Summer is coming – the FA Cup has been spectacularly and unexpectedly won by this year’s underdogs – and some of us are starting to count the days to our summer holidays - but first we have one or two other matters of some moment to attend to – chief among them a general election on June 8th.
Now that the party manifestos are all available I thought it would make sense this month to read through them and see what is being said and pledged – if anything - about garden cities and related themes including housing provision. So I have given over the whole of this month’s blog to this highly topical theme and hope you will bear with me for adding to the plethora of election coverage we are all experiencing just now.
I have found it a fascinating process to read these documents and I have to admit it is the first time I have ever done so with quite such a level of detailed attention. One overall point that has struck me is that although garden cities have been very much in the news and in policy discussions over the last few years this hasn’t always translated into manifesto commitments this time round. Another thing that stands out is how diverse the various manifesto commitments are in the area of making places to live. If judgements can be made from what the parties have chosen to include in their manifestos – and I guess we need to be reasonably cautious here as they can’t necessarily put everything they care about in - for some parties this appears to be more of a focus than for others.
In putting together this month’s blog I have tried very hard to make sure I didn’t miss anything but it’s always possible that I haven’t managed to capture all the relevant commitments so please do read my comments with that caveat in mind.
I am starting off with the Conservative Party’s manifesto as the government of the day. One surprise given how much has been said - and the substantial financial and policy support shown by the Conservative government over the last few years for garden cities, towns and villages – is that they do not appear to feature specifically in the manifesto although a commitment to helping councils to build ‘high-quality, sustainable and integrated communities’ (Conservative Manifesto, 2017, 71) might imply that as a direction of travel. There are a number of commitments related to housing provision though, and it can be seen that new housing is being tied to offering sufficient supply to meet demand; focusing on affordability; emphasising high quality in design and density (through particular traditional housing typologies) but also using ‘modern methods of construction’; to underpinning economic development in the north; avoiding green belts; building mixed tenure, integrated, sustainable communities (with some councils); making use of government land holdings; and developing near main roads and rail lines:
‘We will fix the dysfunctional housing market so that housing is more affordable and people have the security they need to plan for the future. The key to this is to build enough homes to meet demand. That will slow the rise in housing costs so more ordinary, working families can afford to buy a home and bring the cost of renting down. And it will ensure that more private capital is invested in more productive investment, helping the economy to grow faster and more securely in future years’ (Conservative Manifesto 2017: 70).
‘We will meet our 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and we will deliver half a million more by the end of 2022. We will deliver the reforms proposed in our Housing White Paper to free up more land for new homes in the right places, speed up build-out by encouraging modern methods of construction and give councils powers to intervene where developers do not act on their planning permissions; and we will diversify who builds homes in this country’ (Conservative Manifesto 2017: 70).
‘We will build better houses, to match the quality of those we have inherited from previous generations. That means supporting high-quality, high-density housing like mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets. It means maintaining the existing strong protections on designated land like the Green Belt, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It means not just concentrating development in the south-east but rebalancing housing growth across the country, in line with our modern industrial strategy. It means government building 160,000 houses on its own land’ (Conservative Manifesto 2017: 71).
‘So we will help councils to build, but only those councils who will build high-quality, sustainable and integrated communities’ (Conservative Manifesto 2017: 71).
‘We will continue to invest in roads to fix pinch points and open up opportunities for new housing and local growth….We will increase services on our main lines and commuter routes, and launch new services to places which are poorly served or host major new housing projects’ (Conservative Manifesto 2017: 24).
Turning to the Labour Party, the manifesto does make specific mention of new town building and at a significant scale of activity to ‘start work on a new generation of New Towns’ (Labour Manifesto, 2017: 60).
As I have commented in previous blogs, ‘new town’ as a term is often used interchangeably in political and public policy statements with ‘garden cities’ to encompass garden city type developments, so that could potentially be the case here.
Support for work on this ‘new generation’ of new towns is situated within wider plans to build a lot of new housing (particularly on brownfields) and to protect greenbelts and avoid sprawl – Labour is the only party to explicitly mention that sprawl could be considered a problem. This is also again suggestive in garden city terms in that it implies integrated and self-contained settlements as a focus, as in the garden city model:
‘Labour will invest to build over a million new homes. By the end of the next Parliament we will be building at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year for genuinely affordable rent or sale’ (Labour Manifesto, 2017: 60).
We will prioritise brownfield sites and protect the green belt. We will start work on a new generation of New Towns to build the homes we need and avoid urban sprawl’ (Labour Manifesto, 2017: 60).
Next up I am looking at the Liberal Democrats manifesto, and among the manifestos this one has the most explicit focus on garden cities as a ‘named’ category of kinds of places to be developed.
The Liberal Democrats say they will commit to creating at least ten new Garden Cities, and this seems to be folded within commitments to build far more houses overall each year that are high quality and zero-carbon. A substantial proportion of these homes will be ‘government commissioned’, and the overall programme will be tied to a new development bank:
‘The housing crisis in Britain has become an emergency. For far too long Britain has built many fewer homes than we need; unless we build enough to meet demand, year after year, we will find that housing costs rise further out of reach. That is why we have set an ambitious target of increasing the rate of housebuilding to 300,000 a year – almost double the current level. These new houses must be sustainably planned to ensure that excessive pressure is not placed on existing infrastructure’ (Liberal Democrat Manifesto, 2017: 60).
‘Directly build homes to fill the gap left by the market, to reach our housebuilding target of 300,000 homes a year, through a government commissioning programme to build homes for sale and rent. We will ensure that half a million affordable, energy-efficient homes are built by the end of the parliament’ (Liberal Democrat Manifesto, 2017: 60).
‘Create at least 10 new garden cities in England, providing tens of thousands of 61 Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2017 high-quality, zero-carbon homes’ (Liberal Democrat Manifesto, 2017: 61).
‘Set up a new government-backed British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank with a remit including providing long-term capital for major new settlements and helping attract finance for major housebuilding projects with gardens and shared green space, jobs, schools and public transport’ (Liberal Democrat Manifesto, 2017: 61).
The Green Party does not mention garden cities, towns or villages but does – as would be expected – allude to its strong support for protecting green belts. It also makes mention of housing in the context of affordable, zero carbon development; those in private rental and social housing tenures; and in relation to its ‘promise to young people’:
‘Strong protection for the Green Belt, National Parks, SSSIs and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (Green Party Manifesto, 2017: 7).
‘Our promise to young people, written by young people, is that we will invest in education and opportunities, alongside lowering the voting age, protecting the environment, tackling the housing crisis and building a strong economy’ (Green Party Manifesto, 2017: 15).
‘We should all have a safe, affordable, secure and warm place to call home. The Green Party will tackle the causes of the housing crisis: giving renters a fair deal, making social housing widely available and bringing the housing market under control’ (Green Party Manifesto, 2017: 17).
‘A major programme to build affordable, zero carbon homes, including 100,000 social rented homes each year by 2022’ (Green Party Manifesto, 2017: 17).
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) does not mention garden cities, towns or villages in its manifesto, while on housing more broadly, it stands out from most of the other parties in its focus on modular housing (the Conservatives’ commitments to ‘modern methods of construction’ could mean modular housing too of course). UKIP makes manifesto commitments to ‘factory-built modular (FBM) homes’ as a method by which the mooted housing crisis might be tackled by building ‘where homes are needed’. It ties this approach to the creation (in fact this would be a revival as a development vehicle) of a Housing Development Corporation. This would be freed to a large extent from current planning laws and able to compulsorily purchase land (brownfields primarily) at use value and build ten to 100 units for sale ‘on an average site’ where need is identified:
‘UKIP is the only party being realistic about what can be done to increase the housing supply and putting forward a viable solution: a bold policy to roll out high quality, low cost factory-built modular (FBM) homes, affordable on the national average wage of £26,000… We will enable the manufacture of modular homes where jobs are needed, and they will be built where homes are needed’ (UKIP Manifesto, 2017: 16).
‘UKIP will establish a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to acquire primarily brownfield sites – at existing use value and through compulsory purchase if necessary – where affordable housing is required. Planning law will be changed to enable the HDC to give themselves planning permission to build between 10 and 100 FBM homes on an average site… Homes constructed will be sold on a freehold basis to first time buyers up to the age of 40 who are British citizens and who have a 10 per cent deposit’ (UKIP Manifesto, 2017: 17).
I am including the Scottish National Party because they are contesting seats in the general election. Again there is no mention of garden cities, towns or villages but instead the focus is on the record of achievement to date by the devolved government in relation to housing provision. As the SNP Manifesto statements below indicate, the rural and remote nature of much of Scotland is emphasised, as is a stress on affordable and social housing provision and refurbishment:
‘Scotland has the highest house building rate in the UK. We have overseen a new generation of council house building and, since 2007, over 60,000 affordable homes have been completed’ (Scottish National Party Manifesto, 2017: 5).
‘Over the current term of the Scottish Parliament, we are investing over £3 billion to deliver at least 50,000 new affordable homes, at least 35,000 of which will be for social rent’ (Scottish National Party Manifesto, 2017: 22).
‘We are building new homes and refurbishing existing properties through the £25 million Rural Housing Fund, and delivering 100 affordable homes in island communities through a dedicated £5 million fund’ (Scottish National Party Manifesto, 2017: 40).
In Wales Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales - similarly makes no specific mention of garden cities. It ties its commitments on housing to its wider proposed investment programme across a range of service and infrastructure areas. Implicitly that could be read as denoting an integrated place-making approach that has something in common with the garden city but no specific words are used to make than more than a speculative judgement. Plaid Cymru also connects its proposals to improving housing quality, especially for energy efficiency and thus affordability:
‘Funding new Welsh hospitals, railways, roads, schools and affordable homes with our multibillion pound investment programme’ (Plaid Cymru Manifesto, 2017: 5).
‘Plaid Cymru will roll out a nationwide scheme to make our housing stock more energy efficient… Energy efficient homes that are cheaper to heat, and a cleaner, greener environment’ (Plaid Cymru Manifesto, 2017: 43).
Finally, in Northern Ireland there are four main parties contesting the general election. I could not find any mentions of garden cities, towns or villages in the Sinn Féin, Democratic Unionist Party or the Ulster Unionist Party manifestos, or, in fact, any points on housing more broadly. It was interesting that the ‘top of mind’ issues here appear to be very much focused on other aspects of political contention.
The outlier in this context is the Social Democratic and Labour Party which, by contrast to the other parties, does give manifesto attention to building new housing as a critical element of flourishing communities, saying that it will use its position in Westminster to:
‘support positive housing decisions and new build programmes…access to a good quality, secure and affordable home is a fundamental right. It is critical if communities are to flourish’ (SDLP Manifesto, 2017: 14).
‘The SDLP believes that at least 3,000 new social homes are needed each year to meet demand. These new homes must be targeted at the areas with greatest social need’ (SDLP Manifesto, 2017: 14).
So there you have it – a whistle stop tour around the manifestos in relation to garden cities.
I do hope you will let me know if I have missed anything eagle-eyed blog readers!
As I pointed out at the start of this blog there is real diversity across the manifestos, with only two parties making specific mention of either new towns (Labour) or garden cities (the Liberal Democrats) but many although not all parties setting out a stall about housing more broadly.
It remains to be seen once we have all voted on June 8th and the dust has settled exactly what the garden city implications will be. I do hope that recent, revived support for garden settlements continues and flourishes whoever is in power, and look forward to discussing that with you when that becomes a little clearer post-election - a good topic for June if you aren’t already on the beach.
Dr Susan Parham
The International Garden Cities Institute