Housebuilder pushes potential of private sector-led 'garden villages'

Private sector-led garden villages capable of delivering up to 5,000 homes could play a key role in addressing the nation's housing shortage, according to a new policy paper from housebuilder Barratt.

Letchworth Garden City: private sector origins highlighted in paper (picture by Peter O'Connor, Flickr)
Letchworth Garden City: private sector origins highlighted in paper (picture by Peter O'Connor, Flickr)

It argues that such developments would be capable of being funded entirely without public sector investment, depending on the cost of land assembly and local viability issues.

The paper, Places for All Ages: Delivering the Future of The Garden Village, suggests that lessons from the past 35 years show that the English planning system lacks the capacity and ability to allocate or consent larger-scale new town development.

Instead, it says England’s planning system favours smaller-scale development as it is more likely to win public and local authority support. The paper also highlights the private sector origins of frontrunner garden-city Letchworth, in Hertfordshire.

Barratt said that free-standing new developments of up to 5,000 new homes could offer a "critical mass" in terms of resident demand and development value, to better secure investment in new schools, neighbourhood centres and commercial space, as well as new roads, railway stations. 

Philip Barnes, group land and planning director at Barratt Developments, said the firm had used a real - but unidentified - site in in the South East as a model for its study, and that the 350 hectares of land identified for the development had been outside of the green belt. The study priced development costs for the project at £800 million, and involved a mix of tenures, including affordable housing.

"With a willing local authority and a willing landowner, we think that the garden village model is something that the private-sector can deliver," he said.

"[The model] could be viable in most areas. But the key barrier to garden villages coming forward is more about whether the planning system can deliver."

Barnes said the National Planning Policy Framework was currently "silent" on the desirability of garden villages as a way of meeting local housing need, and that the insertion of a policy line suggesting local authorities "consider" their potential would be useful.

Lib Dem peer Lord Matthew Taylor, who authored a report on the potential of garden villages for think tank Policy Exchange earlier this year, said Places for All Ages showed that the private sector had the appetite and skills to deliver such developments.

"It makes it clear it is possible to create fantastic attractive village scale communities in which to live and work, significantly contributing to housing needs and economic growth," he said.

The Barratt report can be read here.

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