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Urban regeneration – unfinished business

4 March 2014


The Smart Growth UK coalition [1] is disappointed by the Lyons Housing Review’s [2] assumption that new towns and garden cities are the solution to the housing challenge. The coalition’s response to the Review urges future Governments to focus on keeping our cities alive, rediscover the importance of urban regeneration and preserve our countryside through Smart Growth.

It also says there is a pressing need to put environmental concerns like climate change high up the development agenda – as recent weather has cruelly demonstrated.

Fiona Howie, Head of Planning at CPRE, said: ‘As the Review’s Call for Evidence states, England needs to build more homes, especially affordable housing. But issues of housing need, demand and aspiration are complex and the Review needs to look beyond simply finding ways of increasing the number of homes built each year. The emphasis should be on increasing the delivery of high quality housing to meet identified needs in sustainable locations’.

The Smart Growth UK coalition believes any major new urban development would need to satisfy the following criteria to meet the principles of sustainability:

  • Urban areas work best when they are compact, with appropriate densities, avoiding very low and very high. Layout and design should prioritise walking, cycling and public transport so they become the norm;
  • Reducing our dependence on high-carbon transport like cars by improving public transport, rail-based where possible, and concentrating development in urban areas;
  • Protecting the countryside, farmland, natural beauty, open space, soil and biodiversity, avoiding urban sprawl and out-of-town development;
  • Protecting and promoting local distinctiveness and character and our heritage, respecting and making best use of historic buildings, street forms and settlement patterns;
  • Prioritizing regeneration in urban areas and regions where it is needed, emphasising brownfield-first and promoting town centres with a healthy mix of facilities, and
  • Enhancing civic involvement and local economic activity which improve the health of communities.

Stephen Joseph, CEO of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Previous new towns and greenfield development have left inhabitants very car dependent, adding to cost of living and social exclusion. Future Governments need to focus on reducing car dependence; priority should be given to building good quality, high density housing on brownfield sites, based around good public transport, high quality cycle networks and good local services’.

Freddie Gick from Civic Voice said: ‘The Smart Growth principles offer an alternative to constant overdevelopment of areas already under pressure. We want to see priority given to the development of brownfield sites in urban areas and regions where it is most needed, which will reduce urban sprawl and the need for out-of-town expansion.’

Andy Moffat from the British Land Reclamation Society concluded: ‘Brownfield land should deliver a far larger proportion of our housing needs than it currently does. It is a neglected but valuable resource which can support a significant part of our building needs.’


Notes for Editors

[1] Smart Growth UK is an informal coalition of organisations and individuals who want to promote the Smart Growth approach to spatial, transport and community planning in the UK. The joint submission is backed by the British Land Reclamation Society, Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England and Civic Voice.

[2] The Lyons Housing Review is a commission chaired by Sir Michael Lyons set up by the Labour Party to consider what changes to housing and planning policies are required to deliver the new houses that England needs.

The Smart Growth concept came to prominence in North America in recent decades in response to its very real challenges of urban sprawl, car-dependency, inner-city community decline and destruction of town centres in those countries. Although the challenges the UK faces are not exactly the same, the coalition believes the principles of Smart Growth can be adapted


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