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Garden cities should be locally led – Clegg

Proposals for new garden cities should include at least 15,000 homes, be locally led and have the backing of existing residents, according to the government’s new prospectus. 

The strategy, by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and communities secretary Eric Pickles, shows there is a “genuine ambition for growth in communities” across the country – but new developments must be well-designed, and bring together high-quality homes, jobs, and green spaces in communities where people want to live and raise their children. 

It has been suggested that up to three garden cities will be built to deal with the “chronic” housing shortage in the country, but potential sites have yet to be identified. 

Previous plans to site huge new housing developments in rural or semi-rural areas invariably attracted widespread political opposition from those already living nearby, fearful of the impact on the countryside, transport, public services and house prices. The previous Labour government’s eco-towns proposals, for example, came to very little, with only one of them to be built to the original standards. 

Mindful of this, the government has promised not to “impose” garden cities. Instead, the new prospectus seeks expressions of interest from local areas interested in delivering a new Garden City. 

In January, Lib Dem party president Tim Farron MP said the Conservatives had suppressed a report into garden cities because it recommended building in the Tory-voting heartlands of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. This was denied by housing minister Kris Hopkins MP. 

The government says it wants to work closely with areas that bring forward strong expressions of interest to help them develop their proposals, understand the barriers to delivery and offer government brokerage and support through the Large Sites scheme and other existing schemes where it can help to unblock these. 

The deputy prime minister promised “high-quality homes in thriving new communities”. He added: “This is a call to arms for visionaries in local areas in need of housing to put forward radical and ambitious proposals to develop their own garden cities.” 

There is no specified format for local authorities wanting to submit an expression of interest, but it should enable the government to assess proposals against criteria including:

  • A map setting out the proposed site boundary;
  • A general description of the proposal, including both policy aims and technical aims so far as they can be known (such as including housing numbers, retail and other commercial space, extent of green space, timescale for delivery etc);
  • Evidence which demonstrates that the scheme responds to issues of local affordability, and that there is strong growth potential over the medium to long term;
  • Evidence that the chosen location is fundamentally viable over time, and does not give rise to unusually high land or infrastructure costs;
  • Evidence of the overall benefits of the scheme;
  • Financing plan; and
  • Proposed delivery models.

A garden cities package of support from the government could include brokerage, direct planning support and capacity funding. 

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