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Essex councils join forces in garden communities scheme

The need for more housing is as acute in the east of England as it is anywhere else, and while Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has a new metro mayor to oversee efforts to tackle the issue, different district councils are joining together elsewhere in the region to formulate their own schemes.

In Essex, four councils have got together to draw up plans for a series of 'garden communities', which will see over 40,000 new homes being built using the same principles that underpinned the garden city movement when it first started in neighbouring Hertfordshire in the 19th century.

Many details of the scheme are yet to be finalised, but three sites have already been identified for major new construction projects, ITV News reports.

The largest of them will be West Colchester, which will feature 20,000 properties. Another 13,000 are planned for West Braintree and a settlement of 9,000 is set to be built on the border of Colchester and Tendring.

Getting this scheme off the ground depends on the councils making a successful joint bid for government cash, which means they will have to wait until the election is out of the way. If the money is forthcoming and the scheme goes ahead, it can be expected that the new settlements will become 21st century exemplars of the garden city model, with plenty of green space, cycling and walking routes, and, of course, energy-efficient homes with plenty of insulation.

Indeed, the revival of the garden city model in the 21st century has had many friends in high places. During the days of the coalition government, chancellor George Osborne and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg both declared their support for the idea; Ebbsfleet and Bicester were marked out as the sites for new garden cities.

Since then, a number of new garden towns and even garden villages have been proposed, with these being spread across the country to offer new living options from the far north of England right down to Cornwall. Among the biggest projects seeking the go-ahead is the Hampshire Garden Village, a 6,000-home development located by the town of Welborne and junction 10 of the M27, near Fareham.

That planning application was submitted in mid-March, in the same week that Cardiff City Council gave the green light to its own garden village plan, the Plasdwr development. This will also have 6,000 homes and will be located on the western fringe of the present built-up area.

In the 19th century, garden communities like Letchworth were built outside major cities, but some - like the Hampstead Garden Suburb and Bournville - were absorbed into cities as they spread. While the northward expansion of London and southward spread of Birmingham may have removed any sense of being in a rural elysian, it would not, however, have taken away the benefits of living in a greener and more spacious area. Plasdwr, by contrast, is itself the extension of a city, not something separate to be absorbed into it.

However, while the establishment of a thing called suburbia was a consequence of the garden city movement and also the gradual depopulation of most of the large cities in the 20th century, their modern revival may owe much to a new desire to move away from crowded metropolitan areas: the reversal of population trends in the last 20 years have seen inner city populations soar, but not everyone will relish living in a city centre apartment block.