Are garden cities the solution to Britain’s housing crisis?

Earlier this year the government announced plans to build Ebbsfleet garden city in Kent. The proposal includes 15,000 homes and the consultation period for the proposal ended on 6th October. So far Redrow Homes has secured a contract to build up to 950 new properties in Ebbsfleet Garden Village. The development will be called Ebbsfleet Green. However, under 15 per cent of the properties within this development are considered affordable homes and the remainder are private.

So where did garden city idea come from?

Garden cities were the vision of Ebenezer Howard who worked for Hansard, and, in 1898, proposed an alternative to industrial slums, combining the best of town and country. Howard had a vision of self-sufficient local communities of affordable homes built at a low density with green spaces and jobs nearby. The first cities in the UK to fulfil that vision were Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City. Letchworth offered affordable renting and home ownership (a three-bedroom house cost £175 in 1906), leisure facilities such as a nine-hole golf course and innovations including Britain’s first roundabout.

In the first part of the development in Ebbsfleet on Eastern Quarry, the first residents will move into their homes this month. It will be linked via a new train line restoring the connection between the Isle of Grain to Gravesend, which also links with HS1. There are plans to go further and connect it with the new Crossrail – putting the new development within commuting distance of London.

However, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is of the opinion that the shortlisted schemes did not consider the main housing challenges. CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said: “Garden cities may be part of the solution to our housing crisis, but only if they are locally supported, help regenerate our existing cities and provide significant amounts of genuinely affordable housing.”1

The Wolfson Prize competition for how to deliver a new garden city attracted 279 entries and was won by David Rudlin, who manages the urban design consultancy URBED. His vision is that the best way to achieve growth was to allow existing towns and cities to expand. This could be achieved by taking some land out of the Green Belt while still protecting the overwhelming majority of it. David’s ambitious proposal included about 86,000 new homes for about 150,000 people in up to 40 towns and cities over 30 to 35 years. These include Oxford, Cambridge and Reading to name a few.

Chris Lamb, director of Design South East, which manages Kent Design said there was an “amazing opportunity” for Ebbsfleet to pioneer new and successful new places and communities elsewhere, “so it’s vital that we get it right.”2

The plans for Ebbsfleet look very promising on paper, but some critics question whether there might be better suited places to build a sizeable new town in south-east England. The debate is likely to continue but certainly the need for more housing is ever pressing and garden cities are one of the most compelling solutions proposed to address the problem.

Detailed plans for Ebsfleet can be found here.





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