The news that the first ever garden villages have been given government backing is to be cautiously welcomed, however, we need to ensure that these new developments, which have the potential to deliver more than 48,000 homes across England, deliver more than just a solution to the pressing problem of a housing shortage.
While the word ‘garden’ is included in the name, these new developments must amount to more than merely high density housing to solve a single problem. The name ‘garden villages’ certainly conjures up images of picturesque traditional English villages, but we need to remember that greenery very much underpins that images. Hedgerows, shrubbery, trees, ivy-covered walls – these are all staples of that image. So what should the planners and designers be doing to truly deliver something that delivers on this image?
The garden villages will be between 1,500 and 10,000 homes and are part of the government’s commitment to support locally-led development. The soundbite claims the ambition is to ‘make sure this is a country that works for everyone’.
Fourteen new garden villages have been given support and a £6 million fund has been made available over the next two financial years to support the delivery of these projects.
At the same time the government also announced its support for three new garden towns in which alongside the seven garden towns previously announced and the 17 new garden villages have the potential to deliver almost 200,000 new homes. However, the same caution needs to be applied to these towns as well as the garden villages.
The worry is that there is no single model of design needed to be approved for a garden village, other than they should be ‘built to a high quality, be attractive and well designed, and be built as a response to meeting local housing needs, especially for first-time buyers’.
This is worrying vague and without specifics and ideas of ‘high quality, attractive and well-designed’ are purely subjective.
Of course there are simple things that developers and designers can do to ensure these new developments are suitably green to ensure the ‘garden’ aspect of the name does not seem cynical. Instead of fences between properties, living ivy green screens can provide an instant green solution very much in keeping with traditional English villages. They have a very narrow footprint, so even if houses are built close together they take up much less room than a hedge.
Public buildings can also be designed with greenery in mind. While the ivy clad wall is beautiful, it can place a strain on a building. However, the latest developments in living walls offer a solution. Easy to install and maintain, living walls are proving increasingly popular, even in our city centres.
Garden villages and garden towns sound appealing, but to ensure the reality matches the dream, these are the technologies designers need to consider.