It has been announced that the small market town of Bicester is to be the next new garden city
It has been announced that the small market town of Bicester, in north east Oxfordshire is to be the next new garden city. The statement comes as part of the £2.3 billion National Infrastructure Plan, a plan which aims to create three new garden cities each with at least fifteen thousand new homes (Pickard, 2014). Bicester will receive £100 million in funding from central government in order to start building thirteen thousand new homes, £44 million of which will be spent on upgrading and building new public transport infrastructure (Dominiczak, 2014).
First conceived by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the early twentieth century, garden cities are not a new idea. The first, Letchworth Garden City started being built in 1903 and amalgamated three existing villages into one coherent town and central to its conception was the idea of bringing together the best of both town and countryside to make a more sustainable, liveable environment.
Figure 1 Housing in Letchworth Garden City
(Source: Flickr Creative Commons User The JR James Archive)
Over one hundred years later and these central principles have changed little. Garden cities, so called because parkland and gardens are fundamental design principles from the outset, are expected to address the needs of their residents beyond just their basic housing requirements. Quality of built design, mixed tenure homes and walkable neighbourhoods are integral to garden cities, as are the provision of low carbon transport links, employment opportunities within easy distance of people’s homes and public amenities such as sports centres and allotments (DCLG, 2014). Strong community engagement and local leadership aim to ensure that the new garden cities do not feel sterile and out of keeping from towns that have developed over time more organically.
The current coalition government now see garden cities as a vehicle to address the 250,000 extra homes that are needed to be built every year in order to meet the housing shortfall the UK faces.
Bicester in Oxfordshire is already an established market town which is seeing development. The town centre’s £70 million face lift has been completed and in 2009 work began on a new satellite ‘eco-town’ on its north west fringes, which will encompass around six thousand homes with environmentally friendly design principles at their heart.
Figure 2 Location of Bicester
Bicester’s proximity to Oxford, the M40, and indeed central London via a fifty minute rail link make it well positioned to attract commuters who wish to have more space and a feel of countryside living. The town currently has numerous plots on its fringes which are ready to be built on as well as brownfield site associated with land previously owned by the Ministry of Defence. Private property developers have already started to buy areas just outside the town and the government is keen that there is not an expansion of ‘land-hoarding. This is when a property company significantly delays building on land they own until its value increases.
Many other sites have been proposed by the government, and almost all have been met with disapproval by local people, limiting the options open for large scale house building projects.
As well as the promise of affordable and well-designed new homes, the residents of Bicester will benefit in other ways. Using building materials from local suppliers and the construction period itself will provide short term employment and long term jobs may be provided by the running of new amenity facilities. The new garden city undoubtedly has the potential to benefit the local economy, but local people question whether the number of new jobs it may create will meet the demands of the enlarged population. The town, which currently is home to around thirty one thousand people, will increase in size by an estimated twenty eight percent (BBC, 2014) and while their housing needs will be met by the plans, it is less clear the impact this increased population will have on infrastructure and amenities.
Traffic congestion is the problem that locals most commonly cite when asked about their view on the new garden city (BBC, 2014). A new railway station and road improvements could bring relief on routes such as the A41 which connects to the M40: roads that are already seeing heavy congestion at peak times. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is also concerned at the amount of green land that could potentially be lost under concrete as well as how the character of Bicester might change. The quaint market town and the rural setting that made Bicester appear such a popular choice in the original garden city proposal could in fact become the very things that are lost by the execution of these plans.
BBC (2014) Bicester chosen as new garden city with 13,000 homes
Department for Communities and Local Government (2014) Locally Led Garden Cities
Dominiczak, P. (2014) Bicester announced as new garden city, The Telegraph
Pickard, J. (2014) Bicester to host next new garden city, Financial Times
A piece of industrial or commercial property that is abandoned or underused and considered as a potential site for redevelopment.
A whole or part development of a city with green space and sustainability central to its design principles.
An area of land surrounding a city that offers partial protection against further development and urban sprawl.
The act by which property developers buy up land but do not build on it immediately, instead waiting for the price of the land to rise and ensuring a higher profit margin once the new building are sold.
Working in such a way that increases standards of living without compromising resources or the environment.
Students can research other garden cities, either from history, such as Welwyn or more recent, such as Ebbsfleet. Using OS maps students can make a list of why their particular locations in the UK make them favourable sites for garden cities.
Students should think about what it would mean to live in a new town or new development that has been designed in its entirety on paper before being built. What challenges might this give to the residents and how might the town planners try to address these before the first foundation stones are laid?
Students can compare the UKs garden cities, past and future with designed spaces in other countries such as the UAE and Singapore. How do these spaces compare and why are there marked differences in their design?
Town and Country Planning Authority
Reimaging Garden Cities for the Twenty First centuries
Concreting the countryside
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