Proposal for ‘Uxcester Garden City’ envisages up to 40 across the country

URBEDs David Rudlin wins Wolfson Prize for garden cities

David Rudlin of urban design and research consultancy URBED has won the £250,000 Wolfson Prize.

His entry, which was selected by the independent panel of judges from the 279 entries submitted, was prepared in collaboration with Dr Nicholas Falk (also URBED), Pete Redman (TradeRisks Ltd) and Jon Rowland (Jon Rowland Urban Design), with input from Joe Ravetz (Manchester University).

David’s submission argues for the near-doubling of up to 40 existing large towns to provide new homes for 150,000 people per town, built over 30-35 years. The entry imagines a fictional town called Uxcester to develop the concept. It argues that expansion of existing towns is the best way to accommodate growth, regenerate town centres, and protect much-loved countryside and the setting of surrounding villages.

David argues that there may be as many as 40 cities in England that could be doubled in size in this way, such as Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Rugby, Reading and Stafford. Other key points from the submission include:

* Towns should be permitted to bid for garden city status and should not have expansion imposed upon them; the processes for bidding would be set out in a new Garden Cities Act.
* The Act would allow the Government to confer new delivery tools upon successful bidders – including financial guarantees (but not subsidy) and modernised land acquisition powers; and the power to create local Garden City Foundations to promote each garden city. The Act would also include a new statutory requirement to plan responsibly for housing development at the local authority level, with garden city status being one of the options that local authorities could draw upon to meet that need.
* Expansion would take the form of town extensions connected to the city centre by a tram or bus rapid transit (similar to that operating in Cambridge), with each extension consisting of green, walkable neighbourhoods with primary schools, business uses, and local shops, drawing on modern Scandinavian, Dutch and German models.
* Development of flood plains would be entirely avoided in the design of the settlement and extensions would be surrounded by country parks, allotments, lakes and other low-impact uses.
* The financial model shows how a modern tram scheme could be delivered to serve the new garden city, of the sort that most other European cities of the size of Uxcester would feel entitled to.
* The expanded garden city would provide a new population who would use the town centre, helping to regenerate its shopping facilities and protecting it against out-of-town retail.
* The financial model shows that for every plot developed, the same area again could be allocated for parks and gardens which are publicly accessible to the whole community rather than kept in private hands.
* 20% of new homes would be affordable housing.
* The overwhelming majority of Green Belt land (if the town has a Green Belt) would be protected and enhanced.

In an Appendix to the entry, contributor Nicholas Falk applies the Uxcester concept to Oxford (2011 population: 150,000) as a case study. The study argues that if Oxford does not grow, Oxford University’s position as one of the top three in the world could be lost. It describes the County Council’s acceptance that 100,000 new homes are needed in the county by 2031 with Oxford itself in need of 28,000 new homes by 2026. It notes that Oxford City Council has recently published an informal assessment of the potential to release Green Belt land, but proposes an alternative strategy involving no use of flood plains and the protection of some smaller villages near Oxford which would otherwise be developed.

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