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Lord Best, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on housing and care for older people, recently called for 50 new garden villages to be built to solve Britain’s housing crisis.
This would definitely have a positive impact on the supply of good-quality homes across the country.
In fact, it could create up to 120,000 new homes, based on the numbers the government has projected for its own existing plans to create 14 new garden villages.
But without the right support and management new communities, and the infrastructure they need to flourish, can struggle to bed in.
Bournville in Birmingham, where I’ve worked for the past 16 years, has been credited with laying the foundations for latter-day garden cities and has been going strong for 117 years.
Today it’s home to more than 25,000 people and in 2003 was found to be one of the nicest places to live in Britain in a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
As the government ploughs ahead with its plans for new garden villages from Devon to Derbyshire, here are five things I’ve learned from helping to manage the country’s first garden village:
1: Have rules about alterations and stick to them
When a new development is built, homes will feature certain characteristics that help to create its unique street scene. Over time this will change as extensions, porches and driveways of varying shapes, sizes and styles are added, wheelie bins are introduced and front gardens become unloved.
As a result, features that set the development apart in the first place are lost and, in turn, the identity of a community can be eroded. While it can be contentious at times, having firm rules in place with legal covenants behind them on what residents can and can’t change about their homes and surroundings helps to protect the integrity of a village.
It’s vital to ensure residents are aware of these rules, which must be monitored and action taken against those who break them.
2: Don’t leave open spaces and communal areas to rot
Well thought-through, good-quality communal areas and open spaces are what set garden villages apart from standard housing developments. Having well-maintained parks and spaces that are invested in and not left to rot, encourages residents to look after and take pride in their own gardens.
It also helps to promote more active and healthier lifestyles as residents are more likely to use parks and spaces that are safe and clean. In Bournville, 30 new trees are planted every year and we cut more than 500,000 sq m of grass each month, equivalent to 70 football pitches.
3: Give people a meaningful say on their community
New communities are not created automatically, they need to be nurtured to thrive. Providing meaningful opportunities for people to come together and have a say about how their village is run is one way of creating a long-lasting community.
This could include forums that scrutinise the management of key services and facilities provided, or residents’ associations that can raise issues.
4: But don’t presume everyone will want to get involved
Not everyone will want to, or have the time, to be a member of a residents’ association or formal group, but it’s still important to offer ways for them to be a part of their new community.
Providing a community centre or hub with sport classes or play areas in parks for families to use is one way of connecting people in a more informal way.
Empowering residents to organise their own events is another. In Bournville, groups like the busy parents’ network and Bournville village council run regular activities, ranging from seasonal festivals in the summer and at Christmas to first aid classes for parents.
5: Don’t put social housing in a corner
Some new developments clump social housing together away from housing for sale, creating segregation before a new community has even had a chance to take root.
In Bournville, social rented homes and owner occupied homes have always been pepper-potted across the village. The village’s founder, chocolate-maker George Cadbury, established Bournville Village Trust as Bournville’s custodian in 1900 to make sure that even after his death rented homes would be protected. That’s why almost half the homes in the village continue to be for social rent.
Ensuring there is a mix of tenures makes sure new communities are genuinely mixed and inclusive.
(First published in the Guardian)
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