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

Share

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

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Project Manager (upgrades, rollouts, migrations)

£350 - £425 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager - 3 mont...

IT Administrator - Graduate

£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

Year 6 Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Year 6 Teacher - ChesterRandst...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The colours of autumn leaves are among the many pleasures of the coming season  

In Sickness and in Health: As autumn arrives, more of us should wear high-vis clothes

Rebecca Armstrong
 

Daily catch-up: Scottish polls, canvass returns and arguments. And Top 10 Tweets

John Rentoul
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week