What are Garden Communities?

In line with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) guidelines of March 2016, garden communities are strategic, larger-scale new developments of 1500 or more dwellings. They may form an extension to an existing town and/or a new settlement. Detailed guidance on the different types of garden community and their associated specifications and requirements is widely available; this guide seeks to formulate a vision and guidance applicable to the planning and design of all such developments.

Garden communities represent a significant change in the traditional approach to delivery of major and strategic development. The garden community was founded on the principles of community inclusion and walkable, sociable, vibrant neighbourhoods. Communities should be holistically and comprehensively developed, with a distinct identity that responds directly to their context. They should be of sufficient scale to incorporate a range of homes, employment opportunities, green space and other uses, thereby enabling residents to meet the majority of their daily needs in the local area and reducing the need to commute elsewhere.

Designed for the 21st century, garden communities seek to reflect and respond to the opportunities afforded to place-making, living and working from technology and data, while addressing the challenges and opportunities represented by climate change and climate resilience respectively. In a notable deviation from standard development approaches, the planning, promotion and development of garden communities is led by local councils in partnership with existing and new communities and the private sector.

There is no single, definitive model for garden communities. However, there is an overarching ambition to create strong, healthy new communities set within a sustainable economy. The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has already developed a set of Garden City Principles, which draw upon successful earlier models exemplified in places such as Letchworth. North Essex Garden Communities (NEGC) has also developed and agreed a set of principles. This guide will therefore avoid drawing up a separate list of principles in favour of setting out a vision of what garden communities could and should seek to achieve, at a range of scales.

The principles set out by the aforementioned organisations focus on the following themes and are expected to form a core part of the design principles of any future garden community or large urban extension in Essex. It is worth noting that these principles have already been embraced by and are being applied to many of the emerging garden communities; for more details on the charter and its contents, refer to the PDF found in the downloads section at the foot of this page.

Green Infrastructure

Garden communities will provide a generous amount of green space. They will be set within a multifunctional and integrated natural environment, providing space for nature, making their communities more resilient to climate change, promoting healthy lifestyles and creating beautiful places to live and work.

Integrated and Sustainable Transport

Garden communities will be planned around a step-change in integrated and sustainable transport systems for the North Essex area, which will put walking, cycling and public transport at the heart of development and be delivered in a timely manner, to support communities as they grow. 

Employment Opportunities

Garden communities will seek to provide access to one job per household within the community or within a short distance travelling by public transport. The employment function will be a key component of creating character and identity and sustainable communities.

Living Environment

Inclusiveness and walkable, sociable, vibrant neighbourhoods will be defining characteristics of garden communities. A diverse mix of homes responding to existing and future local needs will be provided alongside a range of community services – including health, education, leisure and recreation, culture and shopping. 

Smart and Sustainable Living

Planned for the 21st century, garden communities will take a smart and sustainable approach that fosters resilient environments and communities, able to respond positively to changing circumstances. They will embrace innovation and technology so as to achieve resource efficiency, a higher quality of life and healthier lifestyles – thereby creating the conditions for sustainable living. 

Good Design

Through planning and design to development and construction, garden communities should benefit from the highest quality of design and attentive management of the built and public realm. Existing local assets will be captured to help create distinctive places.

Community Engagement

Garden communities are locally-led initiatives, and their development will be shaped through engaging existing communities and emerging new communities. Residents will be empowered to contribute to shaping the future of North Essex. 

Active Local Stewardship

Garden communities will be developed and managed in perpetuity with the direct involvement of their residents and businesses. Residents will be directly engaged in the long-term management and stewardship, fostering a shared sense of ownership and identify. 

Strong Corporate, Political and Public Leadership

Through this guide, Essex hopes to provide a vision for garden communities and a commitment to their long-term success. Central to this will be a commitment to high-quality place-making, timely infrastructure provision and achieving a steady pace of housing and employment delivery. This should be accompanied by clear leadership on delivering the vision, as well as both corporate and public leadership levies.

Healthy New Town Principles

New housing offers the opportunity to embed and encourage healthier behaviors by design. The connectivity and layout of new developments can help to prevent ill health and encourage greater independence and self-care.

The Healthy New Towns programme has emerged from this premise, with a mission to support the creation of healthy neighborhoods and new towns across the country.

There is no single, simple formula for a ‘healthy new town’; they are the product of careful attention paid to a huge number of factors including (but not limited to) service redesign and integration, active travel infrastructure, behaviour change and healthy food options.

In Essex, the most significant opportunity to use good planning and place-making to meet the propositions put forward by the Healthy New Towns programme comes in the form of garden communities. Through a ‘clean-slate’ approach to design, the relevant design principles can be robustly applied. Garden communities allow for the development of healthy new towns by:

  • actively promoting and enabling community leadership and participation in the planning, design and management of buildings, facilities and the surrounding environment and infrastructure – thereby improving health and reduce health inequalities;
  • reducing health inequalities by addressing wider determinants of health, such as the promotion of high-quality local employment, affordable housing, environmental sustainability, education and skill development;
  • providing convenient and equitable access to innovative models of local healthcare and social infrastructure, with the promotion of self-care and prevention of ill health;
  • providing convenient and equitable access to a range of interesting and stimulating open spaces and natural environments (‘green’ and ‘blue’ spaces), while providing informal and formal recreation opportunities for all age groups;
  • ensuring that developments embody the principles of lifetime neighbourhoods and promote independent living;
  • promoting access to fresh, healthy and locally sourced food (i.e. via community gardens, local enterprise etc.) and managing the type and quantity of fast-food outlets;
  • encouraging active travel, ensuring that cycling and walking are safer and more convenient alternatives to the car for journeys within and outside of the development, and providing interesting and stimulating cycleways and footpaths;
  • creating a safe, convenient, accessible, well-designed built environment with interesting public spaces and social infrastructure, thereby encouraging community participation and social inclusion for all parts of the population;
  • embracing the Smart Cities agenda by incorporating and futureproofing for new technology and innovation – thereby improving health outcomes both at an individual level and within the public realm; and
  • ensuring workplaces, schools, indoor and outdoor sports and leisure facilities, the public realm and open spaces are designed to promote active and healthy lifestyles, including regular physical activity, healthy diet and positive mental health.

For more information, refer to the ‘Healthy New Towns’ information provided by the NHS and the Design Council.

Improved Design through Innovation

Ebenezer Howard’s late 19th-century garden city model was socially and environmentally innovative, with high-quality design central to its success. The Local Plan-led new communities planned for the 21st century should foster similar innovation in design and make use of rapidly advancing technologies to apply such principles in a contemporary context. It is important that we set the highest standards for these new communities so as to meet their future needs, while retaining for the present day the scale and ambition exhibited by the movement’s founders.


Page updated: 9/02/2018


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