Garden cities can't solve London's housing crisis either

It won't solve anything: Ebbsfleet, Kent, the site of a proposed garden city. Image: Getty.

London is growing by 100,000 people a year, and the next mayor needs to double housebuilding. It’s tough finding space to do that within London. Could new or expanded towns outside London take some of the strain?

new report by Quod with homelessness charity Shelter finds they could help – but cannot be the only answer.

Garden Cities and New Towns hold an iconic status in the history of town planning, as the grandest of planned urban interventions. There are nine within about 30 miles of London – in and around the Green Belt – that function largely as London overspill/commuter settlements. The oldest, Letchworth and Welwyn were established in 1903 and 1910 respectively, while the rest were allocated shortly after the Second World War.

Others, including Milton Keynes, Northampton, Peterborough and Corby, were established later, are larger and intended to be more independent of London, lying up to 75 miles from the city.

Between them, the population of all thirteen of these new towns today is about the same as the last 12 years of London growth. Every year London has added population equivalent to a town the size of Crawley, Basildon or Stevenage.

The largest and most successful New Town is Milton Keynes. At its peak it was delivering around 2,700 homes a year. To fill the gap in London’s housing supply we would need ten more Milton Keynes, all growing at that rate, in addition to current London housebuilding.

Meeting London’s growth through New Towns would not reduce the need for land, just displace it. And it would require a lot of land – the urban areas of the thirteen new towns in red in the map at the top of the page have a combined population about 15 per cent of London’s, but take up an area equivalent to more than 25 per cent of London.

What’s more, given that the regions around London have their own housing shortfalls to deal with, New Towns would have to deliver a lot before they started to significantly relieve London’s pressures.

Building Garden Cities or New Towns beyond London’s boundaries would of course be outside of the mayor’s planning authority, although the Mayor could be involved in negotiating or even funding them. Unlike other strategic options explored in the Quod/Shelter report, garden cities would therefore rely heavily on either national government intervention to designate sites, or willing local authorities in the South East of England.

New or expanded towns around London would be a helpful, indeed essential, contribution to the current housing shortfall. But we should not kid ourselves that it would avoid the need for much more housebuilding within London too.

Barney Stringer is a director at regeneration consultancy Quod. This article was originally posted on his blog.

The firm’s report, “Brownfield is Not Enough”, published with housing charity Shelter, is available here.


Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.