Britain needs to build, and on a grand scale

More garden cities would solve the housing crisis and improve our quality of life. Only Nimbyism stands in the way


The notion of the garden city, as conceived by Ebenezer Howard and first brought to fruition in Letchworth, was to provide an alternative to the squalor and overcrowding of the industrialised Victorian metropolis. Britain may no longer be so blighted by slums as it was a century ago, but with urban dwellers living more closely packed together than ever, the idea of a place with “the advantages of the most energetic and active town life, with all the beauty and delight of the country” has lost none of its appeal.

Sure enough, all three political parties have pledged their support for a new wave of garden cities to follow not only Letchworth and Welwyn but also post-war new towns such as Milton Keynes and Harlow. The Prime Minister has talked enthusiastically of “characterful houses, not just car-dominated concrete grids”. Earlier this year, Nick Clegg went so far as to single out an “arc” of suitable locations from Oxfordshire to Warwickshire. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband’s promised Rebuilding Britain Commission will, among other things, also consider appropriate sites for new urban developments.

There is no doubt that Britain needs to build, and on a grand scale. We currently add approximately 100,000 new homes each year, but demand is running nearer 250,000. The result is poor living conditions and increasingly unaffordable prices. The trouble with the Government’s vaunted Help to Buy scheme is that, while it may help counteract banks’ post-crisis unwillingness to lend, without a concomitant expansion of our restricted housing stock it will merely inflate the property-price bubble still further.

New construction is not the only solution. There are plenty of brownfield sites to be redeveloped and empty urban properties to be filled. But neither will be sufficient alone. Nor, indeed, will the steady sprawl of suburbia. The shortfall between demand and supply has built up over too many years; and with the number of households expected to increase by another fifth over the next two decades, the problem will only get worse. The think-tank Policy Exchange estimated this week that Britain needs another 1.5 million new homes by 2020. Business as usual will not do. Garden cities, with their promise of the best of both worlds, are the obvious answer.

How to turn the rhetoric into reality, though? It is more than 18 months since the Prime Minister’s warm words, and a year since an equally ringing endorsement from the planning minister, Nick Boles. But although there is one new garden city on the stocks – in Lanarkshire – that hardly constitutes the kind of progress such high-profile political support might have suggested.

Money is always a factor. But the Nimby outrage at Mr Boles’ suggestion that perhaps 12 per cent of Britain should be built upon, rather than the current 10 per cent, is the key. Since then, both he and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles have stressed that garden cities will not be “imposed”. Meanwhile, hints of financial backing have receded; and the ardour of the Prime Minister, facing a backlash over everything from HS2 to Heathrow expansion, has markedly cooled.

But Britain cannot do without more housing. No amount of short-sighted, self-interested opposition can change that. Letchworth and Welwyn are testament to the visionary Ebenezer Howard. Would we might be so brave again.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own