By Andrew Morgan


Published 16 November 2022


Andrew Morgan, Head of Residential Planning at international law firm DAC Beachcroft, considers the value of purpose and the importance of partnership on large schemes. This article first appeared in the November 2022 edition of HBF. 

I recently spoke at a garden communities conference and was inspired to share this poem which captures the ambition at the heart of these projects.

The spirit of structure can’t be foreseen, for somewhere between the architecture and the dream, more than the sum of its parts, somewhere, somehow, the heart. (see below for copyright)

Its sentiments apply to any large scale residential development and the inherent aim of building healthy lives and healthy communities. Creating new homes with this ambition relies on the development of strong partnerships that work across complex chains of interdependencies. Robust legal agreements are a critical foundation for partnerships between council, developers and financiers. The most successful are those built on the more intangible spirit of shared vision.

Communicating this common purpose with the local community will help secure their confidence. Public distrust is frequently a default position, which can derail proposals, even those already part of a strategic plan. Opposition to new homes can also have consequences for much needed infrastructure – new roads, hospitals and schools - that would have benefitted a much wider area. Dysfunctional partnerships and inauthentic visions are easily sensed. The vision needs to have ambition, but it also needs to be achievable.

The partnership with the local community needs to be enduring, if stewardship goals are to be achieved. Common interest groups for residents encourage greater ownership relative to more traditional estate management models. With many residents likely to follow hybrid working patterns, the provision of on-site amenities may become more viable. Creating assets that work for the community embeds commitment; community cafes for example or allotments, which attract a range of ages and incomes.

Garden communities were originally inspired by a desire to improve people’s relationship with the natural world. Large new developments can build this in from the start ,for both an immediate and long term environmental partnership. Nutrient Neutrality and Water Neutrality have added to the challenge and biodiversity net gain becomes mandatory from the end of 2023, marking a step change in the way landscape value must be enhanced and maintained over the long term. Whilst a credit-based system of developer contributions presents a solution for smaller or constrained schemes, the vision and ambition for garden-principle developments must surely be concerned with how they can deal with their environmental impacts within their boundaries.

New standards of measuring corporate success are emerging, with social impact as a key performance indicator. The new communities, new jobs and new standards for healthy lives and healthy environments created by large developments demonstrate that they can change lives for the better.

Copyright@Listener by Lemn Sissay. First published in Great Britain by Canongate Books and seen as part of Poems on The Underground.