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Housing minister slams Wolfson Garden Cities prize-winner


Brandon Lewis has given a withering response to URBED’s Wolfson prize winning plan, comparing it to New Labour’s ‘failed examples of top-down eco-towns’

The garden city proposal which scooped the £250,000 Wolfson Prize has no chance of being built and would create ‘resentment’ and ‘urban sprawl’ the housing minister said today.

Manchester-based URBED was announced as the winner of the much-vaunted prize yesterday with a proposal to double the size of existing towns and cities in England by building on the green belt using garden city principles.

However, housing minister Brandon Lewis told AJ: ‘We do not intend to follow the failed example of top-down eco-towns from the last administration.’

Lewis said: ‘We are committed to protecting the green belt from development as an important protection against urban sprawl - yesterday’s proposal from Lord Wolfson’s competition is not Government policy and will not be taken up.

‘Instead, we stand ready to work with communities across the country who have ideas for a new generation of garden cities and we have offered support to areas with locally-supported plans that come forward.’

Using an imaginary town of Uxcester, URBED’s proposal showed suggested the town’s population could be increased by building approximately 82,000 homes on the surrounding green belt incrementally over a 35-year period.

URBED director David Rudlin argued that as many as 40 cities in England could be doubled in size in this way, such as Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Rugby, Reading and Stafford. Rudlin said that the UK needed to look to other countries such as Germany and the Netherlands and ‘take a confident bite out of the green belt.’

Lewis, who was appointed Minister of State for Housing and Planning at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in July, also said the Wolfson prize was effectively ‘picking numbers out of thin air’.

‘Picking housing numbers out of thin air and imposing them on local communities builds nothing but resentment,’ he said. ‘This Government has abolished regional quangos’ role in planning – instead, we have empowered elected local councils to determine where new homes should and shouldn’t go.

‘And already we’re working with local councils and residents to develop the first garden city at Ebbsfleet, which will deliver up to 15,000 new homes, and published a prospectus offering support to communities with locally-supported plans for a garden city in their area.”

Commenting on the statement Wolfson prize director Miles Gibson said: ‘It places a doubt in my mind as to whether they [the government] have mis-interpreted David’s submission, which is that this is a locally-led proposition.

‘There is no part of his submission which is that this is going to be based in a locality which doesn’t want it.

‘The judges wouldn’t have given the prize to a bid which wouldn’t get support from a local community.’

Speaking to the AJ Rudlin said: ‘The first step for us is to see if political parties will adopt the ideas in their manifestos for the next election. Labour has been talking about garden cities and there is a debate about whether the New Town Act could be adapted, in some respects it could be used but to give it more impetus a garden cities act would be helpful.

Commenting on the opposition to building on the green belt Rudlin said: ‘We have to build on the green belt, ignoring it is not an option. We can’t continue accommodating growth within cities or miles away, if you plan carefully you can accomodate extra population.

‘We are talking about Edinburgh New Town as an example, that is the level we should be aiming at rather than saying it’s a relaxation of planning control.

‘People have misconceptions about how much land is in involved. If you look at historic cities there aren’t really too many brownfield sites left. If you do the expansion carefully it is surprising how little land it actually needs.

‘This notion that you are building over everything isn’t really true. If you draw the area you require, it surprised me how little space you need to expand cities of this scale.’



Previous story (AJ 03.09.14)

URBED scoops 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize



Readers' comments (4)

  • Politicians do not want a national plan, especially one which proposes building over Tory voting green belt areas.
    URBED's idea s just 2,342 homes per year, which like Garden "Cities" is not an answer to lack of housing.
    We must be bolder - a few new cities of a million of more over the same period might have an impact on the shortage and lack of affordability.
    Or does the economy really depend on eve increasing house prices?

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  • I would like to bet the minister has a comfortable home - perhaps several - and like all housing ministers in recent years is clueless about delivering the type and number of homes a reasonably affluent developed nation requires to provide decent living conditions fro all its citizens

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  • One wonders if the minister or any of his civil servants bothered to read the clear, well argued and eminently achievable proposition put forward by Urbed and their friends and colleagues. What is so depressing is that we have much of what we need in terms of legal instruments in place. What we don't have, but what Urbed over many years have demonstrated, is the commitment to a vision that is on the one hand radical but also 'conservative'. They do not propose a one size fits all solution but careful design and planning.The ministers and their advisors should look beyond the headlines and listen. I believe Nick Boles was one who did but of course he gets moved on. It is to Lord Wolfson's credit that he stumped up the cash to encourage this debate in more than just sound bites - not unlike Sir Terry Farrell working and funding the Farrell report for Government for free.

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  • The politbureau needs to start at the bottom by accepting gardens of the community. Surely however collective imagination and vision of future agricultural integration in an urban design framework should be made on three levels - Greenhouse attached to dwellings, organic garden network and polyculture areas at the correct proportions of land-use to serve the population.Would this not satisfy food vulnerability and efficiency requirements of energy use?

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