Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

It is important to establish a strong governance and project management structure to underpin the delivery of a garden community.

Governance operates at multiple levels. The optimum governance approach will need to be tailored to individual circumstances but will require:

  • strategic leadership, buy in and direction;
  • a clear and aligned set of objectives;
  • interface with the appropriate local stakeholder bodies and organisations;
  • the creation of effective partnership working between public and private sectors;
  • the ability to make appropriate decisions and to drive project delivery; and
  • clarity on roles and responsibilities.

There is no single governance structure suitable for all garden communities. There will be a variety of different participants ranging from public sector bodies, such as Homes England and local authorities, landowners, developers, and community and local interest groups, among others. With this in mind, developers should consider the different levels an effective garden community governance structure will require.

Strategic steering group

It will commonly be advantageous to have a wide range of stakeholders participate in strategic and steering group level discussion. Local authority strategic and political leadership and promotion is critical, and local community involvement is vital. Equally, the private sector also needs to take a leadership role. Dependent on local circumstances, bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, Homes England, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Local Government and statutory undertakers may also have a strategic interest.

Decision making body

Ideally, there should be a forum enabling joint decision making. In some cases, this forum can be formed under contract; in others it may be more appropriate for the body to be incorporated. The right option in this regard will depend on local circumstances. However, where it is intended that an overarching vehicle will be responsible for the garden community, such as a development corporation or a company, incorporation may be appropriate.

Clear terms of reference should be agreed and documented, so that participants are clear on shared objectives, roles and responsibilities

The nature of the joint decisions made through this forum means that it is important to strike the right balance between enabling the different parties to retain their own roles and decision-making functions, while working to deliver the shared vision and objectives for the garden community.

The type of decisions this forum are responsible for making need to be clear as opposed to those that are made elsewhere. The governance documentation should identify decisions made through this forum and those referred to the relevant parties for escalation within their own organisations outside of this forum.

Where a garden community crosses local authority boundaries, consideration should be given to the establishment of a joint planning committee, enabling joint decision-making by representatives from all local authorities in the area. Where more than local authority is involved in promoting a scheme, a joint executive function can also be established.

Project delivery team

Responsibility for project delivery will be governed through a project delivery team. It is important to get the right skills in place to deliver a complex garden community – strong project management is needed. Both internal and external communications are important. Where public bodies are involved, embedding delivery in corporate plans and regular reporting are important. A topic-specific working group structure can work well.

Overarching considerations

There are various practicalities those behind garden community developments need to consider when implementing governance structures.

Clear terms of reference should be agreed and documented, so that participants are clear on shared objectives, roles and responsibilities. As a minimum, there should be a clear memorandum of understanding put in place. The operation of the governance should be kept under review as the scheme progresses to ensure it is operating effectively and evolved appropriately.

It needs to be clear which body will lead with responsibility for day-to-day management of the governance structure. Clarity is also required on which bodies, organisations and groups should participate in the governance arrangements and the rationale for their involvement.

The decisions that are delegated to the governance forums should be clearly defined along with the processes for referring decisions back to individual bodies where this is required. The participants involved need to have the appropriate authority to make the decisions required of them.

The potential for conflict needs to be appropriately dealt with, for example to account for where a local authority elected member involved in the governance arrangements has wider roles within the relevant authority.

The community role needs to take account of any wider engagement and consultation that maybe necessary, and landowner and developer interests need to be balanced appropriately too. Appropriate resource needs to be in place, and information sharing, freedom of information and confidentiality protocols should be clearly documented.

Pinsent Masons has asked 70 market participants about garden communities, and you can find out what they said in our results (40-page / 5MB PDF). And you can find out more about a step by step approach to garden communities in this guide (40-page / 6MB PDF).