Not all rosy in the garden…

We’ll I’m glad we all waited with baited breath for the Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement on ‘Locally-led Garden Cities’.  That’s right, garden cities – of 15,000 homes.  Err, that doesn’t sound much like a city.  In fact, it doesn’t really sound much like anything at all.  What does 15,000 homes get you in isolation?  A couple of primary schools and a secondary, and maybe a large food store.  Perhaps a couple of bus routes?  Hardly inspiring, and certainly not sustainable.

Like a rehash of a bad policy announcement under the last knockings of the previous Labour administration, locally-led Garden Cities is all soundbite, and no substance.  At best, 15,000 homes is a decent suburb, but to function properly it needs to be able to borrow from the services and facilities of a much bigger settlement.  It will make chaff-all difference to housing demand and supply, and it isn’t a particularly good way of spending money – state or private.  Much better to focus on locations with good existing infrastructure, or where new infrastructure is already planned to be delivered. 

Of course, that inevitably means looking at the Green Belt, two words that are strangely absent from the prospectus.  What the prospectus does suggest is that new Garden Cities should be locally led, and supported by local communities.  If those conditions existed, we wouldn’t have needed a prospectus on Garden Cities in the first place. 

Look out for schemes that have already been around for years being re-badged as Garden Cities any time soon…

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If we don’t build out, we’ve got to build up…

I don’t really know what to make of the Skyline campaign to control the development of towers in London.  London is changing – but not for the sake of it.  The GLA has written to Bedford Borough Council (copying in all authorities in London’s hinterland, which will obviously have to include Manchester and Birmingham post HS2), asking them to give consideration to London’s housing requirements when planning their own development allocations.  Notwithstanding the emerging London Plan housing target of 42,000 homes per annum, the GLA are predicting the actual requirement could be as high as 75,000 (yes, per annum).  So it’s surely inevitably that when development does occur on the scant bit of land that is available in central London that we are going to have to go up.

I’ve been critical before of the impact high-density development actually has on housing, but that’s principally to do with the funding gap that pushes developers into seeking off-plan sales to foreign investors in order to make development viable in the first place.

What I don’t accept is that London needs to be any more coordinated in its approach to tower developments.  To read some of the press coverage put out by the media, one could be mistaken for thinking that we don’t have a planning system at all.  Lets look at the facts.  Getting planning permission for a tower anywhere is not easy.  It requires planning permission from the local planning authority.  By virtue of its scale, it will always be referred to the GLA.  The complexity of the project, and the need to curry favour with the local community, elected members and statutory consultees, will typically provoke the client into appointing a well-regarded architect.  So why do we need any more control?

The obvious effect of creating some form of skyline commission would be to make it more difficult, and more regulated, to build high rise developments in London. All that will do is slow down, and make more expensive development; hardly priorities at the present time.

It seems to me that the Skyline campaign is an alliance of different interest groups; some supporters are concerned to ensure good quality design, some the location of towers, whilst others are more focused on preventing towers being built at all.  Well actually, that’s what the planning system is already there to do, and that’s what planners are already doing.  And I don’t think London looks too shabby for it.