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Prize winner has plenty of good ideas

03 December 2014

I attended the RTPI Politicians in Planning Network – PIPA – Conference held at the University of Leicester in October. From the several sessions that interested me I joined one given by David Rudlin of URBED (photo below). David’s proposal for a 21st Century Garden City won the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014 and I was intrigued to know more.

IMG_0382David gave a powerful and clear presentation with plenty of good ideas, and also a number of questions to which we have yet to have answers! For instance, the promised Government announcement on support for locally- initiated Garden Cities is still awaited although the new announcements on Bicester & Northstowe alongside the National Infrastructure Plan do indicate some routes forward.  The main points that I brought away were:

  • The concept of working within 10km rings around an existing town or city was really imaginative. David illustrated how the imaginary but imaginable City of Uxcester could double its size by adding three substantial urban extensions each housing around 50,000 people.  The new settlements would be configured as triangles with only the triangle apex touching the edge of the existing settlement. But by fanning out, each extension provides the additional housing, schools and other infrastructure whilst retaining plenty of green open space.
  • The Uxcester tramway public transport concept was also excellent; a spine tramway would serve each new settlement as it grew. Because the new settlements would be within 10km from the City centre, a 20 minute tram ride, commuters, shoppers and anyone travelling to and from the main city would all be accommodated.
  • Maintaining land values is of great importance and allowing £350k per hectare makes practical sense.Whilst this is probably20 times the land’s agricultural value it would be only 15% of its value as housing land. But the economics of the scheme are based on these differentials; the new infrastructure would be creating the new value and its funding would be reliant on the prospect of that uplift.
  • The prospective variety of housing available in each of the developments along with the idea that they would be shared amongst developers also appealed to me.Because he housing would be developed incrementally it would create space for small developers and self-builders alongside the volume housebuilders - a process that recreates the way that the great estates were built in London.
  • To balance against all the positives, I had and have concerns about the reality of raising private capital to finance the developments. I read that the Garden City branded Ebbsfleet in Kent is struggling to raise the money despite the Government offering £900k. So still a long way to go for the £1.5 billion needed. Whilst Rudlin is proposing a deal for landowners in which they trade a small chance of securing a housing consent on their land, for a guarantee of receiving existing use value plus substantial compensation and a financial stake in the Garden City Trust, there is evidently the need for a lot of people to take ’the long view’!
  • The question of the future for High Streets – old and new - remains an enigma. Who knows what a High Street will look like in 10 or 20 years time? The Garden City idea retains distinct centres well connected by good public transport, so I guess that provides the best chance for retail businesses and their customers to benefit.

The author Councillor Alan Dent is an elected representative for the Budleigh Ward on East Devon Council. He is the Council’s Planning Design and Heritage Champion and serves on the Development Management Committee.