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Last updateTue, 24 May 2022 10am

So what’s the real Big Idea - back to the past with a garden; or onward into the future at Crewe?

Construction National blog logoSo garden cities are the new vogue in housebuilding policy announcements. On 16 March Chancellor George Osborne announced that a new garden city was to be built at Ebbsfleet in Kent, providing 15,000 new homes on brownfield land.

The development will be driven forward by a new development corporation – a ‘Garden City’ Development Corporation – similar to those that oversaw development in areas such as the London Docklands and the various New Towns of the 1980s. One of this writer’s first jobs in publishing was on a publication covering the Warrington and Runcorn Development Corporation’s area of influence. That, of course, was not a garden city, although it is not a million miles from one of the pioneering ventures in the movement: Lord Leverhulme’s Port Sunlight.

The original garden city concept grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement and was a reaction to the grim Victorian tenements and terraces. It is, one would be forgiven for thinking, a tad socialist for our current Chancellor. But George is really reacting to an idea already in the arena. On 20 November Labour’s shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds put forward a plan for a new generation of new towns and garden cities at the AGM of the Town and Country Planning Association – the successor to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities Association.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with one party taking up another’s idea: if it’s a good one. The big difference right now is that George Osborne is in a position to deliver. The question is whether Ebbsfleet is part of a vanguard or purely a one-off bonfire piddler. Time will tell.

• The Ebbsfleet development will be centred on the town’s high-speed rail station, part of HS1. The row about HS2, meanwhile, continues to cast a shadow over the overhaul of the country’s infrastructure. New infrastructure is the base to the housing development pizza, of course, and provides the real driver for the industry. While the case for the current format of HS2 is far from made, and there are debates over alternatives, the industry needs a little more certainty if the recent stirrings of recovery are not to be abruptly buffered.

Both sides of the argument have been aired in the past couple of days. The chairman of HS2, Sir David Higgins, called for the project to be accelerated, with a new hub in Crewe completed by 2027. That, says Sir David, would allow for completion of the project by 2030. He outlined the proposal in a report to government called HS2 Plus.

That was followed by a report on the BBC that residents of Camden are worried about the scale of development at Euston Station proposed by Sir David in that same report. It is almost unprecedented for people in a city to object to a major economic development project.

• On the subject of major and transformational building projects, a fantastic new virtual atlas has been published that highlights what the publishers have decreed to be the world’s 3,000 finest buildings. Created by Phaidon Press, the Phaidon Atlas is a treasure trove of information and stunning images of the world’s architectural wonders. It is a bit of a wonder itself, offering the chance to enter the buildings and even create your own atlas.

Of the 3,000 buildings listed, 289 are in the British Isles. The choice is catholic in terms of function: in Manchester alone the list includes the new court complex, the City of Manchester Stadium and a social housing project.

Get a free trial at

Chris Stokes