Connected, please, not ‘garden’

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A group of nine north Essex residents travelled to Letchworth on 19 June, to attend the ConnectedCities and Garden Cities Alliance conference.

It was striking how far removed our north Essex authourities are from the ‘connected cities’ approach.  In line with a Friends of the Earth report this year, which said that no more funding from Government must be directed to ‘garden towns’, the speakers were unanimous in their concerns about the (un)sustainability of ‘garden cities’.  Instead of large, stand-alone new settlements, it was clear that transit-oriented development, in compact, high-density, walkable, mixed-use developments is favoured by the experts who spoke.

A particularly interesting case study was of Aylesbury Garden Town.  Aylesbury receives funding from government from the same Garden Towns programme that north Essex is part of.  However, instead of attempting to build three huge new settlements, Aylesbury aims to ensure the existing town’s growth is planned under ‘garden city’ principles.

CAUSE was invited to speak about the Metro Concept, a ‘transit-oriented development’ case study using the under-used, electrified, twin-track, Colchester-Clacton line.

No-one involved in the North Essex Garden Communities project attended.

A few highlights:

Lord Adonis

  • Next generation:  any significant community should be within walking distance of a station – green, friendly, less destruction.  Denser housing around stations
  • Reopening previously closed rail connections – ‘Reverse Beeching Fund’; public policy research; some of the £2.2bn roads fund into rail instead?

Claire Linton, Urban Transport Group

Locating new development sustainably. 7 key factors to successful transit development:

  1. Public transport at the heart of development
  2. High density, mixed use development
  3. Support walking & cycling
  4. Discourage use of private vehicles (car clubs &c. for access)
  5. Integrating services – facilities on the doorstep;
  6. Prioritising brownfield sites

Katy Lock, TCPA

  • The decision process for where you end up planning should be transparent, with community engagement and participation
  • Needs to be a national spatial plan to understand scale and location. New garden cities are not going to be the right thing in every place and there must be a strong evidence base to demonstrate that somewhere is the right place. You must be willing to accept that a place may not be right.

Jenny Ragget, Transport for New Homes

  • Current research into the garden communities programme reveals that infrastructure plans that have been viewed “show a large gap between vision and reality”. Aspiration vs delivery.  Motorway junctions feature!
  • Report due later this year

Richard Simmons, CPRE

CPRE National Position, sequential test for housing & planning:

  1. Brownfield first
  2. Urban and suburban densification
  3. Homes for people in existing communities they can afford
  4. Urban extensions that do not contradict rural protections
  5. New settlements
  6. Villages – expand sympathetically


You can read our notes of the day here:  Connected Cities conference notes

All presentations here:

Lord Adonis video here:

CAUSE “’Garden cities: what cost?”, here: