Tees Valley mayor confirms garden settlement intent

New Tees Valley metro mayor Ben Houchen has signalled that he intends to push ahead with a campaign pledge to build a new garden settlement to meet growing demand for new homes.

Middlesbrough (pic: Craig Rodway via Flickr)
Middlesbrough (pic: Craig Rodway via Flickr)

Houchen, who was elected Conservative mayor of the Tees Valley in May, told a Conservative Party fringe session that he had just agreed a joint piece of research with housing and regeneration quango the Homes and Communities Agency and the Department for Communities and Local Government to look at a new garden town of 15,000 homes on Teesside.

The mayor’s patch covers the five boroughs of Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees.

Houchen - who has limited planning and housing-related powers - said that the move is an example of the strength of the "soft power" that metro mayors are able to exert.

"It’s something we recognise as an economic imperative," he said. "I don’t need the government to tell me on a piece of paper what powers I do and I don’t have. Actually, the really important thing about being a metro mayor at this moment in time, given that they are brand new, is what’s not written down on a piece of paper."

"It’s about expanding into that space, taking responsibility as that civic leader and saying, ‘What can I do, away from my specific devolution deal, that really adds value to the people, really drives economic growth, really helps economic regeneration and puts more money in people’s pockets’."

Houchen’s election campaign included a pledge to deliver a new garden settlement. He told the Northern Echo in March that the move would help solve the "strategic planning debacle" in the sub-region.

"Within Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, there are only short distances between hotspots and areas of housing decline," he told the newspaper. "A new community, an urban garden village, would enable hotspots to cool down and difficult areas to receive practical attention to revitalise existing neighbourhoods."

Speaking at the same session, organised by think-tank Policy Exchange, West Midlands mayor Andy Street said that he views one of his key priorities as encouraging the authorities in his area to work together to meet housing demand.

"What we have to do is keep up with the housing demand. We need 165,000 new homes over the next 15 years - it’s an enormous number," he said.

Street said that, under the previous approach, individual local authorities had been locked in a "fatal embrace", seeing "who would blink first" in terms of the supply of land and the use of public money to build out that land.

"What the combined authority enables us to do is bring about a plan of cooperation across the total area, and it has already unlocked new cash to develop previously unviable sites," he said.

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