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Development partner selected for garden village project

A development partner has been chosen for a planned garden village of 5,000 homes at Uttlesford in Essex.

Grosvenor Britain and Ireland has been selected by Great Chesterford District Council to push the project forward, with the property firm having previously worked on major new developments in Oxford and Cambridge. It will work alongside planning and building consultants Bidwells.

Located in the north-east of the county by the border with Cambridge, the new village will cover 250 hectares and include a new 'Water Meadows' public park and several cycling and walking routes.

The concept of the garden city is not a new one. Back in Victorian times, pioneering town planner Ebenezer Howard designed Letchworth in Hertfordshire as a green, spacious town that offered an alternative concept to the sprawl, cramped housing and pollution of nearby London.

Times have changed, of course, with London less polluted and not quite as cramped, even if it is still very densely populated in places. The capital even has a hint of the garden city concept within its own boundaries, the Hampstead Garden Suburb, just as the garden city concept used for what was once the village of Bournville - built by the Cadbury family for its chocolate factory workers - was subsequently absorbed into Birmingham.

In this century, the idea of the garden city is being used as a means of tackling the housing shortage while also promoting spacious, green communities. As well as being lush and spacious, they are also designed to be more user-friendly for pedestrians and cyclists, while the locations chosen for them are aimed at curbing shortages in supply.

While the coalition government pushed the idea through new garden cities at places like Ebbsfleet and Bicester, it is the smaller garden towns of around 10,000 and garden villages of just a few thousand that have attracted the attention of many planners. The design principles are the same; it is only the scale that differs. North Uttlesford fits this model - small and modest, yet offering the same focus on space and high-quality living.

Naturally enough, it can be expected that the homes will be modern and well-insulated, ensuring that as modern, contemporary dwellings they are exemplars of green living as well as enjoyable living.

However, the sheer need for new homes is as much a factor as any in the development of new garden settlements, with North Uttlesford among three garden villages planned in Essex.

Director Alex Robinson said: "The country’s housing shortage is threatening our ability to provide homes for the next generation. We must respond not just with more housing units, but great places that are home to people of mixed incomes, backgrounds and life stages.

"Closer, creative collaboration is required and I look forward to working with the parish council, the district council and the local community to develop these proposals."

Of course, getting new garden communities built is not always easy. While urban councils have few problems re-using brownfield land and can often build there to a high density - there's not much of the garden village about city centre apartment towers - the task of establishing new communities in rural areas is often made harder by local opposition.

So it is with the proposed new Essex villages. The StopNUGV pressure group, which has drawn objectors from both sides of the county boundary, has argued against the development on the grounds that it would place a strain on local services and amenities, as well as changing the character.

Whether one chooses to dismiss this as 'nimbyism' or not, such opposition may at least delay the project. However, unless a strong enough case can be built to prevent it, developments of this kind may soon be commonplace, giving Ebenezer Howard's 19th century idea a 21st century flavour.