It is encouraging to see the practical encouragement that the Government is giving for local authorities and promoters jointly to bring forward high quality proposals for new communities.
Expressions of interest are sought by 31 July 2016 for “garden village” projects defined by the Government as developments of between 1,500 and 10,000 homes that meet specified criteria. Up to 12 proposals are to be supported. The list of information required has now been published.
This follows DCLG’s March 2016 prospectus that covered both garden villages and garden towns/cities (10,000 homes plus).
Key criteria include:
– backing from the relevant local authorities
– engagement with the local community
– embedding of “garden city principles” (how strictly, one wonders, given the lack of many developments to adhere to all of those principles articulated by the TCPA.
The prize for selected applicants is a package of government support that could include:
– delivery enabling funding (ie funding for the local authority for staff or consultancy work)
– support from ATLAS
– “brokerage across government” to unblock cross-departmental issues
– access to government housing funding streams (eg the starter homes fund and affordable housing funding)
– “financial flexibilities” to improve viability and cashflow (TIF-type mechanisms perhaps?)
– planning freedoms (presumably eg the potential to be a “planning freedom zone” under section 154 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016)
– dedicated delivery vehicles (eg public-private sector JVs or even development corporations, made easier to create by sections 166 and 167 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016).
The Government has learned from the failings of the previous eco-towns initiative, where schemes that were selected achieved an unfair policy advantage, short-circuiting the then regional planning process, and failed to live up to promises made to promoters and the public alike as to consultation and assessment processes. Whilst the legal challenge to the lawfulness of that process failed (the Bard Campaign v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  EWHC 308 (Admin), public unpopularity ran the process into touch in the lead up to the 2010 General Election.
Instead, this time round there is no explicit shortcut through the planning process – expressions of interest must set out how the proposed garden village fits with the “strategic growth plans for the area”.
Alongside the prospectus, the Government has been refining its policy stance on new settlements, in DCLG’s December 2015 consultation paper on proposed changes to national planning policy.
The NPPF currently says this:
“52. The supply of new homes can sometimes be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or extensions to existing villages and towns that follow the principles of Garden Cities. Working with the support of their communities, local planning authorities should consider whether such opportunities provide the best way of achieving sustainable development. In doing so, they should consider whether it is appropriate to establish Green Belt around or adjoining any such new development”
The consultation paper proposes the following:
“20. We propose to strengthen national planning policy to provide a more supportive approach for new settlements, within locally led plans. We consider that local planning authorities should take a proactive approach to planning for new settlements where they can meet the sustainable development objectives of national policy, including taking account of the need to provide an adequate supply of new homes. In doing so local planning authorities should work proactively with developers coming forward with proposals for new settlements in their area.”
If you have a scheme that meets the criteria in the prospectus, there is little time to be lost.
Simon Ricketts 17.6.16
Personal views et cetera