Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Garden communities are bespoke new settlements or extensions of existing towns or villages that comprise a mix of housing, transport and community infrastructure, such as roads, rail links, schools and health centres, as well as outdoor areas for the public to enjoy.

Garden communities – focused on sustainable living, green spaces, high quality design and vibrant neighbourhoods – are becoming increasingly popular forms of development as the UK grapples with the triple task of overcoming a shortage of housing, planning for the future of work and living post-Covid, and addressing the climate crisis.

However, delivering the requirements of garden communities over their lifecycle is a challenge. Sometimes aspirational visioning takes place which generates political traction, but is ultimately undeliverable because areas like governance, delivery structures and funding are not thought through or coordinated properly.

Building a successful garden community requires a clear focus on up front sustainability, true engagement with the neighbourhood and the focus on practical steps for the creation of a long-term legacy. It needs place-making at its core, embedded from the start, and effective focus on governance and realism in terms of the likely funding and finance requirements throughout.

A holistic approach to delivering garden communities needs to be taken at the outset. There are several strands to address, including:

When considering embarking on a garden community project, developers should:

  • engage with the local authorities, neighbourhood forums, and the local residential and business community early in the process and establishing how best to work together, including in governance terms;
  • engage with National Highways, bus operators, Network Rail and train operators, as applicable, in relation to the proposals;
  • work closely with the planning policy team and the economic development teams within the relevant local authorities to ensure a joined up approach, with senior director buy-in;
  • work closely with any Local Enterprise Partnership in relation to the proposals, including to consider any funding options;
  • work with the local authority(s) and Parish Council(s) to create a councillor liaison group to ensure political buy-in and to help shape the proposals;
  • undertake a strong outreach programme with local communities near the proposed location of the new garden community;
  • “land reference” all of the key land ownerships, utilising an experienced land referencing agent or surveyor as appropriate for maximum cost efficiency;
  • build an outline funding model costing and examining the phasing of the required infrastructure, including community facilities alongside income from sales and other income or value generating assets – for example, commercial joint venture models, value capture, decentralise energy models – and taking account of long term stewardship;
  • consider phasing of affordable housing delivery, as that makes a significant difference to what the role and function of the garden community will be in the local context, and what mix of uses and housing tenures will ensure it will be economically, socially and environmentally successful;
  • consider value capture, income and capital generation opportunities;
  • consider the delivery strategy – for example, there should be consideration of whether there will be a public overarching body responsible for infrastructure and who will act as master developer. Thought should also be given to how the interfaces with the developer market will operate in practice and what the likely delivery structures look like measured against garden settlement objectives;
  • consider the funding strategy – for example, consideration should be given to how the infrastructure provision be financed, whether public sector intervention is required, how market-facing the ultimate proposals will be, and what funders or investors will be involved at each point in the delivery cycle. Further thought should be given to what income stream generators exist, such as value capture, commercial joint venture models, or decentralised energy schemes;
  • consider the employment as well as housing requirements, including involving local employers such as technology or manufacturing companies, universities and higher education colleges that could potentially invest in new opportunities in the new community; and
  • consider how the long-term stewardship and governance of public open space, green and blue infrastructure, locally led energy and utilities, data, and community facilities will be managed and funded, including income streams, regulatory and tax requirements.