This Tuesday saw the TCPA’s launch of “An Introduction to the UK’s New Towns and Garden Cities”, which is the first report in a two-stage project reviewing garden cities and new towns in the UK and identifying lessons to be learnt for future progress. The launch of the report was extremely timely, following hot on the heels of the government’s announcement that Bicester is to become a garden city, providing up to 13,000 homes.

The TCPA seminar for the launch echoed the structure of the TCPA’s two-stage project: delegates were given a fascinating overview of the origins and evolution of new towns and garden cities in the UK (with insightful case studies on Runcorn and Harlow) followed by a review of lessons learnt and approaches to be adopted going forward to secure the success of the new towns and garden cities agenda.

Speakers and delegates emphasised the importance of letting the existing character of an area inform the masterplanning of any new settlement, rather than relying on any one-size-fits-all approach. Furthermore, an inherent flexibility should be built into the masterplan to ensure that the key principles of garden cities (such as sustainable development and healthy living) endure in the settlement over time.

In keeping with this sensitive approach, there was a call for the hands-on, continuous involvement of designers in the creation of new communities, so that design codes are implemented as flexible tools rather than treated as a tick-box exercise.

Whilst the current political enthusiasm for garden cities was welcomed, we were warned that this window of opportunity may be short-lived and that all efforts are needed now to secure the future of the garden cities and new towns agenda. Proposed measures included the introduction of a statutory purpose for planning based on garden city principles. It was also proposed that the existing CPO regime should be amended in relation to new towns and garden cities, recognising that they are “special” and so need special compensation payment provisions to remove the requirement to pay full “hope value” for land.

The particular importance of capturing land value for the new community, and allowing that new community to own and manage assets, was recognised unanimously by speakers and delegates, as were the significant challenges in achieving those aims.

Lastly, came a reminder that we cannot forget the existing new towns as we push forward: they still require our attention and investment if they are to thrive. And a plea from some quarters to finish what has been started there over the past 50 years and more, in order to maximise potential as originally envisaged.