Will 2021 be the year Garden Communities finally bloom?

It’s fair to say Garden Communities did not have a vintage 2020. Doubts about their deliverability from the Planning Inspectorate on a number of high-profile sites across the country have caused some to question whether the ambition of Government to deliver the 49 sites currently in the Garden Communities Programme are realistic.

What is clear is that for Garden Communities to provide a significant chunk of the 300,000 homes needed this decade, renewed support from across the public and private sector will be required.

A rocky start

The frantic Government back-pedaling on planned changes to housing targets last month is likely to have appeased a number of Conservative councillors, but it provides a slightly unhelpful tone for the number of Garden Communities across the country that are trying to make their case heard.

It is a detail which has not been lost on those in the strategic planning world. The Land Promoters and Developers Federation (LPDF) Chairman Paul Brocklehurst said the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has “taken a highly regressive lurch backwards” by reverting to the 2017 figures which are based on “outdated 2014 household projections”.

Seeds of hope for 2021

But there are clear seeds of hope. Even amid the challenges of Covid-19, there are signs that those in and around the most inner circles of Government remain supportive of the principle of Garden Communities and recognise their pertinence to the No. 10 agenda.

Jack Airey’s appointment as the PM’s Special Advisor for Housing and Planning last year was a prime example of this. In his previous role as Head of Housing at Policy Exchange, Airey wrote positively on the potential of Garden Communities to deliver the housing needed in England in two reports, and made clear his position that “Government should accelerate the new garden towns programme”. Having someone with his experience close to the PM this year is no bad thing.

2021 provides real opportunities to speed up the sluggish planning process for Garden Communities as well. Last November’s National Infrastructure Strategy promised Government will review rules for how Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) get planning approval, and Garden Communities could be included for the first time. If this does go ahead the decision to approve Garden Communities could be taken away from councils dragging their feet, and made instead by a strong, determined Secretary of State who is keen to drive growth.

In the meantime, Government continues to provide Housing Infrastructure Fund money and support for development corporations through its growing Garden Communities Programme, including those planned in the North West at Bailrigg, St Cuthbert’s Carlisle, Halsnead and Handsforth.

But while this support will help keep the planning process ticking over, much more widespread support is needed in 2021 if we are to finally build the new sustainable communities we need, and the Garden Communities vision becomes a reality.

BECG is providing planning communications and political advocacy services to Garden Communities and strategic land promotions across the country.  Contact Kevin Whitmore for more information on how we can assist you.

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