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New city proposals highlight shift in the political agenda

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John Redwood has a great sense of timing. Just days after his unexpected return to the shadow cabinet, as shadow minister for deregulation, he has brought out a carefully researched, 24-page pamphlet proposing a new city at Thames Reach.

Much of his document has an air of the inevitable.

It is nice that he thinks his new city 'should have an exciting new centre representing the best of new English architecture', but hardly the kind of statement that invites disagreement. He takes a determinedly populist approach to the type of development that would be acceptable, explaining that 'high-density flat developments are not popular in the United Kingdom' and prescribing that his new city 'will include terraced housing around garden squares as well as detached and semi-detached properties further from the centre'. But even if he does sound at times as if he wants to adopt the mantle of the Prince of Wales, Redwood at least faces up to the fact that a new city needs proper investment, not only in transport but also in schools and other shared facilities, and that the money for this has to be found.

What is most interesting is why Redwood has chosen this particular topic. It is true that this clever man is not afraid to tackle new subjects. As well as writing about the EU and about funding approaches for public services, predictable topics for a Euro-sceptic keen on reining in public spending, he has ranged further afield, covering healthcare and transport. The generous-spirited might say that, as a former minister for inner cities, this latest subject is within his sphere of interest. The more cynical would argue that since he has been campaigning against the introduction of large numbers of new houses in his Berkshire constituency of Wokingham, he has to find somewhere to put those houses. But if an ambitious politician keen to raise his profile believes that the best way to do so is to engage with the urban debate, and he is prepared to invest considerable research time, this must mean that it is becoming an increasingly important part of the political agenda. And that is good news for all who care about our cities, whether or not they agree with Redwood's thesis.

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