In Essex we await strategic decisions from local authorities, who are seemingly well disposed to the creation of New Garden Villages. They can be forgiven for this stance given that the same appetite is shared by Central Government. However, I do question the practicality of these schemes. They assume a build period that will last over at least one, if not two economic downturns, and when the key infrastructure will have to be installed early, before a good revenue stream is possible from house sales.
My early planning education included various reviews of New Towns and the political and financial circumstances that led to their rapid expansion in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The delivery mechanisms of Harlow, Stevenage, Milton Keynes, Telford etc are all are understood as creations in the era of massive public expenditure and when environmental sensitivities were not so intensively scrutinised. We are now in the days of Government cut backs, tighter bank lending, more challenging environmental analysis, and where shareholders of major house-builder PLC’s will want comfort on development returns. These are such contrasting circumstances that I fear most Garden Village proposals are destined to disappoint.
If CPO powers become more possible and the route through environmental constraints freed by relaxations to current European directives, then perhaps there might be progress in the delivery of new settlements. It will still require a brave Government and local authority to kick start something on those lines, compared to the safer politics and more certain value created from urban extensions. I still await the meaningful start of a modern day new settlement of any significance. My bet is that it will be one hell of a wait!