Deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has pledged to battle for the development of a string of new garden cities, between Oxford and Cambridge, should his party form part of the next government.
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Speaking at the Lib Dem’s annual conference in Glasgow on Monday, Clegg laid down the gauntlet to the Conservative party – his Coalition partners – by putting forward his solution to Britain’s housing crisis.
After first being proposed in 1898, garden cities – cities that are built around nature and maintain green spaces for the benefit of their residents – are back in vogue.
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Recent governments have talked up the idea of garden cities as a solution to Britain’s housing shortage, but progress has been slow, as few uncontroversial sites have been identified.
Promising to deliver 50,000 new homes, Clegg said the Lib Dems would guarantee the creation of ten garden cities, with five running along a proposed railway line linking Oxford and Cambridge.
The government has pledged to build three new garden cities by 2020, but Clegg, having previously accused the Tories of nimbyism, said this does not go far enough.
“Garden cities are a vital cornerstone of our plan to boost house building to 300,000 homes a year – enough to meet demand and keep prices in reach – while still protecting our precious green space and preventing urban sprawl,” he said.
“Our plan is to build a series of high quality new towns and cities where people want to live, with green space, sustainable transport and spacious homes.
“The Conservatives have held back the development of garden cities on the scale necessary, but if Liberal Democrats are part of the next government, we will ensure at least 10 get under way – with up to five along this new garden cities railway, bringing new homes and jobs to the brainbelt of south-east England.”
The Lib Dems said that existing communities would not be forced to accept the new towns, but would be incentivised with new services – such as “express stations” that would offer more frequent rail services.
A number of alternative visions for garden cities have also been put forward recently.
This year’s Wolfson Economics Prize, the biggest economics prize after the Nobel, asked entrants “How would you deliver a new garden city which is visionary, economically viable, and popular?”
Urban planner David Rudland won the top prize for his idea, which proposed that 40 existing towns and cities, including Oxford, York, Norwich and Reading, have garden city-style extensions added on.
By expanding towns and cities rather than building new ones, Rudland said the UK could provide 86,000 new homes, to accommodate around 150,000 people.
In March, the government unveiled its own idea – with plans for a 15,000 home settlement in Ebbsfleet, Kent – but critics observed that these plans had already been in place for some time.