£250,000 prize for new garden city idea

A Tory peer has launched a competition to find the best idea for a garden city with prize money of £250,000 up for grabs.

Tory peer Simon Wolfson
Tory peer Simon Wolfson

The Wolfson Economics Prize, now in its second year, was founded by Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise, chief executive of retailer Next.

This year the prize will be awarded to the best answer to the question: "How would you deliver a new garden city which is visionary, economically viable and popular?"

The prize is being managed by think-tank the Policy Exchange, which has published information for entrants.

There are three main criteria:

  1. Proposals must offer a radical vision for improving the quality of urban life through the architecture, civic design, public spaces, transport networks and infrastructure that inspires judges.
  2. Entrants must show how the city can be self-financing, for example, by selling forward future taxation income to fund infrastructure up-front. They must also set out imaginative proposals showing how the body developing the city will relate to other governance structures in the area, for example, it could have its own planning powers.
  3. Judges must be convinced that the proposals would stand a good change of winning a local referendum. Entrants must outline how the interests of local residents be protected and fairly compensated if adversely affected.

Lord Wolfson has been openly critical of the planning system, calling its rules "slow, Luddite and backward-looking" in a speech at the British Chambers of Commerce in 2011.

Speaking to Planning, Wolfson said that it was "almost a guarantee" that the winning idea would have to be delivered through a development corporation, such as that used for the London Docklands.

"To try and achieve something on this scale would put too much pressure on any local authority, and would take too long," he said.

He was confident that nearby communities could be persuaded of the benefits of a garden city if entrants proposed high quality ideas.

Bringing ideas forward through a competition ensured that answers are not imposed on people, he said.

"One of the problems with any idea of a new city is that normally it invites immediate criticism," he said. "This is an invitation for people not to criticise but to come forward with an idea."

Local planning authorities would be among the groups who entrants would need to win over, Wolfson said. But he added: "There is no reason why a local authority couldn’t win the prize, or a chief planner."

A spokeswoman for the Town and Country Planning Association, which has been driving the debate about new garden cities, said that it supported the competition. "It is a good way of creating debate, but we also need direction and guidance from government," she said.

The closing date for initial ideas is 3 March 2014, after which judges will announce short-listed entrants, all of whom will receive £10,000 if they submit a further, expanded submission.

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