Garden villages – the start of a home-grown revolution
England’s first-ever garden villages have the potential to change the way development is delivered, and even change attitudes to new housing. They promise a distinct kind of place, designed for 21st century living and at a scale where people will feel connected to each other and to their locality.
The danger is the delivery instead of dormitory housing estates in the countryside, isolated but with no heartbeat of their own.
How can the success of the 14 new garden villages be guaranteed?
The planning of garden villages needs to start with people, and a clear vision for the community that will live there. The villages then need to be delivered in a way that encourages people’s enterprise.
At the heart of what you could call ‘enterprising communities’ is self-reliance, with flexibility built in from the outset. This requires a variety of land uses and space allowed for start-ups, such as enabling a self-employed carpenter to build a workshop and take on an apprentice.
Every enterprising community has different strengths and so seeks to be well-networked in the area, in order to sustain high functioning self-reliance. To support business people who will be targeting both local markets and global markets, garden villages need new-build community barns or market buildings which draw on technological and design innovation, including superfast broadband.
A workhub is also key, to provide facilities for people with contemporary portfolio working patterns. They may choose to stay in the community on some days and travel to more typical workplaces on others.
A vibrant working economy promotes vibrant streets with busy shops and cafes. Work generates new social connections, and sociable villages make good use of community facilities.
All this is the polar opposite of dormitory settlements silenced by mass commuting. Unfortunately, current development processes are predicated against the enterprising community because of the investment and active management needed. Developers mostly compete on the open market for land at premium prices and their shareholders demand quick returns.
So these new garden villages need a different business model, whereby developers, landowners and investors come together in a JV which raises finance to pay for upfront infrastructure and design quality against the future uplifts in value.
This model is about ‘patient capital’. Its returns include substantially reduced planning risk: in fact, done well, garden villages could revolutionise public attitudes to new housing.
Some short-term returns are exchanged for longer-term rental/revenue streams from the assets created. Property and land values are patiently increased through the creation of a desirable and sustainable place. This approach has worked for large rural estates and is promoted by the public sector, and it chimes with the investment culture of London’s family estates who have long considered jam tomorrow to be preferable to jam today.
There are a number of ways to jump-start the local economy in enterprising communities. The commercial assets, such as the workhub, retail units and renewable energy generation, can be gifted to a community-owned company to manage.
In time, it can also manage assets such as green space, playing fields and nature reserves: Milton Keynes gifted district centres to the MK Parks Trust, and Letchworth Heritage Foundation receives money from its property portfolio to pay for community activities.
The 21st century enterprising community thrives in social media long before it becomes a reality.
What is on offer to people is not just the purchase of an ordinary house off-plan. The offer is to buy into a lively community and a productive social enterprise. This could be expressed in many ways including more opportunities for people to co-design their homes.
Social media also has a critical role in play in the success of garden villages in other ways: from Cornwall to Cumbria it could attract people with a variety of skills and trades, and with the help of crowd funding, networks could be up and running from Day One.
Our Garden Village blog in The Planner