or require major road-building, they will require excellent alternatives to driving. International evidence shows the importance of good rail access. But the prospectus underestimates the importance of rail connectivity to the potential success of any new settlements, suggesting that bus services could be “an alternative where locations are poorly served by rail.”

John Rowley, CPRE’s Planning Officer said:

‘We believe that if the Government is to implement any bids for garden city funding, proposals must follow the principles of “smart growth”. This means using previously developed sites with good rail access. We must seek to minimise the unnecessary loss of greenfield land that is so important for quality of life, food production and flood management.’

 

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