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Garden communities ‘will be car-based commuter suburbs’


Andrew Forster
26 June 2020

The Government’s programme of garden towns and garden villages is little more than ‘greenwash’ when it comes to transport, with most developments likely to end up being car-dependent commuter estates, according to a report by the Transport for New Homes project. 

The report says the language and images used in the development masterplans suggest they mark a break from past practice but the reality will be quite different. Most communities are located away from fixed public transport routes and many are dependent on major new roads. 

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government published its garden communities prospectus in August 2018 and subsequently awarded local authorities grants of between £100,000 and £700,000 to prepare masterplans. 

Developments are supposed to feature good public transport, walking, and cycling facilities to ensure they are “easy to navigate, and facilitate simple and sustainable access to jobs, education, and services”. 

Transport for New Homes studied 20 plans in detail. Only one – Aylesham garden village in Kent –  offered a railway station within one mile of every household. Many were reliant on major new roads. 

The masterplan documents leave readers thinking they will have low car reliance, says the report. “The images show people walking and cycling in places designed for walkability rather than cars. There are public transport hubs and a mix of development. The boring housing estate dominated by parking is out.

“Having found that the visions for garden communities were all about sustainable living with walking, cycling and public transport, it was with some amazement that we found that nearly every new garden community hinged on major road improvements to cater for a massive expected rise in car use.

“Sometimes it seemed that the location of a new garden community was actually chosen because it would help finance a new road or better junction. So some garden villages advertised that they specifically would unlock funds to improve infrastructure and boost the case for improvements for a new motorway junction, large link road, bypass, junction upgrade etc.”

The report cites the 3,500-home Long Marston Garden Village on a former airfield in Warwickshire as “typical of garden villages in that it is far from major population and employment centres”. 

Located seven miles from a 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.”

Aylesbury garden town is typical of the larger, garden town, proposals. It envisages 16,000 new homes “located on the outskirts and without attractive, safe walking and cycling routes to amenities”, says Transport for New Homes. 

“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.”

Project co-ordinator Jenny Raggett said: “It looks like garden communities are to become car-based commuter estates just like any other – exactly what the Government wanted to avoid. Nearly every garden community comes with a long list of road improvements such as bypasses, link roads and new motorway junctions.”

Transport for New Homes pins the blame on England’s planning system, which is driven by targets for new housing numbers at local authority level. 

“The targets are produced without consideration of many geographical implications, including proximity and direct access to large urban areas, employment hot-spots, services, as well as transport. 

“Once targets are decided, the pressure is then on for planners working for the councils to find places to build the homes. At this point the developers and promoters of sites come forward with sites that they have in waiting. Large greenfield sites are seen as a better bet by local councils who must get targets [of new homes] built.”

Transport for New Homes calls for new housing to be built close to existing town centres or along public transport routes.

In the short-term it recommends the Government commissions an assessment of the transport plans of garden communities and outline planning permission is withheld “until it is clear that sustainable transport elements in each vision are fully funded and specified”.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, who chaired  the project steering group, 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.”

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