Sustainable communities need ‘radical’ new development approach

A new alliance of civic, environmental and transport bodies have called for a radical new approach to the construction of large scale developments in the run up to the Government's long-awaited prospectus for major new development.

The alliance believes that the low-density, car orientated suburban schemes of the 1970s or 1980s, like Milton Keynes or Bradley Stoke in Bristol, need to be replaced if we are to reduce the UKs carbon footprint and deliver ‘smart growth’.

In the proposals, the alliance explains that a new development should “blend the well-designed family terraced housing with cutting edge practice from across the world”, such as recently developed ‘eco-suburbs’ in Freiburg, Germany and Stockholm.

According to the alliance, these developments provide energy-efficient housing at high residential densities and reuse brownfield land as much as possible.

They are also easily linked to town and city centres by public transport and are designed so that walking or cycling is the norm for everyday travel.

According to a recent report, developers are formulating proposals for a new generation of ‘garden cities’ in south east England, involving up to 250,000 homes on greenfield land, with 170,000 of these to be located either along the M11 and A14 corridors, or between Oxford and Cambridge.

The alliance claims that this approach threatens to take the UK in precisely the opposite direction to ‘smart growth’, increasing congestion on those roads and forcing people to rely on cars.

Conservative peer and former Environment Secretary Lord Deben, who has backed the calls, said: ‘Land, that precious scarce resource, will be at a further premium as the world struggles with rising food prices and scarcity. Let’s concentrate on recycling already-used land. There are more than sufficient sites for the housing we need. It only requires imagination, energy, and Government drive to unlock them. Building on green fields is the lazy way to sacrifice our future.’

Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham Martin Horwood agrees that the smart growth principles offer an alternative to constant overdevelopment of areas already under pressure.

“Developers will always chase low density, greenfield development regardless of the environmental and social consequences because that is what makes them the most profit. But we need an alternative vision which promotes the recovery of derelict land and buildings, urban regeneration, genuinely sustainable communities and the protection of treasured and important green spaces.’

Leigh Stringer

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