Young Planners Conference: Workshop 5: Garden Cities and Suburbs in the 21st Century

In recent years, new homes have been provided in poorly designed, unsustainable developments – exemplified in the ‘bolt-on’ estates which exist on the edge of many of our towns – and so communities often resist new development. In his workshop, Patrick Clarke, Technical Director of Strategy Planning and Urban Design at URS, argued that the Garden City concept can deliver attractive and sustainable neighbourhoods and therefore help unlock delivery of the new homes which the UK so desperately needs. The relevance of the Garden City planning principles in addressing the contemporary context is explicitly acknowledged in paragraph 52 of the NPPF, which states: The supply of new homes can sometimes be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or extensions to existing villages and towns that follow the principles of Garden Cities.

Dr Clarke recapped on the evolution of the Garden City movement. Proponents such as Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker built on the ideas of Ebenezer Howard, and aspired to transform the standards of working class housing. In developments such as New Earswick, Letchworth, Hampstead Garden Suburb and the munitions workers’ ‘homes for heros’, new principles of urban design and layout were pioneered, as well as co-operative ownership and governance.

Dr Clarke demonstrated how Garden City principles were intensely practical, and compared different layouts of streets, homes and gardens to illustrate implications for land budget and development economics. For developers whose eye is inevitably on the bottom line, a key take-home message was the significant cost which can be achieved due to the reduced construction of expensive roads and parking areas. At the same time, clearer layouts and more generous outdoor spaces can create more attractive places and facilitate sustainable drainage systems.

Delegates shared their experiences of planning urban extensions and greenfield developments, highlighting the political opposition and the painfully long timescales which were typically involved. It was agreed that large scale developments were only part of a portfolio of solutions to our housing shortage, but also highlighted that garden city principles could be applied in other contexts, and that the efficiency in land use implicit in the Garden City concept helps planners make the case for properly planned new communities.

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