Garden community projects could create 200,000 car-dependent families, study suggests

A study into 20 proposed developments suggests transport links and local amenities are poor with communities requiring expanded road systems.

Garden community projects look to be a complete policy failure, an example of “green-washing” –  Owl

By Tom Bawden 

A flagship project to build more than 50 green housing developments looks set to create more than 200,000 car-dependent families, a study warns.

The Government presented its plan to build dozens of sustainable “garden communities” across England as an environmentally friendly way to tackle the housing crisis.

It pledged to create more than 400,000 new homes in idyllic locations with strong public transport links, cycle lanes and good local amenities.

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But an in-depth analysis of 20 of the proposed developments, housing 200,000 families, finds almost all of them have poor public transport provision, making a car a necessity and requiring new road developments for them to be viable.

Sustainable transport

The analysis was carried out by Transport for New Homes, a project funded by the sustainable transport charity the Foundation for Integrated Transport.

The proposals it examined are at various stages of development – most are still in planning while in a few cases building has begun but none are complete.

Some 90 per cent of the garden community plans examined were dependent or contingent on road capacity increases, such as enlarging numerous road junctions, new bypasses and fast link roads, the report found.

Meanwhile, about half were associated with new or bigger motorway junctions.

‘Commuter estates’

“It looks like garden communities are to become car-based commuter estates just like any other – exactly what the Government wanted to avoid,” said Jenny Raggett, Project Coordinator at Transport for New Homes

“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,” she said.

Poor amenities and transport links

Of the 20 garden towns and garden villages examined, only one had both amenities and a railway station within a mile of every home – while one other had a town centre within a mile of every home, but not a railway station.

Steve Chambers, Sustainable Transport Campaigner at Transport for New Homes, said: “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,” he said.

‘Government green-washing’

Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, said: “This is yet another example of government green-washing. Sticking the sustainable label on a project doesn’t make it so, and building new communities in areas dependent on car-ownership and new roads is the very opposite of sustainable.

“These garden communities need to be completely re-thought so they are not dormitories for car-bound commuters, but genuinely sustainable communities built around walking, cycling and decent public transport links, with housing built to the highest low-emission standards,” she said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said:
“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,” he said.

Long Marston

Long Marston is a proposed 3,500 home garden village within the Stratford-upon-Avon District of Warwickshire. It is far from major population and employment centres.

Located on a former airfield, this garden village will be particularly remote and without a sustainable scale will not support amenities, jobs or public transport.

It is seven miles from the nearest railway station. Residents will have no option other than the car to see friends, get to work or buy a pint of milk. Visions of ‘express bus connections’ are without funding.

There are also unfunded aspirations for new safe walking and cycling routes from the development, but even if they were provided there is little other than open space nearby.

This is a good example of a new development in the wrong place.