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Garden Communities are planned new communities which will be sustainable and attractive places to live, work and visit for all.
The principles behind Garden Communities are that they are infrastructure-led. This means all the essential facilities and services - like schools, health services, roads and transport systems, and jobs – would all be available as the communities grow.
This is instead of the normal method of continually adding housing developments to our urban areas without the necessary infrastructure or only limited expansion of existing services and facilities. This approach detrimentally impacts our residents.
Importantly the Garden Communities will not result in any additional new homes that would not otherwise be built in the area. The key difference is they will be in properly planned new communities.
To further develop the community feel, residents will also have the chance to have a say on the management and maintenance of open spaces and other community facilities within the development.
The North Essex communities, which would be built over 40-50 years, are part of a long-term vision of Colchester Borough Council, Braintree District Council and Tendring District Council in partnership with Essex County Council to help meet the future growth of the area in a more strategic way.
There are three Garden Communities planned in North Essex. These are:
North Essex has seen significant increases in its population – and this is predicted to continue rising in the future.
To meet the demand for new homes, Colchester, Braintree and Tendring have a legal requirement from central Government to deliver more than 2,000 homes each year.
There are limited ‘brownfield’ sites that can be used to deliver these new homes – which provides significant challenges for where they can be sited.
We have looked at all potential options for supporting these additional homes including continuing to expand existing towns and villages across the borough.
However, this approach has historically seen new homes built without the necessary expansion of local services to support the needs of the new residents. This also ultimately negatively impacts on the quality of life for the existing residents, as well as new ones.
Expanding current villages and towns also pushes new residents away from existing centres, encouraging them to drive to access shops, leisure facilities and places of work.
Garden Communities give us the chance to change this in the future by developing communities around the new the new schools, health facilities, and job opportunities.
The new developments could also help with issues we are currently facing – including congestion. As part of the plans for the communities we are looking to develop a Rapid Transit System, potentially a trackless tram, which will improve connectivity and relieve congestion for everyone living, working and visiting North Essex 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 support wildlife.
If the proposals for the Garden Communities are not taken forward then the homes needed for North Essex will still need to be built and lots of additional sites will need to be found.
Given the scale of the housing challenge, not just locally but nationally, we need to develop both brownfield and greenfield sites.
We have an exceptional record of prioritising brownfield land for residential developments but this had led to most of this previously developed land running out.
There is a challenge in providing new homes while also protecting our precious wildlife and beautiful countryside.
However, recent developments in the UK and abroad have shown new developments can improve the environment, reduce carbon emissions and improve local biodiversity. There are significant opportunities to learn from these developments including embracing the latest innovations in housing designs as well as exploring how renewable energy can be captured and reused at the Garden Communities.
It is now a national requirement to ensure all new development results in a ‘net gain’ of biodiversity. However, the Garden Communities present an opportunity to go far beyond the bare minimum for example by transforming large areas of agricultural land into ‘rewilded’ woodland and other natural habitats.
Due to the scale of the Garden Communities the capacity for habitat creation is unsurpassed and we are very keen to use this opportunity for the benefit of our environment.
Absolutely not. The Garden Community approach and principles are being explored across the country as a way of meeting the Government’s housing targets in a sustainable way.
Traditional development is usually led by commercial developers meaning they are delivered in a way to maximise profits rather than providing the necessary infrastructure.
We want to move to an approach where we have more of a say in design and developing the much-needed services and facilities needed to support the new homes. This new approach would see us, working with other public and private sector bodies, to create sustainable development rather than one solely driven by profit.
An example of this is around reinvesting increases in land value. When land is planned for development it rises in value considerably, and normally this increase would go to the commercial developer or landowner controlling the land. However, an alternative approach would see this value uplift invested back into infrastructure provision to create better places for all.
As part of the Garden Communities principles a minimum of 30% of new housing in each of the developments will be classed as affordable (including the potential for more social housing) by the Government’s definition.
Additionally, there is an opportunity to build new housing for specific groups such as older people and people with disabilities.
Depending on the size of the project, the North Essex communities will take between 20-50 years to complete with the rate of delivery dependent on the delivery of key transport infrastructure.
Their actual size in 20 years’ time will be dependent on the delivery of key transport infrastructure before new homes are built.
The Garden Communities will be built to the highest design standards with abundant tree planting and open space.
They will also be designed with excellent connectivity for walking and cycling with all neighbourhoods connected by public transport to reduce reliance on cars.
Importantly, the Garden Communities will be managed by its residents. Through the long-term stewardship of community assets such as green spaces and commercial buildings, residents will have a say over their communities and will have a powerful voice in how they are run.
The key aim of the Garden Communities is to create high quality environments where communities thrive.
Residents of the Garden Communities will have access to services and facilities within walking distance, live in well-designed new homes within well-planned neighbourhoods. They will also have a powerful voice over the management of their areas.
Communities will be designed with jobs close by which are easily accessible, and also promote the move towards increasing home working with superfast broadband, to ensure Garden Communities do not simply become dormitory towns.
People will also have the choice how they want to travel around the area. While obviously they could have their own cars, they will also have access to safe and attractive walking and cycling routes, world class public transport and latest green technology supporting electric vehicles close to their homes.
Ultimately therefore Garden Communities are all about raising the quality of life of residents.
We are keen to protect the identity of established communities across North Essex which is why we are promoting Garden Communities and not urban sprawl development.
Garden Communities will be surrounded with green areas to act as buffers while new roads, footpaths, cycleways a Rapid Transport System will connect surrounding areas to the new settlements to enable everyone to benefit from the new developments.
The Garden Communities will be served by world class public transport including a Rapid Transit System connecting the new developments with existing towns in North Essex and London Stansted Airport in the future.
The infrastructure and facilities will be paid for through a range of different methods.
Major pieces of infrastructure needed to support the Garden Communities will be funded through central Government. For example, through the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund almost £100million has been given to build the A120/A133 link road for the Colchester Tendring Borders community and develop the Rapid Transit System in that part of the town.
Any surplus made through land sales and housing developments would also be used to support the provision of facilities and services supporting the new developments. The certainty of new housing receipts in the future will ensure that this infrastructure can be funded up front.
A significant amount of the new Garden Communities to be open space which is far greater than traditional developments.
This open space will take a number of forms including recreational areas, sports facilities, play areas and new nature reserves.
The Garden Communities have the potential to see the planting of thousands of trees to help combat climate change.
Essential services such as shops, schools and medical facilities will be located within neighbourhood centres throughout the Garden Community and will be available as people move into their new homes.
Importantly these facilities will be delivered on a phase by phase basis, ensuring that new homes are built with the infrastructure to support them.
This means as the communities grow so will the infrastructure provided to support them.
Employment opportunities will be located in the Garden Communities in specially designed areas as well as mixed in with residential areas.
Planning mixed use areas encourages increased social interaction and reduces the need for people to drive to get to day-to-day facilities such as schools and shops.
It also creates vibrancy and activity which improves the wellbeing and perception of security for residents.
By having public sector involvement in the delivery of the Garden Communities we can exercise far more leverage to attract employers to the area.
Economic assessments have shown the equivalent of one job per new home built in the Garden Communities is achievable.
However, the names of individual firms will only be available when they sign deals to move into actual premises.
Through proper masterplanning work we can ensure job opportunities arrive with any new housing.
In August 2019 the Government awarded £30million from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) towards the first phase of the Rapid Transport Scheme (RTS).
The intention is that the system will be in operation from the very start of the delivery of new housing.
We are ambitious as to the use of new technology for the RTS and a modern tram-style system is our aspiration as soon as it can be delivered.
There are ten Garden Community principles. These are:
Garden Communities will provide a generous amount of green space. They will be set within a multi-functional and integrated natural environment; providing space for nature, making the communities more resilient to climate change; promoting healthy lifestyles, and creating beautiful places to live and work.
The Garden Communities will be planned around a step change in integrated and sustainable transport system for the North Essex area, putting walking, cycling and public transit systems at the heart of the development. These will be delivered in a timely way to support the communities as they grow.
The Garden Communities will seek to provide access to one job per household within the new community or within a short distance by public transport. This will be a key component of creating character and identity and sustainable communities.
Walkable, sociable and vibrant neighbourhoods will be a defining characteristic of the Garden Communities. A diverse mix of homes responding to existing and future local needs will be provided alongside a range of community services, including health, education, leisure and recreation, culture and shopping.
Planned for the 21st Century, the Garden Communities will secure a smart and sustainable approach fostering resilient environments and communities able to respond positively to changing circumstances. Innovation and technology will be embraced to achieve a higher quality of life and healthier lifestyles; creating the conditions for sustainable living.
Through all stages of the planning, design and development of the Garden Communities the highest quality of design and management of the built and public realm will be promoted. Existing local assets will be capitalised to help create distinctive places.
The Garden Communities are a locally-led initiative, and their development will be shaped through engaging existing communities and emerging new communities; residents will be empowered to contribute to shaping the future of North Essex.
The Garden Communities will be developed and managed in perpetuity with the direct involvement of their residents and businesses; residents will be directly engaged in the long-term management and stewardship, fostering a shared sense of ownership and identity.
The North Essex councils will collaborate to provide clear vision for the Garden Communities and commitment to their long-term success. Central to this will be a commitment to high quality placemaking, timely infrastructure provision, and achieving a steady pace of housing and employment delivery.
The Garden Communities will be delivered through a genuine and pro-active partnership approach between the public and private sectors, where risk and reward are shared and community empowerment enabled.
There are significant amounts of traffic in several areas across the borough and there are a number of ways of helping to ease this.
Firstly, the new link road will help motorists to get directly onto the A120 and A12 via the new link road avoiding coming into Colchester.
Then there is the Rapid Transit System which will provide an alternative attractive means of travelling into Colchester and beyond.
Finally, the new Garden Community developments would encourage the majority of journeys to be within the new sites themselves, reducing the need to travel further.
While we still need to develop the details of any routes for the Rapid Transport System it is important that the route is segregated.
However, we fully recognise the importance of the trees along Remembrance Avenue and the key ethos of the Garden Communities is to be environmentally sustainable.
The condition of the road funding requires that it is built on a tight timetable so it will be delivered during 2024 in time for people to move into the first homes.