New kind of town

Ebenezer Howard \ Credit Wikimedia Creative Commons :

Camilla Ween and Brian Q Love outline a plan for eco-social cities based on Ebenezer Howard’s pioneering ideas

The ConnectedCities growth model is based on Ebenezer Howard’s Social City/   Garden City, which reframed urbanisation so people could live in close proximity to green space and clean air. ConnectedCities is a rail-centre model for the 21C, to tackle the current housing crisis and particularly the need for affordable homes, in a manner that is compatible with Climate Action commitments. It proposes that growth should occur along existing rail corridors; connected by ‘metrorail’. Medium sized towns, no more than a fifteen-minute rail journey apart, would voluntarily combine to jointly plan their growth. New stations would be created at appropriate points along the existing railway, around which new towns of up to 30,000 residents could be developed. A cluster of such towns, old and new, forms a ConnectedCity. These cities would not all be built from scratch, but would be a blend of what already exists together with new sustainable development.
As rail is the least polluting form of transport, it is proposed that the UK rail network could form the catalyst for green growth (both economic and housing). It is vital to provide better local rail services to uplift local connectivity and UK productivity, and also to incentivise a modal shift away from cars to achieve Net Zero.

The ConnectedCity

The vision is for compact, high quality, walkable developments focused around existing (as well as new) railway stations. Groups of settlements, linked by the existing rail corridors, cluster around a “hub town”, which acts as the “heart” of the ConnectedCity . Around existing stations density would be increased, and compact new settlements would be added around new stations. Most people would live a short walk and/or a brief train ride from all resources and amenities such as commerce, employment, entertainment, healthcare, and education.

The decision to become a ConnectedCity would be community led and not imposed from above. This growth model avoids sprawl of cities and towns and preserves the existing character of existing towns and villages and the pattern of small settlements in the countryside.

Land Assembly and ownership

ConnectedCities would be financially long-term self-sustaining, in that land would not be sold, but rented on a three thousand year lease. Housing sites would be made available to builders (allowing for self-build, small or volume house builders) on condition that houses are built and rent is paid within three years. A development corporation would own the land in perpetuity and ensure retention of affordable homes, thus breaking the link between house prices and land prices. The rents (linked to the average national wage index) would fund infrastructure requirements and maintenance costs in perpetuity.

The future Great British Railways has suggested the railways will be green, equitable and underpin Net Zero commitments. The rural rail system has much spare capacity and there are excellent opportunities between pinch-points, for groups of towns to be established, connected by reliable modern rail services (coined as “Metroisation” of rail). Enhancing local rail services will be an essential part of achieving Net Zero, as it is road trips between 3Km and 25Km that account for most transport GHG emissions.

Linking towns of a ConnectedCity with an upgraded rail system enables them to function as an interdependent whole, bringing the benefits of higher GVA, reduced emissions and improved health.


To enable the process, a new Cities act would need to draw together existing legislation such as rail devolution and locally led development corporations.

The Labour Party proposes a new generation of New Towns to address housing supply and boost the economy; the ConnectedCities model could be an easy starting point, building on Labour’s successful history of delivering new towns. By making the existing New Towns the Hub towns of new ConnectedCities, much countryside will be spared from sprawl development.

The process builds on current trends: Network Rail recently declared: ”during the last spending period we have facilitated the building of over 17,000 homes through land sales, building joint ventures and by unlocking developments around railway stations. In comparative terms that would make us one of Britain’s top housebuilders.…”

Of the existing New Towns, fourteen are in the North of England, Scotland, and Wales. The ConnectedCities approach would boost the benefits of Northern Powerhouse Rail, starting with the Transpennine Upgrade.

In the South, ConnectedCities can solve the “steaming ahead places” of “high growth and income but over-priced and over-congested housing and transport” identified in the Levelling Up Report by supplying additional housing that does not generate more car use.

Labour needs a strategy which integrates growth targets and climate strategies. It can deliver one by engagement with Community, Central and Local government and a nationally owned Great British Rail.

Camilla Ween and Brian Q Love work for ConnectedCities

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