Britain’s housing shortage has been a hot potato for years. But can more houses be built without ruining towns and villages?
Veteran Tory MP David Davis says we can – if we go back to the future with Garden Towns.
An architectural movement in the late 19th century created settlements such as Hampstead Garden City in North London plus Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City just north of the capital.
They, and nearly 30 other Garden Cities and New Towns built in the following decades, were medium in size and offered housing, jobs, and guaranteed green spaces.
Wanted: Hampstead Garden Suburb in North London (pictured) is one of many towns that sprang up in the late 19th century
Many, especially the earliest, aimed for a relatively small area of development surrounded by green spaces that could not be built upon.
Houses were often in the Arts & Crafts style, of generous proportions with large chimneys, low eaves – and large gardens.
These homes fell out of favor with urban planners in the 1980s, but Davis says, “Building entirely new settlements—especially smaller ones of about 3,000 homes each—will not meet the same opposition as adding more housing to existing towns.”
“Building new settlements allows us to design in a way that minimizes so-called NIMBY resistance.”
Since the mid-2010s, the government has made three attempts to initiate such movements.
But have our longest-established garden communities worked and could the idea be our salvation?
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire
Many of the older houses here have large gardens of up to a quarter of an acre.
Letchworth’s airy feel is due to its many mature trees and green open spaces, the highlight of which is Norton Common just north of the centre.
‘This combination of thoughtful layout, good design and build quality explains the enduring appeal of living in Garden City.
And it’s only 29 minutes by train from King’s Cross,” says Jonathan Charter of local estate agency Charter Whyman.
Zoopla says the average sales price for a property in Letchworth Garden City over the last 12 months is £460,008, with detached houses typically costing more than £780,000.
Hampstead Garden suburb, London
If you want celebrity support for the Garden City idea, look no further: Harry Styles, Jonathan Ross and Hugh Laurie are residents of this enclave of around 5,000 homes, with garden plazas and community gardens, close to the Hampstead Heath Extension.
But there’s a price to pay: Some parts have controls over paint colors, extensions, and yard standards to ensure uniformity and keep up appearances.
‘It can be very difficult for homeowners these days to accept what they have to do to comply, but there is no doubt that if strict rules are enforced it will help improve the look of the area and the value of the property to keep,” says London estate agent Jeremy Blad.
Zoopla says the average sale price in the suburb over the past 12 months is £2,053,000, with some homes on the exclusive Bishops Avenue fetching £25m or more.
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
This new 1960s city was a child of the Garden City movement, but much larger with more than 250,000 residents.
The famous matrix structure – dotted with roundabouts, boulevards and green spaces – found critics and fans alike.
Recent developments on the outskirts have moved away from the grid system of roads and into dense apartment blocks.
Its location close to both the Midlands, London and several airports has made it a center for distribution companies and ventures such as the Red Bull Formula 1 team.
A growing number of apartments means the average price of homes sold has fallen to £350,532 in the past year, according to Zoopla.
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
Founded by Ebenezer Howard – he also created Letchworth – this was called The Perfect Town when it launched in the 1920s.
It is famous for its wide lawns along roads, an attractive green ‘parkway’ in the center and a large red brick shop built in 1939 as the Welwyn department store – now run by John Lewis.
Its proximity to London (about 40 minutes by train) and nearby film and TV studios mean that the city, known locally as WGC, has more than a little stardust.
The average house sold for £467,008 in the last 12 months, and detached houses in the Tewin Water and West Side areas typically fetch £1 million or more.
In 1946, Stevenage (then a small farming community of 6,000 people) was chosen as England’s first New Town – a spin-off of the Garden City concept – with a target population of 60,000.
Mass construction had begun by this time and, unlike previous communities, housing quality was mixed with an emphasis on higher density housing with access to public green areas, rather than private gardens.
In the last 12 months, the average sale price was £363,027.
On the market… with lots of greenery
Letchworth: This 1904 semi-residence, one of the first to be built in Garden City, has been listed as ‘of special interest’ by the Heritage Foundation. It has three reception rooms, four bedrooms and a large garden. Charter Whyman.co.uk, 01462 685808. £840,000
Hampstead Garden Suburb: This 3,000 sq ft home has two 40 and 45 yard gardens, two garages, a cellar, an attic and overlooks the open space of the Hampstead Heath Extension. Hamptons.co.uk, 020 3369 4377. £4 million
Milton Keynes: Quarter-acre gardens surround this four-bedroom bungalow which has been significantly updated over the past ten years. There is also a garage for two cars. Jackson-stops.co.uk, 01525 302098. £895,000