Monday, January 2, 2017

'Garden villages' as a housing solution?

This post is prompted by an article in the Guardian about the government's plan to create 14 new 'garden villages' in different areas of England from Cornwall to the north-west (though excluding Scotland and Wales) and build a total of 48,000 new homes. Many of the proposed developments will be on green field sites and away from existing towns and villages.

Among the 800 readers' comments already registered - mostly not in favour of the proposals - many complain about the lack of infrastructure in the plans, and the need for new roads, railway lines, stations, shopping and other facilities, as would-be residents would need to commute to work, shop and enjoy their leisure in the nearest town. 

Writing from France, it is interesting to contrast this proposal with concerns about the decline of many French small towns and villages, as many younger people leave to find work in Paris, Lyon, Toulouse and the other major conurbations, and farmers are leaving the land. As a result many surviving villages are left without shops and other basic facilities and are populated by older people and owners of second homes during the high season. 

What many of the Guardian commentators also suggest is that more emphasis should be placed on protecting and preserving town centres, where many properties above offices and shops lie empty, former factories and warehouses could be re-develeoped for housing, and older properties renovated instead of being demolished - offering homes nearer to where the jobs are, and reducing the need for daily commuting from outside town and creating additional problems of traffic congestion (on roads and rail in London) and pollution (Paris).  

The neglect of town centres leads in turn to unoccupied shops and the shift of commerce to the huge out-of-town shopping centres that continue to appear in both Britain and France, even though their decline is well documented in America. 

And talking of the USA reminds me of a very interesting programme on French TV (Channel 22 'Renovation impossible') which documents how  it is possible to purchase for less than  $1000 a rundown wooden house, which is then transported by road for around a further $5000 to the desired site and renovated for an average $15,000 and is ready for re-occupation - a new home for under $30,000. Most of the properties shown are large enough to provide a living area with open-plan kitchen, one to two bedrooms, and a bathroom/WC. Sold at auction they attract mainly young married couples just starting out or elderly couples looking to downsize in retirement.

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