A Garden City guide to looking after places in the long term

Published on Monday, 03 February 2014 10:06
Written by Fiona Mannion

We know that in Britain – and particularly in England – we have to build many more new homes to meet housing need. However, the question is not just whether we build, but whether we have the determination to ensure that we build high-quality communities that will stand the test of time.

As the momentum around a new generation of garden cities grows, we can do no better than learn from their approach to long term stewardship, enabling councils and delivery partners to rebuild trust in the development process, offering people a better quality of life from new development by allowing for the highest sustainability standards, economies of scale, and better use of infrastructure. At the essence of Letchworth, and other Garden Cities, is that the land is held in trust for the community, so we can invest the proceeds to meet their needs, and ensure community involvement in decisions about priorities.

What sets new garden cities apart is that they allow the necessary infrastructure to be planned in from the start, and existing communities can be protected from unsightly and unpopular piecemeal development. They also provide a powerful opportunity to introduce governance structures that put people at the heart of new communities and give them ownership of community assets. Applying Garden City principles to the development of new communities also allows for immediate access to the countryside, as well as the integration of smart technology. The Garden City approach provides a unique opportunity to offer people a better quality of life and more sustainable lifestyles.

This is why the TCPA have launched, 'Built today, treasured tomorrow - a good practice guide to long term stewardship models', inspired by the garden city principles of community rights, ownership and asset management to create the beautiful, inclusive and sustainable communities of the future.

Many new developments start with good intentions and provide community facilities such as a beautiful park or a community centre, but, all too often, 20 years later that park or community centre has become a derelict eyesore – a liability rather than an asset.

Community assets such as parks and community centres are vital elements of high-quality, attractive places, but management arrangements and long-term funding to maintain such assets are often considered only as after-thoughts to new developments.

In an age of austerity, how can we ensure that the new parks, community centres, arts centres and other assets of great value to local people created within new developments are well looked after in perpetuity?

This guide provides answers to that question. It sets out tried-and-tested methods of securing a good long-term future for community assets such as parks, community buildings, health centres, local energy sources, and community transport.

With the use of illustrative case studies it explains how imaginative approaches to funding and management can empower local communities to take control or have a say in the running of local assets. For example, the East London Community Land Trust in East London is an old hospital site which will become the UK's first urban community land trust, providing permanently affordable homes for local people, that emerged from a group of community organisers, London Citizens. The Trust is a not for profit industrial and provident society and all profits are returned to the community.

In the current context of growing policy and legislative support for the garden city approach to development and increasing pressure on local authority budgets, the community stewardship approaches to community facilities and assets are more relevant than ever. There is no doubt that taking a long-term view on funding and managing community assets is a challenge, but it also presents an opportunity to put people at the heart of creating better places.

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