February 13, 2015

Garden Villages: Empowering localism to solve the housing crisis

Over one million new homes could be built over the next decade if each of the 353 councils in England built just one garden village of 3,000 new houses.

Garden Villages argues that a future government can overcome local opposition to development by devolving powers to set up new garden villages from Whitehall to councils. Under the proposal, locally led development corporations, set by councils, would be charged with master-planning, setting quality design standards for the construction, and allocating some of the plots to self builders and housing associations, for a new wave of garden villages. As part of a quid-pro-quo, councils agreeing to build new garden villages sufficient to meet their housing need would be allowed to rule out having development around existing communities forced on them through appeal.

Authored by Lord Matthew Taylor, who advised the last Labour government and the Coalition on planning policy, the report highlights the problems with the current planning system. The paper explains how currently new development is based on building around existing communities, predominantly on the green spaces at the edge of a town most valued by local people. The resulting high land values can lead to developers building higher density and lower quality houses and, because  much of the land value uplift goes to the land owner, less money remains to pay for vital infrastructure and place-making amenities.

The system therefore triggers a “vicious cycle” where locals get the thing they fear most: poor quality, badly designed and dense housing estates right on their doorstep, with increased congestion on local roads, and so opposition to further development intensifies.

The report highlights how this has led to a situation where between 1997 and 2007 – ‘the boom years’ – we built on average just 148,000 new homes a year. The consequences of this can be seen in an inexorable  rise in house prices relative to wages, making homeownership ever more unaffordable for many people. There are now 3.3million 20-34 year olds living at home with mum and dad – up 700,000 since 1997 – and there are 1.7million households on local authority waiting lists.

The report calls for a radical new approach based on amending the New Towns Act to create financially viable new garden villages:

  1. Empower local authorities to use the New towns Act to designate sites for new small market towns and villages typically consisting of up to 5,000 homes as part of their Local Plans
  2. Allow local authorities to pay fair compensation to homeowners and landowners affected by the new development at a flat rate of 150% of market value at the existing use
  3. Ring-fence the subsequent land value uplift for the new community to provide for its infrastructure and amenities.
  4. Make plots available to a range of competing providers, including self-build and smaller builders, responding to market demand
  5. Rule out planning by appeal around existing towns and villages for local authorities making these allocations


Chris Walker

Head of Housing, Planning and Urban Policy

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