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Wolfson Prize Garden Cities: Wei Yang and Partner's arc of new homes

Wolfson Economic Prize 2014 finalist Wei Yang and Partners proposes expanding the arc of new homes which encircle London and the home counties

The plan would see a ring of garden cities link up with the proposed HS2 line as well as the new East-West railway which is currently in the planning stage and is expected to link Oxford and Cambridge.

A key part of Wei Yang’s proposal is the use of existing laws to speed up the planning and construction process.

Commenting on the plan, Wei Yang said: ‘The entry invites Local Authorities to ask Government to establish a locally-controlled Garden City Development Corporation, with compulsory purchase powers, using the existing New Towns Act 1981. The Development Corporation would establish a joint venture with a Master Developer to secure delivery at no cost to the Treasury.

‘In this way, we can ensure a speedy delivery of garden cities under the existing legislations, without any government expenditure.’

Wolfson Garden Cities: Wei Yang street view

Wolfson Garden Cities: Wei Yang street view

The submission from Wei Yang & Partners and Peter Freeman argues that:

Location and scale

  • Local Authorities must lead the efforts to accommodate population and housing growth.
  • Garden Cities can contribute to the UK’s competitive economic advantage so they must be located in areas where housing pressures are intense and where there is a realistic prospect of significant economic growth.
  • An ‘Arc of Opportunity’ stretching from Southampton, through Oxford and Cambridge, to Felixstowe, some 40-80 miles from London, is the best location for the first round of Garden Cities.

The submission uses a model of 10,000 homes (25,000 people) and 10,000 jobs to test a strategy for perhaps 30 to 40 Garden Cities, each to be built over 10-15 years.  30% of new homes would be affordable.  The actual size will depend on how the Garden City would contribute to strengthening local networks; some could be smaller, many could be significantly larger but at 10,000 dwellings the Garden City could be developed by a single Local Authority using existing legislation.  The combination of Local Authority control and use of existing legislation means that new homes and jobs could be delivered quickly.

Design and sustainability

The Garden City would be founded on four structuring principles:

  • Walkable Neighbourhoods with a radius of around 500m
  • a strong Town Centre and Neighbourhood Centres
  • a permeable street network
  • a generous and multi-functional network of parks, gardens, open spaces, woodlands, lakes and streams.

Accordign to Wei Yang & Partners, the Town Centre would be a lively, bustling, busy place, achieved through the mix of land uses and efficient management of the retail floorspace.  The Garden City would re-create the complexity of conventional towns and cities, where land uses have developed organically; this integrated, looser, messier mix makes the street scene vital.  It can be achieved through a combination of good master planning, which encourages diversity and activity, and effective management of the Garden City Estate.  Well-designed and managed places create vitality, foster economic activity and extend the period over which a Town Centre is used.

Some 5-7,000 people would live in each Walkable Neighbourhood within walking distance of key local services around a village green; a primary school, shops, restaurants, health and educational services – all readily accessible by bus.

The combination of these place-making principles, overlain with new engineering technologies, would enable residents to live sustainable, low carbon, resource efficient and healthy lives.  Building a new community from scratch provides considerable flexibility in the way that the way the community can be planned with services, utilities and systems provided when they are needed.

Delivery and finance

In terms of delivery, the submission proposes a practical, realistic strategy that will deliver new homes and jobs quickly.  It is designed to overcome all the existing impediments that are preventing a resurgence in house building and consequently stoking a housing price bubble.  Key features are:

·        It invites Local Authorities to ask Government to establish a locally-controlled Garden City Development Corporation, with CPO powers and planning powers, using the existing New Towns Act 1981.

·        The Development Corporation would select a Master Developer funded by pension funds and/or other institutional investors.

·        Together the Development Corporation and the Master developer would establish a Joint Venture Delivery Vehicle.

·        The Development Corporation could acquire land through CPOs at Current Use Value but the financial appraisal makes provision for acquiring land at substantially higher land values to encourage participation by landowners without the need for CPOs.

·        Institutional investors would provide “project finance” for the Joint Venture Delivery Vehicle.  Receipts from the disposal of land for new private housing would meet all of the costs of land acquisition, compensation for loss of amenity, infrastructure, community assets, etc.  Land for affordable housing would be provided at no cost.

·        All community assets including open spaces, and the shops in the High Street and Neighbourhood Centres would be vested in a Community Land Trust.

·        Applying the assumptions of the baseline financial viability model, the Joint Venture Delivery Vehicle would earn an Internal Rate of Return of nearly 12.5% over 15 years or an absolute return of £162m, making it an attractive investment proposition.

·        These financial returns would be available for sharing amongst the Master Developer (and their institutional investor), the Local Authorities, the land owners, the Community Land Trust and Government. In areas of higher values the surpluses to share could be enormous.

Benefits for Local People

Existing and new communities would enjoy substantial benefits:

·        Locally-based decision-making.

·        Compensation for loss of amenity and disturbance from construction; purchase of homes from those who wish to sell.

·        Preferential access to affordable housing and amenities, entitlement to other incentives.

·        High quality new homes, jobs, education, health, leisure, sporting and cultural amenities.

·        A net contribution to the Local Authority General Fund of around £2m per annum which could be invested in the Garden City, or elsewhere in the local area.

·        A potential “super-profit” of £50m from the development which could be shared between the Development Corporation and the Local Authority, to be spent on a wide range of purposes including regeneration in other areas.


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