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Uxcester Garden City project

David Rudlin of URBED was the winner of the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014, announced in September 2014, with the Uxcester Garden City project:

Vision:  We illustrate how the city of Uxcester could double its size by adding three substantial urban extensions each housing around 50,000 people. These lie within a zone 10km from the city centre and are configured as triangles with only the point touching the edge of the settlement. The farmland around the city is currently not accessible to the public and of little ecological value. The concept is that for every hectare of development another will be given back to the city as accessible public space, forests, lakes country parks etc… Each of these satellite extensions would be served by a tram or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) running from the existing mainline station on disused lines and then switching to on-street running to loop through the new neighbourhoods. The housing would be developed incrementally to create space for small developers and self-builders alongside the volume housebuilders in a process that recreates the way that the great estates were built in London.   

Popularity: Extending an existing city solves some problems but creates others. The greatest of these will be the task of winning over the existing community, which is likely to be articulate and honed by years of experience resisting development. We suggest a ‘Social Contract’ that would address the concerns of this community. Rather than a future spent fighting years of ill-planned development, the Garden City would offer the prospect of a clear 40 year vision that accommodates development while minimising its impact. The satellite extensions are planned to minimise their visual impact, to create a green grid of accessible open space and to generate investment in new transport infrastructure and city centre facilities to benefit the whole of the community. The aim is to re-frame the argument by getting cities to bid to be designated as a Garden City as they currently bid for City of Culture. 

Economic Viability and Governance:  In the absence of large scale subsidy the only solution to the economics of the Garden City is what Ebenezer Howard called the ‘unearned increment’. We are proposing a deal for landowners in which they trade a small chance of securing a housing consent on their land, for a guarantee of receiving existing use value plus substantial compensation and a financial stake in the Garden City Trust. We have assumed that the land will be brought at an average cost of £350,000 per hectare, 20 times its current agricultural value but only 15% of its value as housing land. The economics of the scheme are based on these differentials. We have assumed that, by extending an existing town rather than building from scratch we can reduce the infrastructure bill from £80,000 to £60,000 per unit. Even assuming that half of the land acquired is used as open space, this still generates sufficient value to fund this level of infrastructure spending. By selling the sites to developers at a fixed price and providing the infrastructure collectively, a market incentive will be created to invest in the quality of the housing.   

The process would be managed by the Garden City Trust that would be owned jointly by the local councils, central government, the local community and land owners – and their stakes would have a tradable capital value. The Garden City Trust would be vested with the land, would commission masterplanning work and then use the equity of the land to raise a Bond to fund the initial investment in infrastructure. Development would take place on a rolling programme with the early land receipts being reinvested. The experience in Holland suggests that such a rolling programme can procure infrastructure investment three times greater that the value of the initial bond.    

We describe the seven ages of the Garden City Trust from its conception and birth through its infancy and adolescence to maturity, middle age and eventually retirement. Over time the role of the trust will evolve as it moves from the development stage to the management phase where it will be structured to enable the local community to take on the stewardship of their neighbourhoods. Rising values over the life of the project will allow initial investments to be repaid. This is not a new model, it is the modern day equivalent of the great estates like Grosvenor or The Bournville Village Trust. 

Our model addresses the weaknesses in the system that have made it so difficult to match the quality of the schemes we admire on the continent. We have debated as a team whether we are being too ambitious with the size of the settlement we are proposing. However nationally we need to increase housing production by the equivalent of one Milton Keynes every year. We therefore need bold strokes to radically increase the rate at which we are building and Uxcester provides a model to do just this. 

For more information on URBED and the submission, click here: http://www.urbed.coop/wolfson-economic-prize

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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