Wolfson finalists present housebuilding challenges

Next week the winner of the £250,000 Wolfson Economics Prize, which is looking for brave ideas on how to deliver a new garden city, will be named at a London dinner. Prize judges, including Next chief executive Simon Wolfson, Berkeley Group chairman Tony Pidgley, Places for People group chief executive David Cowans and Lend Lease director of sustainability EMEA Pascal Mittermaier are charged with choosing the winner from a shortlist of five finalists.

The contest posed the challenge of how to deliver a garden city which is “visionary, economically viable and popular”. The finalists’ submissions argue that as many as 40 new communities, each containing between 10,000 and 50,000 homes need to be built over the next 20 years to tackle Britain’s housing crisis.

The challenges involved in delivering the vision are confronted in the finalists’ entries. The submission led by Barton Willmore estimates a peak debt of around £250m is required to finance the critical infrastructure for every new garden city of 50,000 homes. The entries also address the challenges of existing residents of the locations of the new cities and how they could be compensated for loss of amenity and disturbance from construction.

But perhaps the biggest challenge of all is political and it remains to be seen whether the body of thinking on garden cities presented here will sway the politicians. The prize will feature in an exhibition at London’s Building Centre from September 4-29.

The five finalists’ entries are:

  • Planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, supported by financial modelling from EC Harris and inputs from Pinsent Mason, Propernomics and others, suggest four garden city ‘types’, including the ‘greening’ of existing new towns, to deliver up to 40 new garden cities. Each garden city would deliver 40-50,000 homes built over the next 25 years, as well as 40-50,000 jobs. A Royal Commission, and garden city mayors heading up local garden city commissions, would be appointed to champion garden cities and find specific locations for development in the broad regions mapped in the submission. It says 35% of new homes would be affordable housing for those on low incomes.
  • David Rudlin (in collaboration with Dr Nick Falk, Pete Redman and Jon Rowland) argues for the near-doubling of existing large towns in line with garden city principles, to provide 86,000 new homes for 150,000 people built over 30-35 years. The entry imagines a fictional town called Uxcester to develop the concept, and applies that concept to Oxford (2011 population: 150,000) as a case study, showing how Oxford could rival the strategy adopted by Cambridge for growth and expansion. David argues that there may be as many as 40 cities in England that could be doubled in size in this way, such as York, Norwich, Stafford and Cheltenham. It says 20% of new homes would be affordable housing.
  • Wei Yang & Partners and Peter Freeman (in collaboration with Buro Happold, Shared Intelligence and Gardiner & Theobald) argue that an ‘arc’ (stretching from Southampton to Oxford to Cambridge to Felixstowe) is the best location for a first round of new garden cities; and uses a model of 10,000 homes (25,000 people) and 10,000 jobs to test a strategy for perhaps 30-40 garden cities built over 10-15 years. It says 30% of new homes would be affordable housing. The entry invites local authorities to ask government to establish a locally-controlled garden city development corporation, with compulsory purchase powers, using the existing New Towns Act 1981. The development corporation would establish a joint venture with a master developer to secure delivery at no cost to the Treasury.
  • Chris Blundell argues that a garden city should be developed south east of Maidstone, in Kent, to accommodate around 15,000 homes, coupled with major improvements to the local transport network including a new High Speed 1 station. Delivery should be led by a garden city development corporation with long term management of the garden city being undertaken by a community council, which would receive a share of the surplus arising from development. It says 40% of new homes would be affordable housing. The design and character of development should be developed through extensive community engagement, and reflect local character and distinctiveness. The new garden city would contribute up to £400m annually to the local economy during its construction and support the development of a new engineered homes manufacturing sector.
  • Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity is working in collaboration with architect PRP, with advice from KPMG, Laing O’Rourke and Legal & General. The team proposes a new garden city on the Hoo Peninsula in Medway, Kent. Starting with a settlement of 15,000 homes built over 15 years, Stoke Harbour would eventually grow into a garden city of 60,000 homes. The entry proposes a new model, which is designed to attract massive private investment into the provision of high quality homes, jobs, services and infrastructure. New polling for Shelter in the submission found that 55% of people in Medway support a new garden city on the Hoo Peninsula compared to 33% who oppose. It says 37.5% of new homes would be affordable housing.

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