It’s fair to say Garden Communities did not have a vintage 2020. Faced with a number of high-profile rejections from the Planning Inspector, the proposed 34,000 home North Essex Garden Communities was finally removed from the area’s joint Local Plan late last year.
Inadequate Garden Village proposals were central to Tonbridge and Malling’s Local Plan hearings being cancelled in November as well. And in Hampshire too another Garden Town was removed from the Local Plan after the inspector decided it was not deliverable.
Garden Communities arguably provide a significant chunk of the 300,000 homes needed this decade, with their potential to bring forward between 200,000 to 400,000 properties alongside associated public infrastructure – so, after a difficult year, it is clear Garden Communities need renewed support from across the public and private sector.
A rocky start
The frantic Government back-pedalling on planned changes to housing targets last month is likely to have appeased a number of Conservative councillors, but it provides a slightly unhelpful tone for the number of Garden Communities across the country that are trying to make their case heard.
It is a detail which has not been lost on those in the strategic planning world. The Land Promoters and Developers Federation (LPDF) Chairman Paul Brocklehurst said the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has “taken a highly regressive lurch backwards” by reverting to the 2017 figures which are based on “outdated 2014 household projections”.
Seeds of hope for 2021
There are clear seeds of hope, however. Even amid the challenges of Brexit and Covid-19, there are signs that those in and around the most inner circles of Government remain supportive of the principle of Garden Communities and recognise their pertinence to the No. 10 agenda.
Jack Airey’s appointment as the PM’s Special Advisor for Housing and Planning last year was a prime example of this. In his previous role as Head of Housing at Policy Exchange, Airey wrote positively on the potential of Garden Communities to deliver the housing needed in England in two reports, and made clear his position that “Government should accelerate the new garden towns programme”. Having someone with his experience close to the PM this year is no bad thing.
2021 provides real opportunities to speed up the sluggish planning process for Garden Communities as well. Last November’s National Infrastructure Strategy promised Government will review rules for how Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) get planning approval, and Garden Communities could be included for the first time. If this does go ahead the decision to approve Garden Villages could be taken away from councils dragging their heels, and made instead by a strong, determined Secretary of State who is determined to drive growth.
In the meantime, Government continues to provide Housing Infrastructure Fund money and support for development corporations through its growing Garden Communities Programme, with its 49-strong portfolio of schemes across the country.
But while this support will help keep the planning process ticking over, much more widespread support is needed in 2021 if we are to finally build the new sustainable communities we need, and the Garden Communities vision becomes a reality.
BECG will be hosting a Garden Communities webinar on 28 January 2020 between 14:00 and 16:00.