Across the UK there is a shortage of housing, and it is increasingly understood that we need to plan and build new, large-scale developments, as well as renewing existing towns and villages. At the same time, many people worry that any new places built will be no more than soulless, unattractive dormitory suburbs. How can we prevent such outcomes? How can we ensure that new large-scale developments become socially and economically successful places – places that will improve over time, and in which people will want to live for generations to come? And how can we ensure that new development helps tackle climate change and enhances the natural environment, rather than destroying it? The answer lies in the Garden City development model – a proven way of funding, creating and maintaining successful high-quality places. A true Garden City is a place created following the Garden City principles.
Garden Cities have become a bit of a political buzzword in recent years and the term is increasingly used to describe large-scale housing estates. However, new Garden Cities should be much more than just housing developments, they should be exemplars of sustainable living, and as such they have to deal with the overwhelming challenge of climate change. It is hard to overemphasise how climate change affects every aspect of planning for new and renewed places – from site selection in terms of flood resilience to very detailed building-scale measures that can help to secure urban cooling or effective deployment of district heating.
Planning has a vital role to play in dealing with climate change – by delivering renewable energy systems; ensuring that there are high levels of energy efficiency in buildings; implementing sustainable transport systems; and undertaking a whole range of resilience measures, from strategic flood defences to green infrastructure for urban cooling. Above all, planning can take the long view, addressing not just the needs of today but preparing for a changing climate, looking 50 and 100 years ahead.
We believe that new Garden Cities must be beacons of best practice in efficient and renewable energy generation – creating communities that are environmentally, socially and economically sound. They should be exemplar developments in terms of effective approaches to the holistic provision of energy and other services, and they should draw from the latest advances in zero-carbon technologies in the UK and around the globe. A major advantage of Garden Cities is that zero-carbon and energy-positive solutions can be laid down across a whole town, so that individual buildings can be incorporated within combined solutions, rather than being developed in isolation. As new, linked settlements with a good range of associated facilities (including schools, community and commercial buildings, and public and green spaces), Garden Cities provide the scope and scale to allow developers to convert innovation into cost-effective products and become leaders in the zero-carbon housing market.
However, to create truly resilient new places, councils and their delivery partners must think definitely and long term about the impact of and opportunities presented by new development. We know that we will have to build homes to house the nation into the 21st century: so the question is not whether we build, but whether we have the determination to deliver high-quality sustainable communities that will stand the test of time.
Ultimately, we cannot afford to build places that fail – and we should aspire to create great places, for everyone.
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, argues that new Garden Cities could hold the key to planning for a changing climate.