While it’s unlikely that more than a handful of new towns will be built over the next 25 years, it is useful to explore a scenario where we try to use garden cities to accommodate the entire projected housing shortfall of London and the Home Counties.
This demonstrates how the policy of building garden cities can only ever be a temporary one, given their unsustainable consumption of the countryside, and that over the long-term we need to focus on making our existing places better places to live.
Our analysis shows that:
- We would need 67 garden cities, each with a population of 30,000, to address the projected shortage of 1,000,000 homes in London and the Home Counties over the next 25 years.
- If we were to build all these new homes in garden cities, we would need 675km² of land – equivalent to 6.8% of unprotected and unbuilt land within a 50-mile radius of London. To put this in context, this would represent a 17.6% increase in the amount of land taken up by urban areas. New roads and railway lines linking towns are not included in this calculation, and would require substantial amounts of additional land.
- In contrast, building 1,000,000 new homes at the average gross density of a typical major town in the South East, such as Brighton & Hove (3,320 homes per km2), would require just 301km2 of unprotected and unbuilt land – 3.0% of the total and a 7.9% increase in urban land coverage.
Our findings demonstrate that building new garden cities is an unsustainable and damaging approach. The more sustainable and realistic approach is to refocus our attention on building more homes in towns and cities closer to where people already live and work.
To achieve this, we need to:
- Increase density around urban cores to offer a realistic alternative to the development of low-density new towns and suburbs.
- Locate developments on strong public transport corridors, close to medium-size towns.
- Provide local council services designed to encourage start-ups and business relocation.
- Diversify employment sectors.
- Work with local employers to develop a skills strategy.
- Form a sustainable budget for community facilities and programmes from the outset, and protect the funding.
- Recognise it takes 15 to 20 years for a fully-fledged community to form.
- Consider the importance of providing homes of suitable sizes for families.