Garden cities could deliver over 400,000 new homes – eventually

New analysis shows just 3% of the homes have been completed since 2014.

Hand holding a model of a natural, green house

Just 3% of homes pitched by the government’s Garden Communities programme have been delivered since its announcement in 2014, new research reveals.

The research sets that 3% stat against the programme’s 49 projects having the potential for over 400,000 homes.

Planning and development consultants Lichfields has published new analysis of the programme, saying it may take five more years before it has enough momentum to make a significant contribution to housing targets.

The government sees the ‘Garden Communities’ as essential in its ambition to build 300,000 new homes annually.

However, just 3% of homes have been completed, so far.

The analysis warns of a the heavy reliance on Garden Communities to help achieve Local Plan housing objectives – increasing the pressure on delivery in practice.

Providing certainty and support will be vital in order deliver the homes that are required, the resulting report says.

Lichfields’ senior director, Matthew Spry, acknowledged the scale of the programme as “undoubtedly ambitious” and having progressed further than some ill-fated predecessors – such as ‘new country towns’ and ‘Eco Towns’.

“Across the 49 projects, there is a genuine commitment among landowners, developers and local authorities to bring forward fantastic new places for people to live, work and play,” said Spry.

“While the Garden Communities are unlikely to deliver the lion’s share of their housing allocations until the mid-2020s, they could be delivering 16,000 dwellings a year by the 2030s, making a significant contribution to meeting housing need.”

Lichfields sees its analysis as ‘stock take’ of what successive Tory governments have backed since 2014, when 49 Garden Communities were announced – with the principle of such developments widely accepted across the political spectrum.

Garden Communities are set to provide a total of 403,000 homes.

Lichfields says this hoped-for contribution will happen only if decision makers support their delivery over the next few years.

And the ‘stock take’ shows just 3% of homes completed so far, and only a third (34%) enshrined in adopted local plans or with outline permission, today’s report from Lichfields outlines.

Lichfields finds that for around two thirds of the homes in the programme, there remains some planning uncertainty over the principle or scale of contribution arising from their development.

Slightly more than a third (35%) are identified in emerging plans that are subject to independent examination; and 30% are being promoted, but currently have no formal planning status.

“Local Plans in many areas are heavily reliant on Garden Communities to meet their housing requirements – on average, one third of Local Plan targets depend on Garden Communities, but in some cases this is as high as two thirds,” said Spry.

“This means progress in meeting need is subject to the uncertainty associated with Local Plans, and Planning Inspectors in some places casting doubt over the principle and/or feasibility of some projects.

“In these circumstances, any failure or slow-down in delivery will leave those areas vulnerable to planning by appeal,” he said.

The Lichfields analysis shows 22 of 49 garden communities are standalone settlements; eight are new settlements linked to nearby towns; and the remaining 19 are urban extensions, such as those in Basingstoke, Bicester, Taunton, and Wellingborough.

Standalone projects accounted for approximately one third of homes in the programme (35%), the linked new settlements another third (32%), and the urban extensions the final third (33%).

The largest proposed ‘Garden Town’ called ‘North Essex’ was designated in December 2015 and is set for 43,000 new homes across three sites.

This a joint effort between Braintree district council, Tendring district council, Colchester borough council and Essex county council.

A part 1 local plan includes proposals for the developments, but in 2018 the Inspector examining the plan raised significant questions over the deliverability and further hearings will take place next month to examine further evidence produced by the councils and others.

“Garden Communities often require infrastructure to be provided early in the development, which can impact on viability and their call on government funding, shown by the £1.35bn of Housing Infrastructure Fund devoted to areas with these projects,” said Spry.

“The National Planning Policy Framework places much more emphasis on the deliverability and viability of plans, and those promoting Garden Community projects need to ensure they can accompany a positive vision for a new community with robust evidence that it can carry the burden of delivery expectation placed upon it.”

Lichfields Garden Community analysis – key findings:

  • Approximately 82,000 homes in Garden Communities currently have at least outlined planning permission – a further 18,000 homes have submitted outline applications, bringing the total to 100,000 homes in the pipeline
  • Garden Communities have so far delivered approximately 14,000 completions up to April 2019, with the vast majority of these within Garden Towns as opposed to Garden Villages
  • Where Garden Communities have already begun to deliver, they have typically comprised extensions to existing settlements – namely Bicester, Aylesbury, and Didcot
  • Lichfields finds that – based on a high level trajectory of delivery across the programme – of the 403,000 homes, just 35,000 are likely to be built by 2024 and only after that is the programme likely to be building at full tilt
  • The peak period for housebuilding will likely be between 2030-2034, when 16,000 homes are projected to be built each year (circa 5% of the national ambition for 300,000)
  • Many projects in the programme are likely to be building out until 2050, and government efforts to improve the pace of build out would be needed to increase the contribution those projects make within the shorter time period
  • The new Garden Communities will support circa 1.3m additional jobs over their construction period to 2050, and generate a combined local economic value through its build-out of £87bn, with further benefits in terms of taxes

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