Careers Advice: Working to support the development of Garden Cities and New Settlements

Written by: Stephen Hill
Published on: 5 Feb 2018

New homes in Exeter

As part of my former role for nearly 10 years with the national Advisory Team for Large Applications (ATLAS) and more recently, since March this year, as a director of a new consultancy, Hyas Associates, I have been very fortunate to become involved in the planning of a number of large scale, residential-led schemes across England. In particular, my time recently has been increasingly focused on garden settlements. For those of you not familiar with the latest initiatives in this area, here are a few key facts as well as an overview of the type of work and skills needed in working on such major housing-led projects.

Key facts:

  • Garden settlements - a concept which covers garden towns (over 10,000 homes) and garden villages (1,500 to 10,000 new homes) - and potentially even garden cities - are being actively encouraged by the government, with the intention that such settlements are locally promoted and led;

  • The government has officially announced around 10 garden towns (including places such as Ebbsfleet and Aylesbury) and 14 garden villages.

  • Garden settlements are intended to be distinct new communities that embed garden city principles at their heart – these principles are not defined by government, but should be local derived and set. However, there is clearly an expectation that these are to be places of high design quality and innovation.

  • The government has provided capacity funding for local authorities who have an ‘official’ garden settlement, to help them progress with planning and delivery.

My work initially focused on supporting a number of authorities to bid for garden village/town status, but more recently I have been helping those who were successful to develop their approach to planning and delivery. I have been most heavily involved with Carlisle (St Cuthbert’s Garden Village, the largest in the country at 10,000 homes); South Kesteven (Spitalgate Heath Garden Village of 2,000 homes); Knowsley (Halsnead Garden Village of 1,600 homes) and Aylesbury Garden Town.

My main input as a planning advisor has related to:

  • Helping to set a vision for the new place – what will make it distinctive; how is it locally appropriate; what will it be like to live there etc.

  • Creating project management structures – not the most glamorous side, but it is crucial to get the foundations right. Like any other large-scale project, organisations promoting garden settlements need key structures including organisation of resources; setting of priorities; clear decision-making; and involvement of multiple stakeholders and organisations etc.

  • Identifying skills and resources – planning and delivering schemes of this scale requires specialist skills such as masterplanning, viability expertise and infrastructure planning. Such work is also a truly collaborative, multi-disciplinary exercise. Local authorities can’t expect to have all these skills and resources to hand, so working out what skills they currently have, what else is needed to help progress and when new/additional skills and resources should be brought in, is a key element of making a successful project.

  • Bidding for funding -  making sure that authorities are aware of what funding opportunities are out there; how they can help with their project; and how to bid for the funds is a crucial element of advice and support. Funding is very competitive and making a good case for money, whether it’s towards capacity or infrastructure is becoming increasingly important.

These tasks mean that working on a new garden settlement project can develop into significant and interesting activities in their own right, such as:

  • running visioning workshops for key stakeholders;

  • writing a brief for and helping to appoint masterplanners;

  • brokering meetings between the council , landowners and prospective developers;

  • undertaking research into what a healthy town should be; and

  • constructing a viability model to help understand the financial implications involved etc.

I count myself very lucky to be involved in projects of this scale, genuine new places that will hopefully have a positive impact how people live, work and play in the future. Planners in these types of schemes can bring clear skills around organisation, priority setting, engagement, brokering and of course, navigating the process – but the most important skill is to keep the focus on creating a quality place for the future.

Stephen Hill is director of consultants Hyas Associates