Garden Communities are planned new settlements which are attractive places to live, work and visit with a strong emphasis on sustainability. That means Garden Communities will offer environmental, social and economic benefits in a holistic and inclusive way, benefiting existing residents at time same time as creating cohesive new communities.
Importantly, the new communities will be planned and delivered according to the principles set out in the North Essex Garden Community Charter. These principles set out the Council’s ambition to create truly outstanding places to live and work.
What really sets Garden Communities apart from regular development is the opportunity to put in place stewardship arrangements so that local residents have a say over the management and maintenance of local assets such as open spaces, community facilities and potentially much more. The requirements for local stewardship are contained both in the Council’s emerging Local Plan as well as the Garden Communities Charter.
Colchester has seen significant growth in recent years with the population set to continue rising for the foreseeable future. This creates challenges for how the Council plans for new infrastructure, housing and employment opportunities whilst balancing growth and change with the needs of existing residents.
The Council has explored all reasonable growth options for the future of the Borough including continuing the expansion of existing towns and villages. However, following this approach of adding more homes onto our existing settlements and communities only serves to overburden services and facilities without improving them. Not only does adding more homes onto our towns and villages create disruption for existing residents, it also pushes new residents away from existing centres, encouraging them to drive to access shops, leisure facilities and employment areas.
To stop this unsustainable growth pattern the Council has proposed planning communities which around new infrastructure which will benefit both new and existing residents. Tangible examples of this can be found in the proposed Rapid Transit System which will help improve connectivity and relieve congestion everyone living, working and visiting the Borough. Other examples include the creation of job opportunities, new areas of open space for everyone to enjoy, and specially managed areas of natural space to make sure new development also benefits our precious wildlife.
Absolutely not. The Garden Community approach is being explored across the UK for the benefits it can bring over traditional development. Traditional development is usually led by commercial developers so key issues such as design and infrastructure provision are decided not on the basis of the benefits they can bring, but rather on how they can be delivered to maximise profits for the commercial developer and landowners. This is problematic because it all too often leads to poor design outcomes and limited infrastructure provision.
The Council wants to move away from this approach towards a way forward which would see more public sector oversight in design and infrastructure provision so that new development is locally-led and provides the services and facilities we need. This new approach would see the Council (working with other public sector bodies) stepping into the role played by the developer with an aim of creating sustainable development rather than development which is profitable.
One of the key tenets of this approach is the concept of capturing land value. When land is planned for development it rises in value considerably but normally this value uplift would go to the commercial developer controlling the land. An alternative approach however would see this value uplift invested back into infrastructure provision to create better places for all.
Given the scale of the housing challenge, not just locally but nationally, we need to develop both brownfield and greenfield sites – there is simply not enough brownfield land available in our existing towns and villages. The Council has an exceptionally good record of prioritising brownfield land for residential development but this had led to most of this previously developed land running out.
Housing and the environment are interlinked, and the Council faces the challenge of providing new homes while simultaneously protecting our precious wildlife and beautiful countryside. However recent developments in the UK and abroad have demonstrated that new developments can actually improve the environment, reducing carbon emissions and improving local biodiversity. There are significant opportunities to learn from these developments for example by embracing the latest innovations in housing designs as well as exploring how renewable energy can be captured and reused at the Garden Communities.
Focussing on wildlife, it is now a national requirement to ensure that all new development results in a ‘net gain’ of biodiversity. However, the Garden Communities present an opportunity to go far beyond the bare minimum and transform large areas of agricultural land (which is relatively poor for biodiversity due to fertiliser/pesticide use and the inherent lack of trees needed for arable farming) into ‘rewilded’ woodland and other natural habitats. Due to the potential scale of the Garden Communities the capacity for habitat creation is unsurpassed and the Council is very keen to exploit this opportunity for the benefit of our environment.