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Can 'garden villages' help solve the housing crisis?

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Published: 4 September 2015 | Author: Bernard Clarke

Building a new “garden village” in every rural English local authority could help solve the national housing crisis, according to Lord Matthew Taylor, who will present more details of his proposals at our annual conference in November.

The Liberal Democrat former MP, who has conducted planning policy reviews for both Conservative and Labour ministers, will outline his plans for a locally-driven solution to the problems associated with the planning system. Lord Taylor believes that empowering localism provides an alternative to the current approach – under which land-owners are the main beneficiaries from sites identified for building – or the top-down system that prevailed immediately after the second world war, whereby the sanctioning of new towns by government delivered a significant expansion in the number of homes.

Lord Taylor, who is chairman of the National Housing Federation, outlined his plans for reforming the planning system earlier this year in a report Garden Villages, which he co-wrote with Chris Walker, the Policy Exchange’s head of planning.

In the report, the authors criticise the current system of “sequential planning,” which they argue delivers inappropriate and unsustainable housing. The system tends to produce housing estates, comprising homes that are among the smallest in Europe and only half the size they were in the UK in the 1920s, they argue. It also provokes nimbyism, which has helped constrict supply.

This system has supplanted a post-war process that did at least succeed in delivering homes for 2.8 million people in 32 new towns, including garden cities. Back then, however, the legitimacy of the role of the government was more widely accepted than it is today. Now, the authors argue, a minister has little appetite to impose a new town on a local community.

Lord Taylor proposes a revision of the 1946 New Towns Act, with powers to create new communities transferred from central government to local authorities. He believes that that would enable communities to capture the uplift in land value resulting from development, with the proceeds used to provide infrastructure and make homes more affordable. It would also allow local authorities to rule out “unwelcome and inappropriate development” being built around existing communities.

Such a system would allow quality standards to be set locally, he argues, with plots earmarked for small and medium-sized builders, self-build and the not-for-profit sector, as well as for large-scale house-builders. It would make the supply of housing more responsive to need, he says.

Lord Taylor will develop his theme of empowering localism to solve the housing crisis through garden villages when he addresses our annual conference on 10 November. Places at the conference, being held at One Whitehall Place, London, can be booked now at a cost of £325 for members and associates, and £545 for non-members.