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Pressure on land for new garden communities

At our Cambridge forum, we will be looking at the design and build of new towns and garden communities during our planning workshops. The government's plans for new settlements are moving ahead, but how to protect our landscapes in the process is an important question.

Stroud District Council is building two new garden villages with 3,900 homes - part of its revised local plan that is being put out for public feedback.The two villages are to share a new station and a school and the council says it has been under pressure to find land for 12,800 homes, which it describes as a significant challenge.

The chair of the authority's environment committee, Simon Pickering commented that 'we are under pressure from the government to allocate land for development..if we do not, the council could lose some control of the planning process to government.

'The 12,800 homes target is the central government number driven by a high need but with the relatively high cost of housing and with much of the district covered by the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and floodplain, that presents significant challenges.'

When we launched Future Cities Forum in 2016, one of our first research interviews was with the Chief Executive of Exeter City Council, Karime Hassan, where he described the importance of keeping up the standard of new homes to be built in and around Exeter.

Last May, Karime said he welcomed the government's announcement of 20,000 new homes to be built in the Exeter area over the next 20 years, creating new communities based on active travel including walking and cycling rather than the private car. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the 20,000 new homes will be built as new 'garden communities where people can live work and raise families in a quality environment and picturesque settings.'

How will the new garden communities look and feel? Will they live up to the government's projected vision, or become similar to 'suburban sprawl'? What of the elderly? Will they have a place in these new communities, or will the focus be on re-housing families? Will the trend be for older people to move back into the city, to live fuller and more active lives, rather than isolated ones in countryside settings? These are some of the questions that will be tackled in our Cambridge workshops.

Dr Susan Parham, Head of Urbanism and Planning, University of Hertfordshire, commented at our planning forum in March that there was a current problems with suburbia and that there should be suitable homes for the elderly in more urban environments:

'How do you persuade older people to live differently, to mode-shift, perhaps to give up cars and live a more fine-grain, connected life? These (incentives) will be partly fiscal but also it will become increasingly evident that living in a community can be beneficial rather than being isolated, with only a car and a cat for company.

'We need to re-make built forms rather than being forced into this low density suburban sprawl. For me suburbia is an untapped resource, it's a waste of land, and it's a sustainability problem in a climate change situation. Older people, like everyone else, need to step up if we are going to change the way we live - or otherwise we destroy the planet.'

On the need for housing communities where the cycle-way is a top priority, Susan said:

'It's for us to reclaim the idea that bike-based movement can be first choice, and this is important for the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor new housing settlements. Comments on the use of electric bikes, particularly for the elderly, as 'cheating' is unhelpful!'

Future Cities Forum has chosen an experienced planner, Simon Payne, CEO of Lambsquay Consulting, to lead one of our round tables on garden villages. Simon is a former Director of Environment at Cambridge City Council and knows the city well. He has recently helped both Essex County Council and Uttlesford District Council prepare a successful bid for new garden communities. Simon said:

'Are there lessons for urban regeneration emerging from the new garden communities being planned in the UK? The Town and Country Planning Association is providing strong leadership through nine principles that have their roots in the 20th Century Garden City Movement. Each principle has been formulated in the context of 21st century challenges.

'We need to think more holistically. Putting the quality of life of people at the heart of creating new places. Recognising that catchment areas of excellent schools are a better incentive than slick marketing. Schools linked to local business (for instance STEM schools), and the provision of genuinely affordable housing, start to give people more choices about where they live. Great design of buildings and spaces with real community involvement underpinned the Garden City Movement. We surely need to apply these principles to the new communities of the 21st century whether or not they exist on greenfield sites.'

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