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Government's 'green' Garden Towns and Villages being built across England will make 200,000 families car-dependent, report says

Study finds reality does not reflect vision, with poor or no public transport or active travel infrastructure, and lack of local amenities

Government plans to develop 50 ‘Garden Villages’ and ‘Garden Towns’ across England will result in 200,000 households becoming car-dependent, says a new report.

The new communities are being developed to try and ease the country’s housing crisis and have been promoted by the government as being environmentally-friendly and having good public transport links and local amenities such as shops.

Up to 50 sites are being developed across the country, ultimately providing 400,000 new homes.

But a study by the Transport for New Homes project, which is funded by the charity the Foundation for Integrated Transport of 20 developments, including some currently at the planning stage or still under construction, found that the promises were not being reflected by reality, with the car dominating.

Key findings included:

  • All 20 of the Garden Communities examined in detail will encourage car dependent lifestyles with the car the primary mode of transport at every single one.
  • These 20 settlements will create up to 200,000 car dependent households.
  • Only one settlement (Aylesham – although itself not funded by Homes England) offers amenities and a railway station within 1 mile of every home, though the train service is infrequent and there are no safe cycle routes to access it.
  • All other settlements failed to provide access to amenities and a railway station within 1 mile of all new homes with safe walking and cycling routes.
  • None of the 20 settlements will provide bus services to all households all day, all week.
  • Cycle routes from Garden Villages into nearby towns will often be long and dangerous.
  • Residents will have to walk up to 7 miles to access a railway station or go to the shops.

Jenny Raggett, project coordinator at Transport for New Homes, said: “Put forward by the government as an alternative to characterless estates, Garden Villages may well end up with more tarmac than garden, limited public transport, and few ‘village’ amenities to walk or cycle to.

“It looks like Garden Communities are to become car-based commuter estates just like any other – exactly what the government wanted to avoid. Rather than seeing the emphasis on public transport that the Garden Communities Prospectus promised, with new stations funded at the heart of the development, or firm investment in modern bus rapid transit, light rail or trams, nearly every Garden Community comes with a long list of road improvements such as bypasses, link roads and new motorway junctions.

"Although the theme of the ‘local’ and ‘self-sufficient’ is the official line, the language adopted in the promotion of Garden Villages makes great play of their strategic location for long-distance commuting. It is doubtful, given this emphasis, that local shops and services will flourish,” she added.

While the coronavirus outbreak has placed a new focus on walking and cycling, the study found that the Garden Villages are mostly unsuited to active travel “due to their remote location, their layout and their lack of safe routes in and out of the estate” and that “local facilities may well never materialise in these car-based developments.”

And despite the climate emergency, “rather than new or improved public transport, the group found that plans for Garden Villages and Garden Towns promise major increases in road capacity to cater for a massive expected rise in car use.”

Steve Chambers, sustainable transport campaigner at Transport for New Homes, commented: “Our visits to sites of Garden Towns and Garden Villages highlighted the chasm between the proposed visions and the built reality.

“We found that because of remote locations, public transport was rarely already provided and funding had not been secured to make it available when residents move in.

“Walking and cycling were clearly afterthoughts and even in the better examples did not provide safe and convenient routes to basic amenities beyond the development boundary.

“Garden Villages were typically too small to support any amenities and are not being built on a sustainable scale. Larger Garden Towns typically located new housing beyond a ring road, on the edge of an established town and poorly connected with it.

“Car dependency is being built into the Garden Towns and Garden Villages by design,” he added.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Commission an urgent reassessment of the sustainability in transport terms of all planned Garden Communities and do not give outline planning permission until it is clear that sustainable transport elements in each vision are fully funded and specified.
  • Build close to existing town centres or create strings of developments along public transport routes, rather than scattering developments around the countryside.
  • Direct Government funding to public realm, place-making, and sustainable transport including Dutch-style cycling networks, local rail, rapid transit, buses and trams.
  • Make sure that sustainable transport infrastructure is funded to extend beyond the site boundary.
  • Put kickstart funding and other financial incentives in place to establish shops, cafes, pubs, shared workspaces and other local facilities with the development, creating a walkable community.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said in response: “Many of these Garden Communities are in their early stages of development and we are continuing to work with local partners to get the right infrastructure is in place to ensure these are great places to live and work.

“Well planned, well-designed, locally-led Garden Communities will play a vital role in helping meet this country’s housing need.”

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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