Garden Communities and the Government agenda

The future of Garden Communities is by no means certain. While many Garden Villages and Towns have been put forward since the Government put its weight behind them, with 49 projects providing more than 400,000 new homes currently part of the Government’s ‘Garden Communities Programme’, increasing numbers have been struck down by Planning Inspectors as unsound.

Just this year we saw proposals rejected for one of the Government-backed schemes, the North Essex Garden Communities (NEGC). NEGC was formed by Colchester, Braintree, Tendring and Essex County Councils to oversee development for up to 43,000 homes to be delivered over three garden community schemes. The proposals provoked strong community reaction against the potential developments and two were subsequently found to be unviable by the Planning Inspectorate. As a result, the NEGC was wound up earlier this year.

Recent Government announcements

Recent Government policy announcements indicate that there continues to be central support for the principles behind Garden Communities with renewed Government focus and funding for sustainability and infrastructure projects.

The Spending Review and National Infrastructure Strategy in November reiterated the Government’s objective of boosting public infrastructure and decarbonising the UK. Among the headlines were the £4bn ‘Levelling Up Fund’ for local infrastructure in England, a further £27bn in 2021-22 to be invested in roads, rail, energy, broadband and flood defences, the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank and increased Government focus on Net Zero carbon emissions. These announcements were closely followed by Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan for a ‘green revolution’.

Garden Communities offer the opportunity to create well connected, sustainable communities with new efficiently powered low carbon homes and amenities set amid green space with improved local infrastructure promoting environmentally friendly modes of transportation. They also offer a unique opportunity to meet one of Boris Johnson’s targets of developing a town heated entirely by hydrogen. This provides a strong basis for Garden Communities.

What the Planning White Paper reforms mean for Garden Communities

The recent announcements are encouraging – particularly in relation to the infrastructure needed to deliver Garden Communities – but reforms put forward in the Government’s ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper will have dramatic effects on planning in England, which could impact Garden Communities.

While not referenced specifically, the White Paper does discuss ‘large’ and ‘special’ sites. Part of the Government’s stated aim in the Paper is to introduce the three-tiered zoning system to reduce the amount of time it takes to secure planning permissions, in the hope that this will allow local authorities “to give more attention to improving the quality of new development and focus in those large and special sites that need the most consideration.”

There are fears in the industry that reduced time ranges of Local Plans, from 15 to 10 years, will be counterproductive to this aim and result in less strategic thinking by local authorities with a greater focus on deliverable developments within that timeframe.

However, the White Paper puts forward the option that large schemes – such as new towns where there are land assembly and planning challenges, which arguably might include the more sizable Garden Communities – could be defined as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, and that these could be decided by central Government via the Development Consent Order process. The Paper also notes it will consider whether to reform Development Corporations, currently focused on urban land regeneration projects and incentives, to reflect this potential framework – however there may be scepticism as to their capacity to deliver these projects.

In our next blog, we will look at the opportunities for No.10 and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to promote Garden Communities.

BECG will be hosting a Garden Communities webinar on 28 January 2020 between 14:00 and 16:00.

Register here to find out more