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URBED’s David Rudlin scoops Wolfson Economic Prize 2014 with Garden Cities proposal

A proposal to allow existing towns and cities to bid for urban growth by becoming Garden Cities has won the £250,000 Wolfson Economics Prize 2014.
The proposal was developed by David Rudlin of urban design and research consultancy URBED, and was prepared in collaboration with Dr Nicholas Falk, also of URBED; Peter Redman, of TradeRisks Ltd; and Jon Rowland of Jon Rowland Urban Design. The winning proposal also had input from Manchester University’s Joe Ravetz.
The idea is that by enabling around 40 existing urban settlements in England – such as Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Rugby, Reading and Stafford – to nearly double in size, they could provide new homes for up to 150,000 people per town over the next 30-35 years. Rudlin’s submission imagined a fictional town called Uxcester to develop the concept. It argues that expansion of existing towns is the best way to accommodate growth, regenerate town centres, and protect much-loved countryside and the setting of surrounding villages.
The key to enabling urban expansion, while protecting the countryside, is the Garden City aspect. The Wolfson prizewinner argues that a Garden Cities Act should be introduced by the next government to enable existing towns and cities to bid for the status.
Rudlin picked up the cheque at the gala dinner and awards ceremony last night in central London, where the winners were announced. The Garden City proposal beat of 279 contenders, including the charity Shelter, which had to make do with the second prize of a not-to-be-sniffed-at £50,000.
“I am delighted that our distinctive approach to building Garden Cities has been recognised by the judges, as will the good people of the fictional city of Uxcester that we created for the submission,” said Rudlin. “We believe that the expansion of existing places like Uxcester to create Garden Cities has the potential to make a significant contribution to meeting our housing needs as well as creating places that are attractive and popular, and that fulfil their economic potential.”
Founder of the Prize, Lord Simon Wolfson of Aspley Guise, said: "We urgently need to build more houses and great places in Britain. I am delighted that this year’s Wolfson Economics Prize has generated so many powerful and creative proposals for new garden cities. David’s entry is a tour de force of economic and financial analysis, creative thinking and bold, daring ideas. I congratulate him and his team on a fantastic contribution to the debate on how we can deliver great new places for future generations to live, work and play in.”
Key points Of Rudlin’s winning submission include:

  • Towns should be permitted to bid for Garden City status and should not have expansion imposed upon them; the processes for bidding would be set out in a new Garden Cities Act
  • The Act would allow the Government to confer new delivery tools upon successful bidders – including financial guarantees (but not subsidy) and modernised land acquisition powers; and the power to create local Garden City Foundations to promote each garden city. The Act would also include a new statutory requirement to plan responsibly for housing development at the local authority level, with garden city status being one of the options that local authorities could draw upon to meet that need
  • Expansion would take the form of town extensions connected to the city centre by a tram or bus rapid transit (similar to that operating in Cambridge), with each extension consisting of green, walkable neighbourhoods with primary schools, business uses, and local shops, drawing on modern Scandinavian, Dutch and German models
  • Development of flood plains would be entirely avoided in the design of the settlement and extensions would be surrounded by country parks, allotments, lakes and other low impact uses
  • The financial model shows how a modern tram scheme could be delivered to serve the new garden city, of the sort that most other European cities of the size of Uxcester would feel entitled to
  • The expanded garden city would provide a new population who would use the town centre, helping to regenerate its shopping facilities and protecting it against out-of-town retail
  • The financial model show that for every plot developed, the same area again could be allocated for parks and gardens which are publicly accessible to the whole community rather than kept in private hands
  • 20% of new homes would be affordable housing
  • The overwhelming majority of Green Belt land (if the town has a Green Belt) would be protected and enhanced

In an Appendix to the entry contributed by Dr Falk, he applied the Uxcester concept to Oxford (2011 population: 150,000) as a case study. The study argued that if Oxford does not grow, Oxford University’s position as one of the top three in the world could be lost. It described the county council’s acceptance that 100,000 new homes are needed in the county by 2031 with Oxford itself in need of 28,000 new homes by 2026. It notes that Oxford City Council has recently published an informal assessment of the potential to release Green Belt land, but proposes an alternative strategy involving no use of flood plains and the protection of some smaller villages near Oxford which would otherwise be developed.
Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said of the case study: “Oxfordshire is thriving. As a result, our population is growing and we face some big challenges. Our economic plan proposes that 80,000 new jobs and 100,000 new homes need to be built by 2031 across the county. Therefore , we cannot rely on small, short-term fixes – we need to think of larger, bolder solutions. We welcome the stimulus that the Wolfson Economics Prize has given to this debate.”

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