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Think tank calls for private Garden Cities

Private developers should be encouraged by the Government to establish new Garden Cities, according to a report from think-tank the Policy Exchange.

The publication’s author, Alex Morton, argued that new settlements should be developed close to existing urban areas and could be established in the Green Belt if local people supported it.

His report ‘Cities for Growth’ cited evidence that larger cities boost the productivity of their residents more than smaller towns. Ideas spread faster, competition is more intense, and there are greater economies of scale.

Morton also made a case for changes in the planning regime to make it easier for development to take place.

Planning permission on brownfield sites should be easier and always permitted if less than half of those directly affected object, he argued.

On brownfield sites if a majority of people in the immediate vicinity are content to allow changes to property near them, councils should not be able to overrule changes simply because they don't fit with town hall plans, said Morton.

This would means revisiting existing rules where councils can refuse to allow an extension or a change of use. In addition, the trigger for planning permission should be reduced especially on issues like internal alterations and rules on what a building is used for.

The report stated that building on theGreen Belt should be permitted if the majority of local people are in favour. Morton said 60 per cent of the public want to live in a city suburb but Green Belt policies prevent suburban development.

“Ironically by preventing all our major cities from expanding outwards, the Green Belt policy creates pressure to fill in the green spaces in urban areas which people value highly,” he said.

The report argues that developers should be able to pitch for the creation of new 'Garden Cities' close to and linked into existing cities and their economies by holding local referendums with the communities directly affected by the development. If local people agree and businesses want to proceed, Government should facilitate this.

It claimed existing planning laws have led to local authorities releasing too little land for new development, raising house prices and rents.

He said: “Building new garden cities sounds radical. But we have successful examples in the UK, from the original garden cities to new towns like Milton Keynes and major planned developments like Docklands and the Olympic site.

"There are significant advantages in concentrating a lot of development in one place, allowing proper planning for infrastructure, and allowing us to create green and pleasant places to live."

Download the ‘Cities for Growth’ report (PDF).


Roger Milne

24 November 2011