Government policy is to encourage but not impose the development of new housing, including new garden cities. The Lib Dems have been busy stressing thatthey are more enthusiastic about garden cities than the Conservatives. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was at it again this morning.
Mr Clegg said he had been “banging the drum” within the coalition for them. He said they are “essential.” He added that the prospectus issue by the Government this morning:
“It’s much more than a document. It’s a call-to-arms for visionaries in local areas in need of housing to put forward radical and ambitious proposals to develop their own garden cities.”
The document is entitled “Locally-led garden cities.” It avoids defining how large a garden city needs to be – although gives as an “indication” that they should be at or above 15,000. The stress is on lincentives and flexibility. The role of central government is to try to keep out of the way. For example the document says:
We will support schemes by working across Government with the Homes and Communities Agency to co-ordinate key partners and assist sites in overcoming barriers to delivery, including assistance with planning and non-planning consent regimes. This has been instrumental in helping to move some major housing schemes forward – for example, at Kettering, we have brought together Government departments (Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Transport, and Department for Business Innovation and Skills), the Homes and Communities Agency, Highways Agency, the Local Enterprise Partnerships, developer and Local Authority into a partnership committed to taking the scheme forward. This has enabled a common understanding between Government and local partners on opportunities to move the scheme forward.
Consent may not always be easy. In some places there will need to be the support of both county and district councils. Winning the support of the existing communities means persuading them what is proposed would be attractive. The Government document refers to “well-designed homes”. But planning officers and architects might have a different idea about what constituted well-designed from the people expect to live in them. A “well-designed” tower block from an award winning firm of modernist architects? A house with a “well desigend” flat roof and top quality concrete offering the latest in stylish brutalism?
Certainly to have a proper housing market the supply would need to be freed up. If planning restrictions were eased there might be new garden cities, or new towns, or new villages. Do the Lib Dems propose sweeping away planning restictions are allow the free market to operate untrammelled? Clearly not. Do if councils have a veto on development and wish to exerecise do the Lib dems believe Whitehall should override the obejections? Such a position would hardly be localist. Yet if Mr Clegg regards garden cities as “essential” would he favour force if it was needed? The Lib Dems are muddled on the issue.
The policy of incentives to encourage new building – such as the New Homes Bonus mentioned this morning – is the right approach. By all means let’s consider what obstacles could be removed and how incentives could be increased. But if the Lib Dems feel that is not enough and imposition is needed they should say so. Otherwise their efforts to suggest they have a different policy is mere publicity seeking.