Urbed plan to double size of 40 towns and cities wins £250,000 Wolfson Prize

A garden cities act should be introduced by the next government to enable 40 towns and cities to double in size sustainably while preserving the countryside. That is the proposal from David Rudlin of urban design and research consultancy URBED, which has picked up the £250,000 Wolfson Economics Prize 2014. The winning entry, which was selected by the independent panel of judges from 279 entries, was prepared in collaboration with Dr Nicholas Falk, also of URBED, Pete Redman, managing director of TradeRisks and Jon Rowland , of Jon Rowland Urban Design, with input from Dr Joe Ravetz, co-director of the Centre for Urban Resilience and Energy at University of Manchester.

The doubling of existing communities like Oxford, Rugby, Reading and Stafford would, the proposal says, provide new homes for 150,000 people per town, built over 30-35 years.

Other key points of the winning proposal include:

  • The garden cities act would allow the government to confer new delivery tools on successful bidders – including financial guarantees (but not subsidy) and modernised land acquisition powers; and the power to create local garden city foundations to promote each garden city
  • Expansion would take the form of town extensions connected to the city centre by a tram or bus rapid transit, with each extension consisting of green, walkable neighbourhoods with primary schools, business uses, and local shops
  • Development of flood plains would be avoided in the design of the settlement and extensions would be surrounded by country parks, allotments, lakes and other low impact uses
  • The financial model shows that for every plot developed, the same area again could be allocated for parks and gardens
  • 20% of new homes would be affordable.

The winning proposal won praise from the judges for its thinking. Prize founder, Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise said, “David’s entry is a tour de force of economic and financial analysis, creative thinking and bold, daring ideas.”

Government says no

However, housing minister Brandon Lewis was quick to reject the prizewinning proposal. In a statement he said definitively: “Today’s proposal from Lord Wolfson’s competition is not government policy and will not be taken up.

“Instead, we stand ready to work with communities across the country who have ideas for a new generation of garden cities and we have offered support to areas with locally-supported plans that come forward. But we do not intend to follow the failed example of top-down eco-towns from the last administration. Picking housing numbers out of thin air and imposing them on local communities builds nothing but resentment.”

Lord Wolfson has agreed to award a £50,000 runner-up prize to Shelter, the national housing and homelessness charity, in recognition of the merits of their submission. Shelter’s entry was led by Toby Lloyd and was prepared in collaboration with PRP Architects, with advice from KPMG, Laing O’Rourke and Legal & General. The other three finalists receive £10,000.

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