Shelter publishes ambitious plan for new garden city with 150,000 residents in Kent


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Britain’s leading homelessness charity has unveiled plans for a new garden city with a population of 150,000 to be built on a marshy peninsula separating the Thames and Medway estuaries.

The scheme, which aims to provide affordable homes within a 45-minute commute of central London, would help ease the capital’s burgeoning housing crisis, according to Shelter.

It comes as the Government announced in the Queen’s Speech today that it intended to bring forward legislation allowing locally led plans to build a new wave of garden cities.

The Shelter scheme, which would be based around a new town at Stoke Harbour, was one of five blueprints shortlisted for the £250,000 Wolfson Economic Prize, which is looking at ways of delivering the new settlements.

An opinion poll conducted by the competition organisers published to coincide with the announcement of the finalists found that three out of four Britons backed the idea.

Support for the creation of a new garden city – modelled on the principals of the early 20th century pioneers at Letchworth and Welwyn – was consistently high across the political spectrum with Conservative voters the most likely to be in favour, it was found.

The findings challenge fears of a Nimby backlash against the concept – particularly in the Tory heartlands of the South East where housing demand is highest.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron clashed publicly earlier this year over unpublished plans to build two new garden cities in Kent and Buckinghamshire.

Today, the Government confirmed Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget announcement that a new 15,000 community would be created at Ebbsfleet, Kent.

Under the far more radical plan unveiled by Shelter the ancient spit of land at the Hoo Peninsula would include a third of homes available for social rent.

Others would be purchased through shared ownership schemes whilst house boats and self-build dwellings would also be encouraged. Residents would be able to buy shares in the new city which could mean a £1,000 investment will be worth £8,250 over the course of the development.

Shelter said fewer than 14 out of every 100 homes currently available in the Medway area were within the reach of ordinary first-time buyers.

A new train line restoring the link between the Isle of Grain to Gravesend would connect with HS1 and potentially the new Crossrail putting the new community within commuting distance of London.

Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “Creating new garden cities is an essential step towards building the homes we need. Our model proves that with the right innovation it is absolutely possible to build new settlements with plenty of genuinely affordable homes.”

He added: “Although it is theoretical, we believe that a new garden city in Medway has the potential to offer the existing community genuinely affordable homes for their children, as well as new schools, parks, jobs, transport links and more to benefit the whole area.”

The peninsula has already been at the centre of ambitious development plans with London Mayor Boris Johnson the most high-profile supporter of a Lord Foster-designed new hub airport at the Isle of Grain although this was not one of the options favoured by the Airports Commission.

Simon Wolfson, chief executive of Next and the founder of the prize said the findings of the poll were encouraging. “It demonstrates how popular garden cities would be as a solution to Britain's mounting housing crisis. It is particularly interesting that older generations, more than others, support the building of new homes with gardens,” he said.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said the shortlisted schemes overlooked the main housing challenges. CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said: “Garden cities may be part of the solution to our housing crisis, but only if they are locally supported, help regenerate our existing cities and provide significant amounts of genuinely affordable housing.”

Five shortlisted finalists

Barton Willmore: Independent town planning and design consultancy calls sets out a 10-point plan for delivering a new garden city. Proposals include the creation of Garden City Mayors and a new commission to identify potential locations.

Chris Blundell: Development professional calls for a new garden city of 30-40,000 people comprising interconnected walkable suburbs echoing the vision of movement founder Ebenezer Howard but delivered by new development corporations.

Design and research practice URBED: Calls for the doubling of an existing town or city to accommodate an eventual population of 400,000 (slightly smaller than Bristol). It would be achieved by adding three urban extensions of 50,000 people within a 10km radius of existing centre.

Shelter: Building a new city of 150,000 on the Hoo Peninsula off Kent. It would include a self-contained new town of 48,000 at Stoke Harbour. Site would be linked by new rail line connecting to HS1 putting it within 45 minutes of central London.

Wei Yang and Partners: Argues that a new city could be sited in a huge development arc stretching from Felixstowe in Suffolk and skirting the London Green Belt to Southampton in Hampshire. Also calls for the Government to publish 30-year garden cities strategy.