Town planners back Flintshire's Garden City model

Reporter:

Gwyn Griffiths

It was planned as a model village for workers of the one-time John Summers Steelworks, but the ambitious designs for Garden City near to the Dee were never completed.

Now town and country planners are calling for a revival of the garden city movement – of which the Flintshire settlement was part – in a bid to solve the nation’s chronic housing crisis.

They are to move away from allowing private developers leeway to build expensive executive homes way out of the reach of the purses of most people and instead focus on public sector-led housing developments in “smaller new towns”.

The hope is they can be based on the principles of the garden cities, the green and pleasant settlements which sprung up in the UK in the early part of the 20th century.

By the time bosses at John Summers dreamed up the idea of building homes to rent out to their workers on land at Sealand, the garden city of Letchworth in Hertfordshire had already risen, embracing the values of social reformer Ebenezer Howard.

Soon, 200 miles north work started in earnest on the new homes at Garden City in 1910.

It also took on board the principles of garden city design advocated by Howard, which meant pleasant homes with gardens along tree-lined roads, many of them cul-de-sacs, in an era when most of the working class were living cheek by jowl in back-to-back terraces in nearby Shotton.

But while Leitchworth and Welwyn Garden City expanded to include boulevards and parkways and became large towns, Garden City in Flintshire stalled after its construction was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War.

Only the south-west half of the settlement that was to have been known as Sealand Garden Suburb ever got laid out to the original plans, which would have seen a small town four times bigger mushrooming on the banks of the Dee.

Only 263 homes were built for the workers of the expanding steelworks, although there was housing development at nearby Sealand Manor, where one of the 1930s Welsh Land Settlement projects saw the rehousing of redundant coal miners from the South Wales valleys.

Additional council houses were also built in Garden City in the 1950s and 1960s, but it sadly never achieved the status of the southern towns that became synonymous with the movement and did so much for revolutionising urban planning with housing surrounded by open spaces and public parks.

That ideal is supported by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), which has been heartened by a positive response from the Government over its proposal for a new generation of 21st century garden villages and cities to solve the housing shortage.

Most of these are planned for the south, but Katy Lock, a projects and policy manager at the TCPA, believes there should be an emphasis on the North and Wales too.

“Garden City in Flintshire is part of that rich history of garden cities and what we are saying is that we need to understand how we can plan our current housing along the lines of these places we have built before,” said Katy, who is the co-author of The Art of Building a Garden City: Designing new communities for the 21st century.

“Garden cities were built on sound principles. They were close to where people worked and built of quality materials and are really pleasant places to live.”

Katy’s book details the history of the garden cities and new towns movement in the UK as well as providing a guide to how new garden cities should be delivered.

“After the industrial revolution villages like Bourneville and Saltaire had sprung up and they influenced the garden city movement at places like Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City,” explained Katy.

“Garden City in Flintshire was a private sector development. Other developments around the UK borrowed from the principles of the early garden cities. The concept of the garden city became very popular, but houses weren’t just being built fast enough for the demand.

“We had a severe housing shortage after the Second World War. There was a need for “homes for heroes” and as a result the new town developments overtook the garden city movement.

“Instead of being developed by private sector organisations, these were in the hands of large powerful development corporations – they were upsized in all senses in terms of their size and ambition.”

Locations like Runcorn and Skelmersdale in the North West and Telford in Shropshire proved to be vast overspill developments in the 1960s and 1970s helping to house people from Liverpool and Birmingham respectively.

Some of those new towns have earned their fair share of criticism, with some branded concrete eyesores.

But the TCPA believes the principles of the garden city movement is the way forward to solve not only the housing crisis, but other issues such as climate change and even obesity – by trying to ensure people live closer to where they work.

Katy added: “We think new garden cities should be built by development corporations. There is a lot of poor quality, small, bolt-on housing estates that have sprung up, but they are not meeting housing demand and we need to regenerate existing places and the garden city principles can help that as well as large new towns.

“Garden cities provide a powerful and unique model of development, and are much more than just homes with gardens.

“There is a group of local authorities bringing together a plan for new town development and we think the programme should look at the whole of the UK.”

Designer Wayne Hemingway, who chairs Building For Life, said: “Garden city thinking is rooted in egalitarianism, community participation and good design, which can help to unlock delivery and break down the opposition to the downright ugly estates that have become the calling card of some developers.”

 

Email:

gwyn.griffiths@nwn.co.uk

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