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Garden Cities

Volume 745: debated on Thursday 6 June 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will publish the prospectus for the establishment of new garden cities.

My Lords, very large-scale new housing developments are difficult, complex projects that involve long-term investment. This is illustrated by the fact that no developments of more than 10,000 homes have been delivered since the new towns programme. We are working with areas such as Bicester, which have expressed an interest in significant future housing growth that incorporates garden city principles such as high standards of quality and design, varied architecture, and provision of green space and gardens.

May I encourage my noble friend to be a little more specific? The Government promised a prospectus in their housing strategy published in November 2011. Unless the Government publish their prospectus for garden cities this summer or within at least two years of promising to do so, is there not a danger that people will question the Government’s determination to tackle the past decade’s undersupply of housing and avoid the possibility of a house price boom in the next 10 years?

My Lords, the Question is very apt but it relates almost entirely to big developments because garden city developments are not in their nature small. The noble Lord will know that these sites are very complicated. The garden city principles were enumerated by the Deputy Prime Minister in his speech to the National House-building Council last November. He said that we should build places which,

“draw on the best of British architecture and design, which have their own identity and character”,

and have a crucial role in keeping the countryside intact. He said that garden cities enable people to live sustainably and to move easily between work and home. Those are very large principles and demonstrate that a development needs to be large to bring all that in.

My noble friend never misses an opportunity to mention allotments. Of course, if allotments were proposed—and they could be—within these plans, I am sure they would be considered by the local authority. In any case, as my noble friend knows, no allotment ground can be vacated without the Secretary of State’s permission.

Does the Minister agree that some major and new settlements can take place within urban areas, incorporating all the good principles that she has mentioned—the Olympic Village being one such example and, now, even the big King’s Cross redevelopment? Will plenty of encouragement be given in any prospectus that comes out for urban-based new settlements?

My Lords, I readily accept what the noble Lord has said. Housing is not going to be confined to new areas. It will of course take place in conjunction with cities or towns, and indeed I think that Cranbrook and Bicester would fill those requirements. I totally agree with the noble Lord on that point.

I should say that I have various declared interests and draw the House’s attention to them. I have had a long-term belief that creating new communities relieves the pressure to surround existing communities with undesirable development, while still delivering the housing, workplaces and services that people need. The Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister have both promised the prospectus, which would give a lead to organisations and local authorities in understanding what the Government want. Can the Minister explain why that has not yet happened and can she give any indication of when it will?

My Lords, I have indicated that the principles laid out in the prospectus and draft prospectus are already being dealt with and are already being incorporated into the proposals and designs for these larger sites. The local infrastructure fund, which has recently been set up by my department, helps with the sort of matter that the noble Lord has raised—that of the additional pressures placed on local communities—by providing funding for things such as schools and opening up roads.

I have heard what the noble Baroness has said about the issues arising from garden cities, but would it not greatly speed up the provision of houses if major developers were required to develop properly and genuinely the sites for which they already have planning permission?

My Lords, I think that these are all different matters—we have completely different proposals being put forward. Yes, some of the developments will be where planning permission has already been given, some will be where discussions have already taken place and some will be on new sites. We have to ensure that we are flexible but insistent that these are good developments for the future and that we are not just building anonymous estates that do not bring any sense of community.

My Lords, do the Government have any plans for the refurbishment of some of the new towns built around London after the Second World War where the fabric of some of the buildings is now decaying fast?

My Lords, I think that it would be for local authorities to make plans for any refurbishment of that kind within their housing plans. As the noble Lord knows, the Government have a programme to bring back in empty housing and, as I said, the wider programmes for the refurbishment of larger areas are a matter for local authorities.

My Lords, garden cities are what we are dealing with at the moment. Eco-towns were not very successful, but we hope that the larger developments that we are working with will get off the ground.