Garden villages could help solve the housing crisis and empower local communities

September 23, 2015

Our report Garden Villages recommends a network of new village communities in predominantly rural areas to help solve the housing crisis. It suggests that if each and every one of the 200 mainly rural councils built a new garden village, then a million homes could be built in England over 10 years – many affordable.

The crucial aspect of the proposal is that it’s a localist solution. It does not involve any of the top down imposition on councils from Whitehall of the post war New Towns. Local councils themselves would decide whether they want a garden village or not. This chimes with the government’s ideal of housing growth through localism, embodied in its National Planning Policy Framework.

What would be in it for councils? Well, meeting housing needs with a garden village would enable councils to rule out other unwanted development on appeal; for example, a vast (and probably politically toxic) housing estate on the edge of an existing community – on the grounds it has met its housing obligations. Garden villages would not necessarily have to be built in the greenbelt either.

We recommend giving councils power under the New Towns Act to designate a garden village. Crucially, this would allow the council to acquire the land cheaply at current use value, which is a fraction of the cost of land with planning permission, with the backstop of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) if necessary. The increase in the  value of the land resulting from planning consent would then be used to pay for the new garden village’s infrastructure, high specification housing design, affordable housing and a rich provision of social amenities.

The government’s consultation, Improving the Compulsory Purchase Process (CPO), published in the spring, is about making the CPO regime faster and fairer. A proposal to change CPO guidance is also intended to encourage public-sector bodies to provide higher levels of compensation than market value, so avoiding the need to resort to CPO in all cases. Garden Villages actually proposes something similar – suggesting landowners could be offered a 50% increase on market value.

There is a view that the stronger CPO powers applied more broadly could bring about a wave of new garden villages naturally, given the passage of time. But time is a luxury we cannot afford. A clear Garden Village option for councils has considerable merit.

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