This week Essex County Council gave further backing to the North Essex Garden Communities Programme, which is currently exploring the potential for three new Garden Communities on the corridor between Stansted and Harwich.
And of course in reading the word ‘garden’ its very easy to be sceptical, it’s the buzz word that is being used up and down the country, undoubtedly in order to make housing more palatable.
However in North Essex we are seeing something different. Working together, Braintree, Colchester and Tendring Councils, along with Essex County Council are looking to create true Garden Settlements, built to specific principles, as set out in their charter and delivered not by a developer, but the councils themselves.
There are enormous benefits to this approach - the councils can ensure that the infrastructure comes ahead of or alongside the homes, there can be a focus on the facilities and qualities needed to create actual communities, and through the idea of ‘stewardship’ which is one of the guiding principles, citizens can take an active role in the running of the new communities.
And of course through the creation of large-scale stand alone developments, this will give the councils a long-term strategy for growth, giving them more power to resist the predatory housing applications that impact our villages, but bring little in way of infrastructure. We can all think of examples of this.
Of course there is a long way to go, these are 30 year plus projects, and in the first instance they must be found to be viable (this is being tested at the moment), but the underlying principle of moving away from a developer led focus on financial return, to a council led focus on creating thriving communities is exciting and full of potential.
We all know that we have a chronic shortage of housing, burying our heads in the sand is not an option, but equally housing will always be an emotive subject, and so looking at new ways of delivering it is vital, and through the garden community proposals North Essex has the opportunity to become a real shining light for how to deliver homes.
For more information on the North Essex Garden Communities Project visit www.ne-gc.co.uk.