How work on the first wave of garden towns is progressing

The government is calling for a new wave of garden towns. But what has happened to those already designated, asks Colin Marrs.

A visualisation of the finished Bicester development
A visualisation of the finished Bicester development

In August, the government published a prospectus for local authorities and private sector partners to bid for garden community status. The government said it would consider bids for garden villages of between 1,500 and 10,000 homes, but would prioritise bids for garden towns of more than 10,000 homes. But this is just the latest government initiative to encourage a new generation of garden towns. The first wave of such towns were designated between December 2014 and January 2017. Below, we consider how the earlier generation is progressing.

1. Aylesbury Vale

16,000 homes

Backed by emerging local plan

Led jointly by Aylesbury Vale District Council, Buckinghamshire County Council, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and South East Midlands LEP, Aylesbury’s garden town is earmarked for more than 16,000 new homes by 2033. The proposals are intended to be delivered through the emerging local plan, which underwent examination during July. The plan proposes to deliver the bulk of the garden town on six major urban extensions on the edge of the existing town. A number of these sites have been in the planning pipeline since as early as 2004, and the AVDC says 2,500 homes have already been completed. Alongside the major development areas, a number of smaller sites are also allocated in the emerging plan, including sites for town centre regeneration.

2. Bicester

10,000 homes

Backed by adopted local plan

In December 2014, Bicester became the first of the current wave of garden towns to be designated. The project built on a number of previous initiatives, including a 3,923-home site at North West Bicester which was given eco town status in 2009, and the granting of a local development order for the UK’s largest self-build scheme at Graven Hill.

Overall, the proposals for Bicester Garden Town, promoted by a number of private developers, include 10,000 homes and 138 hectares of employment land, sites for both of which were allocated in the Cherwell Local Plan for 2011–2031, adopted in 2015.

Planning permissions have been granted on three of the four major development sites proposed as part of the garden town scheme, with the remaining major site of 1,500 homes due to
be considered at committee shortly following a
public consultation that finished in August.

3. Didcot

15,000 homes

Back by adopted local plans

South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council are jointly leading plans to build 15,000 homes and create 20,000 jobs on sites in and around Didcot. All the sites identified for the new garden town are in South Oxfordshire’s emerging and Vale of White Horse District Council’s adopted local plans.

South Oxfordshire is currently reviewing its plan, but none of the garden town sites will be removed, according to a spokesperson for the councils. Well before garden town status was granted, a number of planning applications had already generated permission for 10,000 new homes, with work now well under way on building these. The councils are currently seeking central government money for transport improvements, which they see as central to the garden town plan.

4. Harlow and Gilston

23,000 homes

Backed by emerging local plan

Around 23,000 homes are included in proposals for three new neighbourhoods to the east, west and south of Harlow, and seven new villages to the north near the existing village of Gilston. East Hertfordshire, Epping Forest and Harlow District Councils, along with Essex and Hertfordshire County Councils, are working together on the garden town project through a garden town board.

The development land is owned by different developers and landowners. All three councils have included the proposals in their emerging local plans. East Herts had been on the verge of adopting its plan when communities secretary James Brokenshire intervened to pause it while he decided whether to call it in over green belt concerns. Epping and Harlow are both about to submit their plans for examination.

Work has begun on masterplanning, with the first planning applications expected by the end
of this year, according to a spokesperson for
the councils.

5. Manydown

3,250 homes

Backed by adopted local plan

In February, landowners Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and Hampshire County Council appointed property company Urban&Civic, partnering with the Wellcome Trust, as development partners for Manydown, a new garden town on 290 hectares to the west of Basingstoke. The site was allocated for homes and infrastructure in Basingstoke and Deane’s local plan for 2011-29, which was adopted in May 2016.

In March last year, an outline application for the development was submitted by the councils for up to 3,520 new homes, plus businesses, community facilities, schools and a new 100 hectare country park. The application was revised earlier this year to reduce proposed building heights, change road layouts and fix the location of a new secondary school.

A decision on the planning application is due to be made later this year. The councils intend to promote the further expansion of the garden town through future local plans.

6. North Essex

43,000 homes

Backed by emerging local plans

In 2017, four councils in North Essex - Braintree District Council, Tendring District Council, Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council – formed a company, North Essex Garden Communities, to deliver plans for 43,000 homes in three separate garden communities. As yet, no planning applications have been submitted, although the sites are included in a joint local plan, with each of the planning authorities currently developing separate development plan documents to guide each settlement. In June, a planning inspector examining the joint local plan said that the councils needed to do more work to demonstrate that the plans are deliverable.

7. North Northamptonshire

16,700 homes

Backed by an adopted joint core strategy

This scheme is planned to include 16,700 homes, and is promoted by Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and East Northamptonshire Councils, together with Northamptonshire County Council, through joint planning arrangements. Four of the seven sites already had planning permission before garden town status was applied for and granted. The remaining three sites are currently being masterplanned with landowners in advance of planning applications. All of the sites are included in the North Northamptonshire joint core strategy, adopted in 2016.

8. Otterpool Park

10,000 homes

Backed by emerging local plan

Otterpool Park is a proposed garden town of 10,000 homes on around 767 hectares of land near Folkestone, Kent. Plans include provision for up to 8,000 new jobs, with a focus on higher-skilled and creative sectors, through 51,000 sq m of office space, 10,700 sq m of light industrial space and 25,000 sq m of retail, café and restaurant space. The scheme is being jointly promoted by the site’s two major landowners, Folkestone & Hythe District Council and Cozumel Estates, which owns part of the site that formerly served as Folkestone Racecourse. The garden town is incorporated in the council’s core strategy, expected by the promoters to be examined next summer. An outline planning application for 8,500 homes is due to be submitted, along with a masterplan for the whole site, by the end of 2018.

9. Taunton

10,000 homes

Backed by adopted local plan

Another scheme that incorporates previously planned development, Taunton’s garden town proposes more than 10,000 homes on three main urban extensions, as well as town centre regeneration schemes. The sites are allocated in the Taunton Deane local plan which includes the core strategy (adopted in 2012), and the Site Allocations and Development Management Plan (2016). The scheme is led by the district council in partnership with Somerset County Council and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and a number of housebuilders. The first phase of the Monkton Heathfield urban extension is under construction. Planning permission has been granted for the other two, along with the town centre schemes. 

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