Roundtable Meeting 9th March 2015

The first New Garden Cities Alliance round-table meeting has proved a great success and the prospects of producing an accreditation system for garden cities moved a step closer.

Lord Glasman welcomed a packed room of architects, planners and community groups and institutions. Attendees included Wolfson prize winners and shortlisted entries – Urbed, Shelter, Barton Willmore, Golding Homes and Wei Yang & Partners.


Lord Glasman outlined that he considered the garden city agenda to be bigger than any single political party and the goal is to build on the cross party consensus that is already forming.


Philip Ross, the former Mayor of Letchworth Garden City, and co-founder of the New Garden Cities Alliance spoke about the Letchworth Declaration. The Declaration, he explained had been published back in September and in summary asked the question “do we think that the term garden cities should mean something? and if so how can we make that happen?”. He said “ we do think it should stand for something and the goal of this meeting is to put us on the road to making it happen”. Philip delved into the roots of the garden city vision and the ‘dream that was Letchworth’. Explaining the success of Letchworth was in the combination of both its visible and invisible architecture with a particular focus on the issue of land value capture.

He said that there was a degree of urgency to create a protected definition of a garden city and that if the group failed to act then the government or the market would define it.

Debate on the subject suggested that a strong definition would raise standards for a place.

Next up Katy Lock from the TCPA outlined the TCPA garden city principles and explained how they had been derived and that the language used to communicate will vary depending on the audience. Basically if outlined to the general public and to a room of architects and planners, the principles would be the same but they way they are articulated would be different.


One of the myths around garden cities has been that they are all on green-field sites and this is why URBED’s winning entry for the Wolfson prize was so significant as it talked about extending an existing settlement and controversially invading some of the green belt. Nick Falk from URBED explained this in more detail.

A wide ranging discussion followed on both the garden city principles and the need for democratic structures and so some debate about the difference between getting a garden city and how to run it.

Time constraints meant that the chairman moved on to a presentation about how an accreditation process could work. Liz Wrigley explained how the ‘Building for Life’ scheme had been established and was operated. Unfortunately Robin Murray who had been scheduled to talk about the fair trade accreditation scheme had been taken ill. He sent some notes to Philip Ross who précised them to the meeting. Philip added that the strength of an accreditation scheme to garden cities was in its desirability and commercial implications to developments that couldn’t get it. This would be a driver to developers to seek to gain it. It was noted from the floor that such an accreditation process could be linked to finance and that would make it very powerful (the NGCA will try to arrange further discussion on this area). It was noted also that Howard had raised money from insurance companies to help finance Letchworth on the basis that new home owners would all need insurance.

In terms of how the Alliance could operate Thomas Hoepfner outlined that the New Garden Cities Alliance had been established as community-interest company. That the steps going forward were to agree on how the organisation should operate and that it should be complementary to existing institutions and not in competition with them.


Chairman Patricia Nevins outlined the next steps which were to establish three working parties to look at the areas of ‘Principles and evolution’, ‘Accreditation’ and thirdly ‘operations’. An email would be sent out to attendees inviting them to join the groups which would operate through on-line discussions and physical meetings.

The Chairman asked those present if there was general agreement to the proposed course of action and on a show of hands it was overwhelmingly endorsed. The Chairman encouraged those present to raise any reservations, dissension or adverse comment and none were raised. The meeting agreed that the Working Groups were therefore fully mandated to bring their proposals to the next meeting of the alliance , which it is hoped will take place in June.

It was noted that Lord Glasman offered to host a further meeting of Alliance which was mooted for late June (to give any new government or coalition a chance to settle in).

The chairman thanked everyone for their attendance and for what had been a very successful event.

The meeting closed promptly at 16:30.



A New Garden City Alliance?

The power of the visible and invisible architecture of garden cities :
Built on an alliance of values and practice

Garden Cities are again in the news in the UK with the recent Wolfson Economics Prize and its submissions on building new garden cities as well as the DCLG prospectus inviting expressions of interest in building community led garden cities. As ever planners and architects and politicians are all looking at the spatial aspects of a garden city, where one can be built and what it will look like. There remains though a need to look at the third and potential most important aspect, the invisible architecture that will form that community. This is the social values and principles upon which it will be built as well as its invisible architecture of finance, ownership and control.

Plans have also been announced to build a ‘garden city’ at Ebbsfleet. But what do they mean by garden city? What definition of a garden city is it planning to follow? It is an important question. Even back in the days of the first garden city movement the only places to get the suffix ‘garden city’ or ‘garden suburb’ were those mainly that Ebenezer Howard and Raymond Unwin were connected with – Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities and notably Hampstead and Brentham Garden Suburbs. Other places, like many of the post war new towns, simply suggested that they were being built along ‘garden city lines’.

The legacy of that first garden city movement itself has its own trinity. The birthplace and spiritual home of Garden Cities is Letchworth Garden City, the home of the movement is within the Town and Country Planning Association (which is the successor organisation to the original Garden Cities Association). Ebenezer Howard wasn’t a traditional planner or architect but a community architect interested in the social reform that garden cities could deliver. It is fair to say that that legacy of the third part of that trinity is also held today by the social and pioneering organisations in the co-operative movement, rural groups, environmental groups, housing associations, residents and tenants associations, the “transition town” movement, faith groups of all denominations, cultural groups, families and individuals of all ages. Howard’s original ideas chris-crossed the political divide just Garden Cities do today.

It follows that having a community-led garden cities starts by having a community-led definition of what a garden cities is. It needs to be one that belongs not to one organisation and is not one that is thought up in Whitehall but is one that is reflective of community values. It needs to be born of a partnership and a great alliance between social, design and architectural values and principles. The ambition must be to deliver a sustainable community, a community proving inter-generational equity that is socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. We will know we are successful because it will create a sense of place, purpose and a stake in their community, in one word ‘citizenship’.

Building and working from the legacy of the first garden city movement we need to build a tripartite alliance of planners, architects and community to deliver a definition of a 21st century garden city. Together they must deliver both a master plan for the visible architecture with the social and invisible architecture. Together they will provide the basis for establishing a sustainable society.

Just as the Wolfson Prize has engaged economists to come up with a multitude of ideas of about how to raise finance for a garden city the TCPA is making excellent progress drawing together the best planners and architects and providing strong thought leadership. On the invisible architecture a great deal of work has be done by co-operative movement with both a large and small ‘C’. Elsewhere groups like Respublica have made a very positive contribution. The BSHF reports on planning new settlements and their ability to also build a strong coalition of interests through their Windsor based consultations have made a huge contribution.

In November 2012 a conference in Letchworth saw a gathering of the social movement and planners and architects including the TCPA. The result was the subsequent Commons-Sense report which outlined a plethora of innovative ideas and documented existing practise such as community land ownership programme and district and co-operative heating and power solutions.

The TCPA have also published 7 principles for garden cities which all centre of the principle capturing land value for the good of community which are complementary to the 12 principles defined by Cabannes and Ross[author] in their book ‘21st Century Garden Cities of To-morrow’. How this land value capture can be done remains the subject of debate. The debate itself is an old one with the original suggestion of a land value tax being made by Henry George which was championed by Churchill in his early days. The issue centres around that as land values rise who captures that unearned increment should it be the land lord or the people living there? Garden Cities propose that it is the community that lives there. A mechanism of collective land ownership and administration exists through the use of a Community Land Trust to manage estates. But where is the land to come from? The interesting thing about creative variants of land value taxation or the Co-operative Land Bank model (CLB) are that they could make the capture of the land self-financing.

Today’s agenda with new garden cities offer us chance to get it right afresh. But to do so we need to combine the best of the visible and invisible architecture together. It means getting the trinity of planning, architecture and social values to work together. In doing so community-led garden cities can have a community led definition that can inspire planners, architects and be the contract and covenant between them, the community surrounding new settlement and for future citizens.

To achieve this there should be no doubt what makes a garden city. We need to have a shared and agreed definition of garden cities that comprises of the visible and invisible architecture that community groups and leaders, economists, planners and architects can all work from. We believe that at the heart of this will be the principles for land value capture for the community and commitments to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.

This was one of the goals of the September Common Good Place making’ conference in Letchworth where participants discussed the idea of a ‘Letchworth Declaration’ to be the mechanism to put this into action. Speakers included Lord Maurice Glasman, Robin Murray from the LSE, Ed Mayo from Co-ops (UK), Nick Falk – the Wolfson prize winner, Stephen Hill, Katy Lock from the TCPA and many others and the participants at the conference saw a gathering of trade bodies, architects, planners and community organisers. It is a gathering that would have put a smile on the face of Ebenezer Howard and the other garden city pioneers.

The Letchworth Declaration is a proposal to create a New Garden Cities Alliance as a Community Interest Company (limited by guarantee) owned by this trinity of users and groups. The goal of the Alliance will be to agree a definition of garden cities (perhaps with gold, silver and bronze standards). The Alliance will draw inspiration from the Fair Trade movement, Transition Town movement and the Building for Life standard. We would expect all these accreditations to paint part of the picture of a Garden City. The Alliance will license different organisations to undertake audits and provide accreditations to allow towns and neighbourhoods to get the garden city mark. In the long term even an ISO standard could be developed for garden cities. The vision is here and details will be worked out collaboratively. We don’t see the Alliance or Association as employing staff or being bureaucratic.

The principles of garden city design, architecture and social can be drawn from the TCPA, other planning groups, the RIBA and community and activist groups to ensure that final definition will provide a foundation to build upon that will be Socially, Economically and Ecologically sustainable.

It would provide reassurance and a social contract for communities and guidance for architects and developers. In doing this we can jointly build the platform upon which successful and community-led and garden cities can be built and inspiring second garden movement that we can all be proud of.

Join in, read and sign the declaration by visiting :

Philip Ross, Letchworth Garden City.