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Wolfson Prize: 40 Garden Cities needed to solve housing crisis

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Plans by the three of the five finalists vying for this year’s Wolfson Economics Prize propose building up to 40 new garden cities to solve the housing crisis

Details of radical schemes by the shortlisted teams battling for the £250,000 prize have been unveiled today (28 August) ahead of the winner being announced next week.

Submissions from Barton Willmore, Urbed and Wei Yang & Partners have all called for multiple garden cities - with some demanding as many as 40 new garden cities, each containing between 10,000 and 50,000 homes. Plans by Shelter/PRP and Chris Blundell for Golding Homes proposed a single-site option.

The proposals, which have been worked up from the initial concepts reveal in June (AJ 04.06.14), varied in the number of affordable housing which should be integrated within new schemes. Shelter’s plan saw 37.5 per cent of new homes allocated as affordable housing compared to 20 per cent within URBED’s proposed scheme.

Organised by the centre-right think tank Policy Exhange, the Wolfson Economics Prize is the second biggest prize in economics behind the Noble Prize.

Founder of the Prize, Lord Simon Wolfson of Aspley Guise, said: ‘We urgently need to build more houses in Britain. I am delighted that this year’s Wolfson Economics Prize has generated so many powerful and creative proposals for new garden cities. Together these entries present an overwhelming argument in favour of a new approach to solving our housing crisis.’

Prize Director Miles Gibson added: ‘Our expert finalists have produced a spectacular range of ideas in their final submissions. Their entries spurred us to create a fantastic exhibition about the Prize at The Building Centre. Trevor Osborne and his fellow judges now have the unenviable and difficult task of choosing an overall winner.’

Speaking about their proposal James Gross, Lead author and design director at Barton Willmore said: ‘A wave of up 40 Garden Cities would make a fundamental difference to solving the national housing crisis.

‘This is not about a one size fits all solution, but up to 40 cities of 40-50,000 homes a piece, each delivering an average of 3,000 homes a year, would provide the additional housing completions per annum needed to meet our England’s growing need, and address the chronic housing shortfall.’

David Rudlin of URBED argued for the expansion of existing cities: ‘The word city is as important as the word garden. It is easier and more logical to extend an existing urban realm than to build in some remote field far from anywhere. 

Garden City plan as proposed by Urbed

Garden City plan as proposed by URBED

‘To be a success you need the infrastructure which a city has, such as transport, universities, hospitals, cathedrals, etc. If you look at Milton Keynes, arguably the most successful of the last round of Garden Cities, it doesn’t even quite have everything in place yet.’

The URBED proposal envisages doubling the size of an imaginary town named Uxcester by building 82,000 homes - 16,000 within the existing town and a further 66,000 in three urban extensions of 20 - 25,000 homes over a period of 35 years.

Commenting on the proposal Rudlin said: ‘As part of the exercise we applied the model to Oxford that has already accepted that it needs to build on this scale but hasn’t worked out how to do so. We therefore had some very positive discussions in Oxford with local groups like the Civic Society about the Uxcester model.’


  • Planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, supported by financial modelling from EC Harris and inputs from Pinsent Mason, Propernomics and others, suggest four garden city ‘types’, including the ‘greening’ of existing new towns, to deliver up to 40 new garden cities. Each garden city would deliver 40-50,000 homes built over the next 25 years, as well as 40-50,000 jobs. A Royal Commission, and Garden City Mayors heading up local Garden City Commissions, would be appointed to champion garden cities and find specific locations for development in the broad regions mapped in the submission. 35% of new homes would be affordable housing for those on low incomes.
  • David Rudlin (in collaboration with Dr Nick Falk, Pete Redman and Jon Rowland) argues for the near-doubling of existing large towns in line with garden city principles, to provide 86,000 new homes for 150,000 people built over 30-35 years. The entry imagines a fictional town called Uxcester to develop the concept, and applies that concept to Oxford (2011 population: 150,000) as a case study, showing how Oxford could rival the strategy adopted by Cambridge for growth and expansion. David argues that there may be as many as 40 cities in England that could be doubled in size in this way, such as York, Norwich, Stafford and Cheltenham. The submission states that 20 per cent of new homes would be affordable housing.
  • Wei Yang & Partners and Peter Freeman (in collaboration with Buro Happold, Shared Intelligence and Gardiner & Theobald) argue that an ‘arc’ (stretching from Southampton to Oxford to Cambridge to Felixstowe) is the best location for a first round of new garden cities; and uses a model of 10,000 homes (25,000 people) and 10,000 jobs to test a strategy for perhaps 30-40 garden cities built over 10-15 years. 30% of new homes would be affordable housing. 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.
  • Chris Blundell argues that a garden city should be developed south-east of Maidstone (Kent) to accommodate around 15,000 homes (about the size of Letchworth Garden City), coupled with major improvements to the local transport network including a new HS1 station. Delivery should be led by a Garden City Development Corporation with long term management of the garden city being undertaken by a Community Council, which would receive a share of the surplus arising from development. 40% of new homes would be affordable housing. The design and character of development should be developed through extensive community engagement, and reflect local character and distinctiveness. The new garden city would contribute up to £400m annually to the local economy during its construction and support the development of a new engineered homes manufacturing sector.
  • Shelter, the leading housing and homelessness charity (in collaboration with architects PRP, with advice from KPMG LLP, Laing O’Rourke plc and Legal & General) proposes a new garden city on the Hoo Peninsula in Medway, Kent. Commencing with a settlement of 15,000 homes (36,000 people – about the size of Letchworth Garden City) built over 15 years, Stoke Harbour would eventually grow into a garden city of 60,000 homes (144,000 people – slightly smaller than Oxford). The entry proposes a new model designed to attract massive private investment into the provision of high quality homes, jobs, services and infrastructure. New polling for Shelter in the submission shows that 55% per centof people in Medway support a new garden city on the Hoo Peninsula compared to just 33 per cent who oppose. 37.5 per cent of new homes would be affordable housing.

The garden city concept was first proposed by Ebenezer Howard in 1898 when he outlined plans for self-sufficient communities ringed by agricultural green belts.

The design competition has been established to enable architects and urban planners to draw up design concepts for a ‘visionary and economically viable’ new Garden City – or range of cities - in a bid to solve Britain’s growing housing crisis

A poll by the Wolfson Economics Prize in June found that three quarters of Britons backed plans to tackle the housing shortage by building a series of new garden cities.

In March, chancellor George Osborne announced plans to create a 15,000-home ‘Garden City’ at Ebbsfleet in Kent - the first to be built in the United Kingdom in 100 years - with up to £200million of public money pumped into the scheme.

The two-stage ideas contest backed by Conservative peer Simon Wolfson, who launched the competition by posing the question ‘How would you deliver a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable, and popular?’

The winner will receive £250,000, with all finalists due to recieve £10,000. The winner will be announced at a gala dinner at the RIBA on Wednesday 3 September.





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Readers' comments (1)

  • 10-50,000 homes may have made a city 500 years ago, but it certainly doesn't anymore. Most people in the world wouldn't recognise anywhere with less than 500,000 people in it as anything other than a town, and in some places, not much more than a village.

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