Last week I attended a Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council organised event called “Healthy Living in the 21st Century – Garden City Visioning Workshop”. The background to this is that Welwyn Garden City will be celebrating its centenary in 2020 and Welwyn Hatfield Council is developing a Local Plan which is expected to give the green light to a number of large new residential developments in the borough. The basic idea of the workshop was to address the question as to whether these new developments could be compatible with Garden City principles.
The event was held at the Focolare Centre for Unity in Welwyn Garden City, which is the “home for the Focolare Movement in Great Britain”. I had never heard of the Focolare Movement but apparently it is “an international movement, inspired by the gospel, working for unity in all spheres of life”. The centre is a great venue for this sort of event and they provided us with a delicious healthy lunch.
I was attending primarily as a representative of WelHatCycling but also as a long time Hatfield resident, Secretary of CycleHerts, a Sustrans volunteer and a cycling representative on the Hertfordshire Local Access Forum.
After coffee and introductions the first presentation was by Katy Lock of the Town and Country Planning Association who explained the Garden city principles. This was new to me and I was surprised at how progressive the principles seemed – here they are in brief:
- Land value capture for the benefit of the community
- Strong vision, leadership and community engagement
- Community ownership of land and long-term stewardship of assets
- Mixed-tenure homes and housing types that are affordable for ordinary people
- A strong local jobs offer in the Garden City itself, with a variety of employment opportunities within easy commuting distance of homes
- Beautifully and imaginatively designed homes with gardens, combining the very best of town and country living to create healthy homes in vibrant communities
- Generous green space linked to the wider natural environment, including a surrounding belt of countryside to prevent sprawl, well connected and biodiversity rich public parks, and a mix of public and private networks of well managed, high-quality gardens, tree-lined streets and open spaces
- Opportunities for residents to grow their own food, including generous allotments
- Strong local cultural, recreational and shopping facilities in walkable neighbourhoods
- Integrated and accessible transport systems – with a series of settlements linked by rapid transport providing a full range of employment opportunities (as set out in Howard’s vision of the ‘Social City’)
The last point was of particular interest to me and in the more detailed version of the principles it says “Walking, cycling and public transport should be the most attractive and prioritised forms of transport in the Garden City”. That is a laudable goal but clearly these are not the most attractive forms in Welwyn Garden City, otherwise more people would be using them.
The second presentation was by Bethan Clemence from Hertfordshire County Council who spoke about the connection between public health and planning. Next there was a workshop session on “Garden City principles and healthy living” where there was general agreement that public health goals were well aligned with Garden City principles. After lunch there were a couple more presentations and a second workshop session looking at “How could Garden City principles be delivered in Welwyn Hatfield”? At this point I gave a plug for two cycling best practice documents from Cambridge. One is the Cycle Parking Guide for New Residential Developments produced by Transport Initiatives LLP and Cambridge City Council (if you want people to cycle then you need to make sure they have secure, convenient and dry cycle storage facilities where they live) and the other is Making Space for Cycling – A guide for new developments and street renewals written by Cambridge Cycling Campaign and published by Cyclenation.
After the wrap-up and plenary I stayed for a while and chatted to various people before cycling back to Hatfield. There was a lot to take in and I am not sure where things go from here but I am glad I went and I made a few new contacts.