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How to build a garden city according to Kent-based Wolfson Economics Prize nominees Chris Blundell of Golding Homes and Huw Edwards of Barton Willmore

By Chris Price

Listening to Chris Blundell and Huw Edwards talk about garden cities is hard work.

They say the devil is in the detail but the thoroughness of both their Wolfson Prize-shortlisted proposals – looking at how to create a viable garden city – left most people in awe at a seminar hosted by Maidstone-based Gullands Solicitors this month.

It is difficult to get perspective on such a big idea, especially when you are being guided through the cash flow and borrowing requirements of a 32,000 population city (that would constitute about 8,000 homes by the way).

Chris Blundell's proposed garden suburb in south east Maidstone

Yet it is equally hard not to be impressed by their passion and commitment.

Of course, you would show commitment if the potential reward at the end was a cheque for £250,000. The Wolfson Prize is the highest value economics competition after the Nobel Prize.

This year’s winner was David Rudlin’s fictional town of Uxcester, with homeless charity Shelter named runner up for their proposed creation of Stoke Harbour on the Hoo Peninsula. Yet to have made the shortlist of five from 279 entries shows our two interviewees know their stuff.

“A garden city is the sort of place your mother might design,” said Mr Edwards, a partner at planning consultancy Barton Willmore, based at their office in Ebbsfleet.

Chris Blundell, left, of Golding Homes and Huw Edwards of Barton Wilmore

“Since the 1950s and 1960s we have lost our ability to plan. I want to put the plan back into planning. It is an opportunity to get back to the origins of place making.”

Mr Blundell, the development and regeneration director of Maidstone-based Golding Homes, said: “A garden city needs to be commercially attractive.

“This means it needs local people looking for a better lifestyle in an area they call home. It also needs young wealth creators looking for a home in a well-designed and sustainable place with a lifestyle to match. And we need young professionals unable to afford a home in London to move there. We need to set our sights high.”

Barton Wilmore’s submission suggests Kent needs at least four garden cities. Meanwhile Mr Blundell’s study looks at what it would take to set up Charthills Green, a 5,000-home dwelling about a mile south of Junction 8 of the M20, near Maidstone.

Barton Wilmore partner Huw Edwards speaks at Gallagher Stadium

It was poignant their presentations were given at the Gallagher Stadium in Maidstone, where planning officials have often been accused of nimbyism when it comes to building new homes and places to work.

Mr Blundell pulled no punches when making the case for a garden city in the area. As part of his plans, he puts forward a transport interchange for Maidstone where the domestic rail and high speed rail lines converge north of Junction 8 of the M20.

He said: “Prosperity passes by Maidstone at high speed several times a day because we are disconnected from the high-speed rail network. We have an opportunity to address this.

“We need to make garden cities less party-political. They need a 10, 20, 30-year plan – not just four to five years of whoever is in government..." - Barton Willmore's Huw Edwards

“The most recent planning review from the borough council identified there is a daily commuting population from Maidstone to London of 7,200 people. I suspect that is an under-estimate.

“London is the beating heart of the economy of the UK. If their economy catches a cold we catch something a lot worse. Local people are not going to London because of the pleasure of the 07:43 from Maidstone East to Victoria but because they get a better quality of life for them and their families.”

Yet designing a good garden city is about “reflecting and respecting the character and traditions of a local area”, according to Mr Blundell.

A large proportion of homes need to be self-built to keep a garden city sustainable and he also believes there needs to be compensation for everyone uprooted by any development.

His worst fear is “growth by encrustration”, tacking communities onto the edge of other conurbations.

Yet Mr Edwards laments that most local authorities are doing their own thing when it comes to housebuilding “with no consideration of the areas around them”.

He said: “We need to make garden cities less party-political. They need a 10, 20, 30-year plan – not just four to five years of whoever is in government.

“They should be location-led. The best-connected areas have the most potential for growth.

“To start we need smaller scale garden communities which grow from 5,000 homes to 8,000, then 10,000 then 15,000.”

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