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Government / Local politics

The government's Garden Villages plan suggests that 2017 will be just as disappointing as 2016

Good news, everyone! Britain’s government has clearly made a new year’s resolution to stop mucking about and address the housing crisis. On Monday 2 January – a bank holiday, note – it revealed details of its latest plan to get Britain building.

The bad news is: it’s rubbish.

We’ll get to why in a minute: first, let’s accentuate the positive and explain what’s planned. The government has thrown its support behind 14 new garden villages – “from Devon to Derbyshire, Cornwall to Cumbria”, and also, one must assume, some less alliterative places. Each of these developments will provide between 1,500 and 10,000 homes, and will have access to their share of £6m of government funding “to unlock the full capacity of sites” (so: land assembly, clean-up, minor transport links etc).

But! There’s more.

The government also announced today (2 January 2017) its support for 3 new garden towns in Aylesbury, Taunton and Harlow & Gilston – and a further £1.4m of funding to support their delivery.

With this £7.4m of funding to address a crippling national crisis, ambassador, you are really spoiling us.

Together with the 7 garden towns already announced, these 17 new garden settlements have the combined potential to provide almost 200,000 new homes across the country.

This all sounds look good news, right? So why am I not donning my “Build More Bloody Houses” t-shirt for a one man-street parade ?

Because, in short, this is yet more evidence of the government’s complete and total paucity of ambition. Once upon a time we had garden cities. At some point in the Cameron administration, we were promised Garden Towns. Now, this ambition has been downgraded yet further, and we’re looking at “Garden Villages” instead. These numbers are just too small: 1,500 homes is less a new settlement than a large estate.

Also, this is by-the-by, but there’s no detail whatsoever about what will make a “garden village” any different from “some houses”.


But let’s be optimistic about these figures and assume that all those homes actually get built. They won’t, of course, because they’re meant to be “locally-led”, and in many areas the local papers are already running endless stories about local NIMBYs don’t want them; but let’s imagine, for one moment, that they will.

Let’s assume, what’s more, that these new homes are additional to those that the market would deliver without government action. That probably won’t be true either – the big housing developers effectively have a cap on how many homes they will build, because the auction process through which they buy land pushes prices up and commits them to a certain sale price. If it looks like they won’t meet that price, they stop building. As a result, even if those 200,000 homes do get built, it’s likely that at least some of them will effectively be displacing building new homes that would have happened elsewhere.

But let’s ignore that too. For our purposes, the government has magically conjured another 200,000 homes into existence. Well done, ministers! Does that solve the housing crisis?

No, of course it bloody doesn’t. England is currently building about 150,000 homes a year. On conservative estimates, it needs to be building around 250,000 homes a year. It’s 100,000 short, each and every year.

 So, if all these homes happen (which, they obviously won’t) and if they’re additional (which they obviously won’t be), they’ll represent about two years’ worth of missing supply.

How long is it going to take to build then?

By 2020, more than 25,000 housing starts are expected in garden villages, towns and cities supported by the government.

Right. So in the next three years, if everything goes well, we’re going to start building about one eighth of these proposed homes. That’s three months’ worth.

I’ve been trying to think of a clever way of ending this, but all I can think is: this is truly pathetic.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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