England’s new garden villages and towns risk becoming car-dependent commuter estates, a report has warned.

The government promised the sites would be thriving communities – with jobs, shops and recreational facilities.

But research has suggested the garden villages may be little better than edge-of town estates they were supposed to supersede.

The government said the report was unfair because the settlements were still in their early stages.

But the researchers said they believed the 20 garden communities they assessed – still in various stages of the planning process – would create up to 200,000 households dependent on driving.

The report has come from Transport for New Homes, a group promoting alternatives to the car.

It has been supported by the RAC Foundation, which said most drivers did not want to need a car to visit the corner shop.


Walking routes that abruptly end are highlighted as features of developments that make car use more likely

The garden village concept was devised to overcome problems of local resistance to housing estates bolted on to small towns.

The government’s prospectus said these should be largely self-sustaining and genuinely mixed-use, with public transport, walking and cycling enabling access to jobs, education and services.

But the report found that:

  • All settlements but one failed to provide access to amenities with safe walking and cycling routes and a railway station within a mile of all new homes
  • Residents in one garden village may have to walk up to seven miles to buy a pint of milk
  • None of the 20 settlements would provide all-week bus services to all households through the day
  • Cycle routes from the garden villages into nearby towns would often be long and dangerous.

One author, Jenny Raggett, said: “Garden villages were put forward as an alternative to characterless estates – but they may well end up with more tarmac than garden.”

She said this was especially regrettable as the coronavirus outbreak had prompted more people to walk and cycle – a move that was being encouraged by the government.

TRANSPORT FOR NEW HOMES Walking and cycling would be easier on well-designed and maintained routes and paths

Steve Gooding, RAC Foundation director, said: “The vision is laudable but is at grave risk of being missed. The reality looks set to ingrain car dependence.

“Many of us will still wish to own and use our cars… but we don’t want to be forced to get behind the wheel for every trip we make.”

The report’s authors singled out Long Marston, a proposed 3,500-home Garden Village in Warwickshire. As a former airfield it was categorised as a “brownfield” site, which would help secure planning approval.

The developers’ prospectus said: “Long Marston Airfield will provide opportunities to live, work and socialise, all within 10 minutes of historic Stratford.”

The report’s authors agreed the trip to Stratford was indeed 10 minutes – so long as you had a car.

They said there was no evidence the village would create employment, and they believed it would not be big enough to support a full range of facilities.

Mike Emett from Cala Homes told BBC News: “It’s on a brownfield site in the countryside, so by definition it’s not near any town.

“We are having a debate ourselves whether the settlement will be big enough to support higher facilities such as a secondary school”.

TRANSPORT FOR NEW HOMES Homes with little or no garden space were highlighted as being against the ethos of a garden village or town

A government spokesperson said: “Many of these settlements are in their early stages and we are continuing to work with local partners to get the right infrastructure in place.”

He said the majority of new garden communities on green field sites would have more than 40% of their area given over to green space accessible to all by foot and cycle.

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