Tag: Climate change

The vision and reality of Garden Communities

Green promises broken: Garden Villages and Garden Towns will be dominated by the car

Press release: 16 June 2020

Far from being vibrant, green communities, Garden Villages and Garden Towns [1] are at high risk of becoming car-dependent commuter estates, research by Transport for New Homes [2] has found. The group examined plans for 20 Garden Communities [3] and found that they will create up to 200,000 car-dependent households, generating high levels of traffic on surrounding roads including motorways.

Jenny Raggett, Project Coordinator at Transport for New Homes, said:

“Put forward by the government as an alternative to characterless estates, Garden Villages may well end up with more tarmac than garden, limited public transport, and few ‘village’ amenities to walk or cycle to.”

The coronavirus outbreak has placed new emphasis on walking and cycling, with wider pavements and new cycle lanes springing up in cities. The benefits of living more locally have come to prominence. By contrast, Transport for New Homes found that Garden Villages will be largely unsuitable for walking and cycling due to their remote location, their layout and their lack of safe routes in and out of the estate. Local facilities may well never materialise in these car-based developments: non-driving residents will be forced to walk up to seven miles to the nearest town centre [4].

Looking to the future, the need for modern bus, tram and train networks to avert climate crisis is expected to come to the fore [5]. But rather than new or improved public transport, the group found that plans for Garden Villages and Garden Towns promise major increases in road capacity to cater for a massive expected rise in car use. Garden Communities are not being planned with new metro stations at their hearts, nor are high-quality bus or tram routes assured to serve them in the future.

Many Garden Communities are backed by Government funding, the criteria for which are laid out in the MHCLG’s Garden Communities Prospectus [6]. Communities should “be largely self-sustaining and genuinely mixed-use” with “public transport, walking and cycling” enabling “simple and sustainable access to jobs, education and services”. Instead, Transport for New Homes found strong evidence that:

  • All 20 of the Garden Communities examined in detail will encourage car dependent lifestyles with the car the primary mode of transport at every single one.
  • These 20 settlements will create up to 200,000 car dependent households.
  • Only one settlement (Aylesham – although itself not funded by Homes England) offers amenities and a railway station within 1 mile of every home, though the train service is infrequent and there are no safe cycle routes to access it.
  • All other settlements failed to provide access to amenities and a railway station within 1 mile of all new homes with safe walking and cycling routes.
  • None of the 20 settlements will provide bus services to all households all day, all week.
  • Cycle routes from Garden Villages into nearby towns will often be long and dangerous.
  • Residents will have to walk up to 7 miles to access a railway station or go to the nearest town centre.

Jenny Raggett, Project Coordinator at Transport for New Homes, continued:

“It looks like Garden Communities are to become car-based commuter estates just like any other – exactly what the government wanted to avoid. Rather than seeing the emphasis on public transport that the Garden Communities Prospectus promised, with new stations funded at the heart of the development, or firm investment in modern bus rapid transit, light rail or trams, nearly every Garden Community comes with a long list of road improvements such as bypasses, link roads and new motorway junctions. Although the theme of the ‘local’ and ‘self-sufficient’ is the official line, the language adopted in the promotion of Garden Villages makes great play of their strategic location for long-distance commuting. It is doubtful, given this emphasis, that local shops and services will flourish.”

Steve Chambers, Sustainable Transport Campaigner at Transport for New Homes, said:

“Our visits to sites of Garden Towns and Garden Villages highlighted the chasm between the proposed visions and the built reality. We found that because of remote locations, public transport was rarely already provided and funding had not been secured to make it available when residents move in. Walking and cycling were clearly afterthoughts and even in the better examples did not provide safe and convenient routes to basic amenities beyond the development boundary. Garden Villages were typically too small to support any amenities and are not being built on a sustainable scale. Larger Garden Towns typically located new housing beyond a ring road, on the edge of an established town and poorly connected with it. Car dependency is being built into the Garden Towns and Garden Villages by design.”

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation and a Chair of the Steering Group for Transport for New Homes, said:

“The vision for garden developments is laudable but is at grave risk of being missed – far from being delivered in a way that would encourage us to leave our cars at home the reality looks set to ingrain car dependence.

“Living completely ‘car-free’ is probably a pipe-dream outside the centres of our towns and cities – the reality is that many of us will still wish to own and use our cars but not want to be forced to get behind the wheel for every trip we make.

“Good road connections matter: they’re vital for buses, bicycles and, as we’ve learnt in recent weeks, delivery vans too, not just for the private motorist. But they have to be designed with a sensible layout, including wide footways so that walking to the local shops or to school is a safe, practical and appealing proposition.”

The recommendations in Transport for New Homes’ report include:

  • Commission an urgent reassessment of the sustainability in transport terms of all planned Garden Communities and do not give outline planning permission until it is clear that sustainable transport elements in each vision are fully funded and specified.
  • Build close to existing town centres or create strings of developments along public transport routes, rather than scattering developments around the countryside.
  • Direct Government funding to public realm, place-making, and sustainable transport including Dutch-style cycling networks, local rail, rapid transit, buses and trams.
  • Make sure that sustainable transport infrastructure is funded to extend beyond the site boundary.
  • Put kickstart funding and other financial incentives in place to establish shops, cafes, pubs, shared workspaces and other local facilities with the development, creating a walkable community.

Case studies

Case Study 1: Long Marston Garden Village

Long Marston is a proposed 3,500 home Garden Village within the Stratford-upon-Avon District of Warwickshire. It is typical of Garden Villages in that it is far from major population and employment centres. Located on a former airfield, this Garden Village will be particularly remote and without a sustainable scale will not support amenities, jobs or public transport. It is seven miles from the nearest railway station. Residents will have no option other than the car to see friends, get to work or to the nearest town centre. Visions of ‘express bus connections’ are without funding. There are also unfunded aspirations for new safe walking and cycling routes from the development, but even if they were provided there is little other than open space nearby. This is a good example of a new development in the wrong place.

Case Study 2: Aylesbury Garden Town

Aylesbury is the long established county town of Buckinghamshire. The acquisition of Garden Town status is attached to a transformative vision to create 16,000 new homes. Aylesbury is typical of Garden Towns, with the new housing developments located on the outskirts and without attractive, safe walking and cycling routes to amenities. This Garden Town is like many of the others in that plans are heavily reliant on road building, in this case the completion of a coveted ring road. Bus services are better here than in many places, but all day, all week services to every home lack committed funding. We think Aylesbury could realise its potential by scrapping the community-severing ring road plans, prioritising walking and cycling over car journeys in the way roads are designed, and by funding a rapid transit system for the whole town.

Contact details

For more details please contact Jess Fitch, Communications Coordinator, Transport for New Homes: jess.fitch@transportfornewhomes.org.uk

Notes to editors

Photographs from Garden Communities can be downloaded from Flickr.

1. Drawing from Ebenezer Howard’s vision of the Garden City more than a century ago, Garden Communities today are central to the Government’s plans to increase housing supply. Building in rural and semi-rural areas – where housing targets are high – is unpopular. To avoid objections to more estates on the edge of market towns and at the same time exploiting cheaper land to build on, the Government proposes instead building vibrant, healthy and green ‘Garden Villages’: self-contained communities with everything to hand and minimal need to travel. ‘Garden Town’ status similarly puts the emphasis on a lot of new housing, but this time near an existing urban area. The idea is that sustainable travel and green lifestyles then become central to the whole area as the housing is built.The concept is supported by a Garden Communities Prospectus (MHCLG, 2018) and £3.7 million in funding specifically for Garden Communities, as well as a share of the £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund.

2. Transport for New Homes believes that everyone should have access to attractive housing, located and designed to ensure that people do not need to use or own cars to live a full life. Transport for New Homes is a project funded by the Foundation for Integrated Transport, a registered charity (115 63 63).

3. The report, Garden Villages and Garden Towns: Visions and Reality, can be read online. Datasheets from the 20 developments examined in detail are also online. Transport for New Homes examined master-plans, visions, infrastructure delivery plans, transport assessments and other documentation for a varied range of 20 Garden Communities around England, as well as visiting existing towns with Garden status and sites proposed for Garden Villages. Close examination was made of the funding and policy landscape underlying Garden Communities, including how the Housing Infrastructure Fund is being spent.

4. See Case Study 1, Long Marston, above.

5. In the Department for Transport’s March 2020 report, Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps writes: “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.”

6. The MHCLG’s Garden Communities Prospectus can be read online.

Camilla Ween

Looking to the UN Sustainable Development Goals to guide good urban growth

Guest blog by Camilla Ween, RIBA, MCIHT, AoU, Harvard Loeb Fellow

The planet is in a climate crisis and the UK is in a housing crisis. We need a paradigm shift in the way we do things so that we can deliver about 250,000 new homes annually, that will not exacerbate our attempts to reach zero carbon and that will not destroy the planet.

The United Nations has outlined 17 Goals for sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to help shape a future that delivers decent lives for people, while at the same time protecting our environment. The UK should look to these for guidance over all development that we embark upon, as the SDGs articulate most clearly what sustainable development looks like. UK local and national planning policies are inevitably UK focussed and do not encompass global issues. We should, therefore, use the SDGs to filter proposals and ensure that they fulfil the global aspirations for a decent future. Designs must push against local barriers if proposals fall short.

Transport is responsible for about 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, much arising from personal car journeys. Our society will not be able to achieve the UN goals if we do not change the way we travel; that means we need to create new communities that are NOT car dependent. That means careful consideration of where new development is located, as well as how we design new communities, for example, places that are well connected with high quality public realm and movement infrastructure that encourage people to want to move to a car-free lifestyle.

Development projects are often framed in very narrow and specific ways. However, if we keep an open mind and look broadly for opportunities, then by simply tweaking the design we can achieve so much more for little or no extra cost. Every design project offers the opportunity to include design features that help us achieve the SDGs’ aspirations.

The design process can and should seize opportunities to deliver sustainable solutions; good connectivity will encourage people to walk or cycle; careful design and layout can include biodiversity corridors and sustainable drainage solutions; pleasant public spaces, that feel welcoming, can help cement social cohesion.

By locating new development near public transport and designing communities that are well connected to the things we need to get to will mean that people are more likely to forgo car journeys. Rail travel has a very low carbon footprint, so developing along rail corridors is obvious and ensuring that the access to it is mainly by public transport, walking or cycling will mean that people will choose the low carbon travel option. That means no more ‘Park & Ride’ facilities.

Many transport projects I have worked on started with very narrow and specific briefs, but with a little discussion it was possible to broaden the remit and include other objectives. For example, a project for the city of Kano in Nigeria simply asked for five freight terminals and five bus interchanges; our design included permeability of the (very large) sites, biodiversity corridors, green infrastructure and walking and cycling networks that would integrate the sites into the city.

Kano, map of development

 

Kano, image of development

 

A project in Mexico City required interchange between two BRT routes and a commuter rail station. It was very clear that the solution could be very simple, but also that there existed multiple urban issues; the transport infrastructure separated an affluent community from an informal community and everyone from accessing a regional hospital by any other mode than a car and a local park was also inaccessible. We proposed a pedestrian and cycle bridge that would link both communities to each other, provide easy access to all the transport facilities, the hospital and the park and the bonus was a new public space at the heart of the community; the project went a long way to promote sustainable transport as well as social inclusion.

Mexico City project

Another project that I am involved with is Connected Cities. This is a methodology which proposes development (which encompasses many of the Garden City principles) along existing rail corridors and no more than 1km from a station. The principle is that compact settlements are created, with access to amenities or a rail station that are no more that 15 minutes away by walking or cycling. A cluster of settlements, each offering social, leisure, retail or education facilities would all be connected together via rail and form a Connected City. By being well connected, dependency on car travel is almost entirely overcome.

The United Nations has recently launched the Urban Economy Forum, which aims to help deliver the UN SDGs. This will be a repository of best practice and learning for future urban development that will create decent lives for people that do not harm the environment.

Camilla Ween is an architect and urbanist at Goldstein Ween Architects and a Harvard University Loeb Fellow. Her work focusses on sustainable urban design and the integration of transport, working in the UK and globally. She is a Steering Group member of the United Nations Urban Economy Forum, a Design Council Built Environment Expert and member of several other design review panels. She is a published author as well as a regular lecturer at international universities and conferences.

Simon Norton

In Memoriam Simon Norton

We were deeply sad to learn that Simon Norton, a supporter of Transport for New Homes since its inception, passed away in February 2019.

A passionate and thoughtful campaigner for sustainable transport, Simon Norton helped to set up Transport for New Homes and funded the project through the Foundation for Integrated Transport, a grant-making charity that he founded and chaired. Simon was a member of our steering group, and he helped to research our Transport for New Homes report, visiting a number of new housing developments and assessing their public transport provision.

Jenny Raggett, lead author of the report, accompanied Simon on some of these visits. Jenny remembers Simon’s unique approach, his humour and the extraordinary depth of his knowledge:

 I could describe the unique experience of going to Priors Hall’s Park housing estate with Simon as part of the Transport for New Homes visits. This could include the detailed knowledge that Simon had of the naming of bus stops and the exact departure times of buses at Corby station on the way, the fruitless pursuit of somewhere for tea in the enormous development without any facilities, how we got a tour in the developer’s 4×4 because he had rarely seen any pedestrians and wondered what we were doing, and how Simon designed a bus service in his head on the spot and told the developer all about it in detail. Then there was a cross country walk afterwards organised by Simon to see a nice village followed by a race across a field with a very tall crop to get the bus back, Simon waving an OS map saying that the footpath was definitely this way and that if we missed the bus there wasn’t another one that day. We did catch it…”

Simon’s work was guided by a deep concern about climate change and a core belief that good public transport is a human right. Just days after his death, the Committee on Climate Change adopted the key findings and recommendations of the Transport for New Homes report – a great tribute to Simon’s vision.

The Committee on Climate Change says:

 New developments should enable sustainable travel, which should be a primary consideration from the beginning of the planning process. This includes planning neighbourhoods around infrastructure to encourage walking, cycling, the use of public transport and electric vehicles. Walking and cycling routes should be well lit, feel safe and be segregated from busy traffic. Integrating consideration of sustainable transport into plans for new houses should ensure developments are easy to serve by public transport. Local authorities must consider where best to locate new homes to minimise the need to travel to work and amenities such as shops and schools.”

This is just one way in which Simon’s legacy will live on.

The Transport for New Homes Charter is dedicated to Simon.