ecology for garden cities
Ecology for Garden Cities
EPR’s work over the past quarter of a century has strongly supported some of the key principles of Garden Cities across numerous large-scale residential-led projects. We have in practice delivered functioning, working examples for new and expanded settlements that have benefited both the Natural Environment, and the people who live in within them.
What are Garden Cities?
The concept of Garden Cities was established by Sir Ebenezer Howard in 1898, in his publication ‘Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’, which was later re-worked and re-published as ‘Garden Cities of Tomorrow’ in 1902.
Howard’s vision was for a series of new and holistically-planned ‘’slumless, smokeless cities’’ that enhanced the natural environment and delivered for essential human needs such as affordable housing and employment. Garden Cities were intended as a philanthropic answer to solving the Victorian problems of the day; poor and insufficient housing, lack of sanitation, pollution and inner city squalor; but the idea continues to have relevance today.
Since Howard, the concept of Garden Cities has been built upon by many others; periodically supplemented, adapted and updated. This process of iterative refinement has led to the original ‘Garden City’ concept manifesting itself from time to time in a variety of different guises; each time with slightly differing emphases, including ‘Eco Towns’ promoted by the last Labour Government, before coming back around to current Government initiatives for a new round of Garden Cities.
Paragraph 52 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) advocates efforts for housing demand to be met through larger-scale development such as new settlements or extensions to existing settlements, following Garden City principles. Further, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published a paper in 2014, outlining the Government’s aspiration to support communities to deliver a series of new Garden Cities to help meet National housing need.
How Relevant is Ecology to Successfully Delivering Garden City Principles?
The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), an organisation born from the original ‘Garden City Association’ founded by Howard, has published a series of principles to guide the delivery of new Garden Cities (http://www.tcpa.org.uk/pages/garden-cities.html).
The TCPA principles make it clear that careful consideration of the natural environment is of fundamental importance to the successful design and delivery of a functional, vibrant Garden City; not simply from a biodiversity and sustainability perspective, but also to enhance the quality of life of residents.
The TCPA Garden City principles call for ‘’Development which enhances the natural environment’’, and advocate a net gain to biodiversity secured through master plans that link private and community gardens with ‘’…wider public green and blue space and ultimately with strategic networks of green infrastructure and habitat creation’’ with ‘’biodiversity rich public parks’’.
Further to this, they recognise the relationship between a well-considered and planned natural environment and better public health. They recommend strong recreational facilities in walkable neighbourhoods, community gardens and orchards; with all such community assets being subject to proactive long-term stewardship.
The message is clear: integrating development with the natural environment and ‘building-in’ biodiversity to major residential schemes is an essential requirement for a truly functional Garden City; not just for the wildlife, but also for the people who live there.
A burgeoning body of evidence supports the idea that better, managed, access to the natural environment can yield improved mental and physical health and wellbeing for people; as well as improving quality of life and the distinctiveness of settlements, that can make them special places in which to live.
In our experience, reconnecting people with their own (sometimes forgotten) natural heritage, and providing access to biodiverse wildlife-rich spaces, also improves the likelihood of effective long-term stewardship becoming established. This strongly accords with the key Garden City Principles of pro-active long-term management of community assets, local ownership and value capture. Often, the most special and irreplaceable features of the countryside are those that have resulted from centuries of traditional human interactions with nature. Re-establishing these links in conjunction with development can lead to tangible benefits both for people and wildlife. There are benefits to developers too in terms of the saleability of homes, when set within attractive environments.
EPR’s Approach to Garden City Principles
At EPR, we recognise the relevance of Garden City Principles in our daily work, when planning the interface between development and the natural environment. We have over 25 years of experience as ecologists successfully helping to design and deliver some of the country’s largest major residential allocations, strategic housing sites and new mixed-use communities.
Our approach is an enabling one; securing better conservation of biodiversity and the delivery of related public benefits through inspired development design. Our approach counters the cynical assertion from some that economic development and biodiversity must necessarily be opposing forces; both are in fact needed, and both can often be delivered, particularly where existing natural assets have been degraded by modern intensive farming methods, providing the opportunity for development to reverse these negative influences.
In our experience, in addition to biodiversity enhancements, this approach provides benefits to our developer clients by reducing the opposition and objections to proposals to aid swifter consents, improve the efficiency of land use by maximising benefits to the project from open space, as well as delivering a more interesting, complex and attractive environment to aid the sale of new dwellings.
Recent thinking from leading Garden City proponents has placed renewed emphasis on the need for settlements to be able to grow organically over time; to be informed by context, but moulded by the people who live within them, and to adapt flexibly to cater for the changing needs of residents rather than be entirely predetermined from inception; as have the most iconic and cherished market towns.
In this vein, the NPPF and ‘’Biodiversity 2020: A Strategy for England’s Wildlife and Ecosystem Services’’ calls for proactive landscape-scale planning for the creation and restoration of strategic ecological networks in conjunction with Local Plans and individual development projects. This strongly accords with the idea of development firstly taking inspiration from the local natural environment, and then opportunity to enhance it to create a more distinctive, complex and interesting proposal that benefits, wildlife, people and the development project as a whole.
Click here to read about some example projects where we have applied thinking related to Garden City principles, applicable to new villages, towns and suburbs, through our work at all levels.