'Hard-hitting' advice lands on council desk
By Simon Hacker | 19th July 2023
A new approach to the stalled Tewkesbury Garden Town project is now on the cards after a 'hard-hitting' gateway review of the programme.
The scheme, which was approved by the government in 2018, could see more than 10,000 new homes for Tewkesbury and Ashchurch before 2041.
Garden Town status paves the way for the council to be better equipped to meet future housing needs and provide space for new businesses, while preserving the feel of the town. But progress was frozen after the local elections in May when the incoming administration jammed on the brakes.
Cllr Richard Stanley, (Lib Dem, Cleeve West) leader of the council, said at the time: "I want to start this council how we wish to go on: by telling the residents of our borough that we are already listening. This is why we are pausing the Tewkesbury Garden Town programme pending the outcome of a full external review. I am clear that if the Garden Town project is to succeed, it must be done in partnership with the surrounding communities and local parish councils.
Cllr Stanley will now present these proposals, during a meeting of Full Council on July 25th.
He said: "I have to make it clear that without the garden town programme, growth around Ashchurch and Junction 9 will still take place, but with a significant risk of it being uncoordinated, and without the requirements for high-quality housing or joined up decisions about infrastructure. Planned improvements to Junction 9 are reliant on the garden town and any further delay to the programme will threaten their delivery."
The report was carried out by strategic advisers and public relations consultant Cratus, who specialise in advisory support for local councils.
Its review makes 17 recommendations, headed by a call for a "clear and tangible timeline" which needed to be published internally and externally.
The report also advised the council to:
● Use interim skills where vacancies persist
● Ensure that the business case fully aligns with the Local Plan
● Allocate core funding for the Garden Town Team
● Set up a work programme that's appropriate to the objectives for the Garden Town
● Appoint a project manager or suitable provider to oversee the work programme
Cratus also added that there is a need to create an identity for the garden town "rather than treating it as an extension to Tewkesbury" and suggests that naming the town "could form the basis of a re-engagement programme with the community".
It suggested getting schools to hold naming compeitions.
In a statement, the council said: "The review was clear that it found no fundamental concerns with the aims or principles of the garden town, but it contains hard-hitting recommendations to enhance the programme's delivery, particularly regarding community engagement and collaboration with partners and developers.
"The review notes that without a garden town programme to guide sustainable, high-quality housing, there is significant risk of poor-quality, piecemeal development in the area.
"It also highlights the importance of the work the council is doing on the development of a Strategic Framework Plan, which will enable a collaborative approach with developers and communities to designing and building the garden town over the coming decades.
Councillor Stanley added: "With the gateway review into the garden town programme now complete, it confirms my concerns about its progress and delivery. The review provides strong recommendations that will have a fundamentally positive impact on the delivery of the garden town.
"The review signals a fresh start for the garden town programme. We are committed to rebuilding meaningful community engagement with an outward-looking communications strategy, taking account of stakeholders' views and working more closely with developers and landowners."
A fresh approach, he added, "will ensure that development in the garden town area is well-designed and holistically planned to provide new sustainable communities - embracing the local assets that are already enjoyed, and enhancing the natural environment, with a focus on tackling climate change.
"I have already met with locally based developers that are currently engaged with the programme and they want to work with us to make a positive contribution for generations to come. I look forward to working with the full consortium of developers, as well as our parish councils and local residents, with a focus on what we as a community want for our garden town."
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