Muted approval for ‘garden’ towns

06 January 2017

CHRIS LOWE/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

Proposal: Deenethorpe disused airfield is a garden-village site

Proposal: Deenethorpe disused airfield is a garden-village site

A “GUARDED welcome” has been given by Housing Justice to the Government’s plan to provide 200,000 new homes in 14 “garden” villages and towns.

Aided by government funding, 14 villages have been pro­posed, from Cumbria to Cornwall, and three towns: Ayles­bury, Taunton, and Har­­­low. It follows the announce­ment of a “garden city” in Ebbs­fleet, Kent, in 2014 (News, 21 March, 2014), and a “support package” for other areas interested in hosting a garden city.

“Our enthusiasm is checked by the apparent absence of any pro­vision for social rented housing, and the prospect that infrastructure such as schools, doctors’ surgeries, and local shops, and community facil­ities such as churches, won’t be put in place to enable the villages to become real communities,” the charity’s chief executive, Alison Gelder, said. “However, every little bit helps.”

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, said that the proposed developments must be “more than just a collection of houses”. Churches in his diocese had been in “serious conversation” with the Ebbsfleet development, and had “expertise” to offer: “Our con­cern is to make sure these are com­munities where people want to live. We have a contribution to make to that. . . We have been doing it for quite a long time.”

The Government’s housing policy — underpinned by an ambition to build more than a million new homes by 2020 — has an emphasis on home ownership, including a re­­vitalisation of Right to Buy. Of the 400,000 new affordable homes the Government has pledged to deliver, 335,000 will be provided via a mix­ture of home-ownership schemes. They will include 200,000 homes for first-time buyers aged 23 to 40, sold at a discount of at least 20 per cent below market value, and capped at £450,000 in London. Bishops in the House of Lords have raised con­­cerns. The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has pointed to a sharp decline in homes built for social rent, to 6550 in the past year, the lowest on record.

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”We need a diverse housing market,” Bishop Langstaff said this week. “Home ownership is not for everybody, for a variety of reasons.” He argued, too, that starter homes purchased with the aid of a gov­ernment subsidy would be sold at market value, to the gain of the owner: “Whether that is a good use of taxpayers’ money is, at very best, open to debate.”

But he praised the building of houses by local authorities. In 2014/15, 28 per cent of new homes in Birmingham were built by the council. Building on brownfield land should continue, he said, as should the release of church-owned land. He cited the example of the Church in Wales, where church-owned buildings have been converted into affordable homes.

The Commissioners’ annual re­­port shows that the Church owns 105,000 acres of rural let land, of which 6000 has been “identified for strategic development, including the provision of new market and afford­able homes”. Under charity law, the Church can sell land below market value only if it is for social housing.

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