Taunton was awarded Garden Town status in 2017. This brings a unique opportunity to shape the future development of our town.
What is a ‘Garden Town’?
A new generation of Garden Towns and Garden Villages is panned to try to ease the national housing shortage. There is no single guideline or definition of what a garden town is, but in essence these are brand-new housing developments that try to consider green spaces, ecological services and the wider environment as an integral part of a master plan, along with greener transport and infrastructure. Each Garden Town is expected to be different and to respond to local requirements. We can roughly summarise the Garden Town ambition as “sustainable, good quality homes in a sustainable, good quality environment.” That’s the intention – the execution, however, is a different matter!
Where does Taunton fit in with this?
In 2016 Taunton Deane Borough Council (as it then was) made a submission to Government for Taunton to be granted ‘Garden Town’ status, and it was achieved in early 2017. This freed up funding to speed up housing, planning and infrastructure in the town. Fundamentally, it means a huge expansion of house-building: it was announced around this time that 13,000 new homes were planned for Taunton, with brand new communities outlined for several areas, including Cheddon Fitzpaine, West Monkton, Comeytrowe and Trull.
Why is Arts Taunton involved?
The largest expansion of Taunton for many generations is planned and we are campaigning for the arts to be a fully integrated part of the town’s future development. Arts and culture can bring huge economic benefits but perhaps more importantly they can provide a sense of place and identity. Too many developers and planners fail to consider the arts, relying instead on a bolted on, top-down approach that often proves unsustainable. Design is also critical: there can be strong resistance to new housing from existing communities if what is proposed is considered to be poor quality, high density, out of keeping with the area, or generally badly integrated.
What has Arts Taunton done?
In March 2018 we kick-started the Garden Town debate by inviting Nicholas Boys Smith, founding director of urban planning think-tank Create Streets, to discuss how Taunton could take advantage of its ‘Garden Town’ status – and how it could avoid the pitfalls. A summary of the findings of this well received and attended seminar can be read here
In keeping with outcomes from other seminars given by Create Streets, there was a clear consensus in favour of neighbourhoods and buildings with appropriate scale, density and historic context, and for those constructed of local building materials. The importance of design was emphasised, and of engaging local people at the earliest opportunity in the planning process. More information about Create Streets can be found on their website: http://dev.createstreets.com
To kick-start how we think about rejuvenating Taunton’s town centre, we commissioned Create Streets to examine two inner-Taunton sites and draw up proposals as to how they could be rapidly and sensitively rejuvenated. (Please note: these are indicative proposals only and were not sanctioned by the Council or landowners in question). This report gives a clear idea as to how smaller sites can still play a vital role in wider urban renewal. It can be read here
We have met the Somerset West & Taunton (SWAT) Council regularly to emphasise the importance of the arts and design in the plans for the Garden Town, and campaigned for the Council to produce Design Codes for developers. Without this official guidance developers all too often resort to ‘anywhere’ housing design which is often justifiably unpopular. These guides have now been commissioned and are due in the summer of 2019.
Since our seminar, SWAT has produced a draft ‘Vision Document’, outlining ambitious plans for the Garden Town. You can read the document here
Arts Taunton commissioned Create Streets to analyse the ‘Vision Document’. Though broadly supportive of its aims and objectives, a number of concerns were raised about how they can be delivered – and not brushed under the carpet. The report can be read here
We have made submissions to the Glover Review, the Government-commissioned review of all Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and National Parks. Taunton’s position between the Quantocks & Blackdowns AONBs, Exmoor National Park and the Somerset Levels & Moors, as well as its Garden Town status, makes it uniquely placed as a destination for ecological tourism and its associated arts, crafts and culture. We believe this is one of the keys to building a dynamic, sustainable Taunton in the 21st Century. You can read our submission here
We are forming a ‘Design Circle’ to promote the highest quality design in the Garden Town. This group will consist of architects, planners, engineers and other stakeholders, and intends to meet regularly to try to ensure a ‘bottom up’ approach to design and engagement. If you wish to be a part of this group, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your interest in our work. Perhaps now you might like to read about our plans for Creechbarrow Hill, or campaigning for the redevelopment of Firepool.