Raab plants seeds for Garden Village boom

Councils planning new garden towns and villages are set to receive a boost under fresh regulations, but the devil is in the detail.

Housing Minister Dominic Raab MP has proposed shifting responsibility for New Town Development Corporations (NTDCs) from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) over to councils.

Under the new rules, NTDCs will be public-private partnerships that will oversee the complete delivery of new towns and garden communities in their area, from sourcing private investment to project development and master planning, to help to provide thousands of new homes.

While the measures have been welcomed by councils looking for greater freedom to create new towns to meet their housing need, there are still questions about how the initiative is going to be funded and what powers it will grant councils over transport and education infrastructure.

Raab will need to provide clarity around the delegation of decision making, or more development corporations could run into complexities like those faced by the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation (EDC), whose planned garden city in Kent has faced administrative and site-specific issues in recent months.

A greater role for development corporations

Previously, all NTDCs were only created by the Secretary of State and remained accountable to MHCLG, and they had to seek Treasury approval for funding over £100m.

But following public consultation, Raab has adapted the regulations to allow NTDCs to be held accountable by their respective councils, rather than MHCLG.

When setting out the reforms, Raab said: “We need to build the homes our communities need, and I’m committed to giving councils the tools they need to deliver”.

The measure is part of the Government’s programme of planning reform and targeted funding, with the aim of delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

The right way forward?

Hugh Ellis, Head of Policy at the Town and Country Planning Association, said the change would give councils the confidence to invest in the long term and is “a massive key to unlocking investment in new places”.

The LGA have made the point that lifting the housing borrowing cap and enabling councils to borrow to build homes would be a quicker solution to the housing crisis, but it looks unlikely MHCLG will budge on this in the upcoming National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

With the need for new Garden Towns more apparent than ever, the Housing Minister is on the right track with the move to empower councils to have more of a say in master planned new towns. However, the details of how funding will be allocated and who will have responsibility for decisions on new infrastructure will need to be forthcoming quickly as Councils prepare for the new NPPF ahead of Summer Recess.