UK Politics

Three garden cities to be built, Nick Clegg announces

House building

Up to three garden cities, each with more than 15,000 homes will be built to help deal with a "chronic" housing shortage, Nick Clegg has announced.

The deputy prime minister promised "high-quality homes in thriving new communities", on potential sites yet to be identified.

Funding from an existing £2.4bn pot will be made available for developments being built up to 2020.

But Labour said the move was "far too little, too late" to tackle the crisis.

In 2013, the construction of 109,370 new homes was completed in England - the lowest figure for four years.

Yet the number of households is expected to grow by 221,000 every year this decade.

'Dream'

Twenty-seven new towns were built across the UK after World War Two, including Stevenage, Harlow, Milton Keynes, Corby, Cwmbran, Newton Aycliffe, Peterlee and Cumbernauld.

These, called garden cities because their layouts included large amounts of green space, were designed to deal with an accommodation shortage caused by bomb damage, stagnation in the construction industry, returning service personnel and a baby boom.

Mr Clegg, speaking at his monthly media conference, sought to invoke the same spirit as 1940s politicians when he issued a "call-to-arms for visionaries" to set out plans for schemes and published a prospectus inviting bids from councils.

Officials were keen to stress that the new cities would not be imposed on communities and must have local support. They must also have good transport links and be commercially viable.

Image caption Milton Keynes was among the garden cities constructed after World War Two

Mr Clegg said: "A steady stream of governments have failed to deal with the problem. Politicians from all sides have given up trying. I'm talking about garden cities - a vision of communities where future generations will live, work, have children, grow up and grow old.

"The average first-time buyer is now over 30. Home ownership is falling for the first time in a generation.

"Once, owning a home was a dream that most people would achieve one day. Now that dream is becoming increasingly like a pipe dream for many young people.

"We have got to do more to tackle Britain's chronic lack of housing, and to build high-quality homes in thriving new communities."

'Fairer society'

Mr Clegg criticised developments in recent years, saying: "We have allowed ad hoc, urban sprawl to become a default solution. And it's a bad one - breeding local resentment while not solving the problem."

Of his prospectus, he said: "It's much more than a document. It's a call-to-arms for visionaries in local areas in need of housing to put forward radical and ambitious proposals to develop their own garden cities.

"These plans will show that we can build beautifully designed new communities which preserve the gardens and accessible green spaces that residents most value."

The Liberal Democrat leader, who said he had been "banging the drum" for garden cities within the coalition, added: "I'm clear that local communities developing new garden cities is an essential part of the solution to providing affordable homes to live in, building a stronger economy and a fairer society, where every person can get on in life.

"The first spades won't hit the ground tomorrow, but that doesn't stop us putting pen to paper to plan the places our children and grandchildren can afford to live in the years to come."

Two years ago the government commissioned a report on the possibility of using garden cities to help deal with the housing shortage.

Ebbsfleet

In January Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron accused the Conservatives of deliberately suppressing its publication to appease supporters in the south of England.

But Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, a Conservative, said he also backed the new plans for garden cities where there was local demand for them.

He said: "The coalition government scrapped top-down building targets, along with the last administration's failed eco-towns programme, which built nothing but resentment.

"This government is committed to working with local communities who want to build more homes in attractive and sustainable developments where people can live and raise their families."

Proposals that re-use previously developed brownfield sites that "are not of high environmental value" will be welcomed, the prospectus says.

'Wasted years'

Chancellor George Osborne, a Conservative, announced funding in his Budget last month to create the proposed Ebbsfleet Garden City in Kent.

Hilary Benn, Labour's shadow communities and local government secretary, said: "After four wasted years of empty and over-hyped announcements on garden cities it is only now that ministers have got around to inviting bids for development.

"Ministers' failure to take the real action needed to tackle the housing crisis will mean that home ownership remains out of reach of many low and middle-income earners, rents will continue to rise and waiting lists will grow ever longer.

"Labour is clear that you can't deal with the cost-of-living crisis without building more homes, which is why Labour has committed to getting at least 200,000 homes a year built by 2020, including by building a new generation of new towns and garden cities."

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