A recent Government announcement has proposed 14 sites across England to be the first garden villages, with 3 further sites to be new garden towns. But with a country full of deserted and derelict buildings, are garden villages and towns the only way forward?
The government released a statement on 2 January 2017 backing 14 new garden villages, and 3 new garden towns, which will have the "potential to deliver more than 48,000 homes". The statement confirms £6m funding towards the development of the garden villages, and £1.4m funding towards the garden towns, together with additional support which the government will be providing in respect of "expertise, brokerage and offer of new planning freedoms".
Those who have started the year with their optimistic hat on might think that this announcement would be well received, given the country's desperate need for more housing. Further, the new villages, which will provide between 1,500 and 10,000 dwellings each, should be standalone settlements with their own amenities and so this initiative represents an excellent opportunity for some real 'place-making'.
However, since this government announcement a few days ago, there has been plenty of lively discussion around the proposed garden villages, and a fair degree of cynicism. Some are debating whether the garden villages will actually get built, and are bemoaning the fact that a number of the proposed sites are already 'in the planning system' therefore do not truly represent additional numbers.
Kirstie Allsopp has been particularly controversial on Twitter, criticising the government's understanding of what the country's need for housing actually means (i.e. it doesn't always mean a "house"). She has suggested that building detached houses in rural locations isn't the best way forward, in particular for the ageing population, and that we should be utilising empty buildings in town centres, or developing up, rather than out. From an initial review of the responding comments, it seems that her ideas are both disputed and shared in equal measure, however this does raise the valid question as to what is being done to revive and rejuvenate empty buildings throughout the country.
We believe that there is a huge benefit in developing new garden villages and towns, but this should not detract from the fact that other empty buildings could also be redeveloped for housing as well. These ideas need not be mutually exclusive.
We are not alone in that thinking, as on 3 January the government announced the first wave of 30 local authority partnerships to build new starter homes on brownfield land "including some town centre sites", backed by the £1.2bn Starter Homes Land Fund.
It is fascinating to read the media coverage and social engagement on these issues, which can only help to promote ideas on how to satisfy housing needs in the future. There is always more that can be done, but we're keeping our optimistic hats on for a while yet and looking forward to seeing the first of the garden villages progressing and being built out.