A New Great City for Great Britain | Oscar Cullinan
The United Kingdom faces an undeniable housing crisis, only set to worsen over the coming decades. While the problem is complex, a lack of sufficient housing supply is the central crux of the issue. Current ‘solutions’ to the shortage of housing generally revolve around affixing large housing estates onto the outskirts of existing settlements. Not only does this involve needlessly tearing up countryside and debasing the existing local community, but it’s a fundamentally short-term solution to the problem. With these kinds of developments, intense logistical strain is placed upon local infrastructure and public services. Schools run out of places, hospitals become overburdened, and public transport struggles; all of which naturally lowers the quality of life of local citizens. This method of increasing the housing supply is simply untenable, and is detrimental to our national culture, as local people become increasingly disconnected from their community.
Those who challenge this style of development are often blindly dismissed as ‘NIMBYs’, and considered to be selfish and unprogressive. Is it then ‘progressive’ to decimate natural ecosystems, nullify what makes local communities special, and make daily life worse for local people? No, it isn’t, and neither is it conservative. I wholly accept the need for more housing across the country, but this cannot involve absurdly sacrificing rural communities. My proposal is a solution that will meet the need of more housing, while simultaneously protecting existing settlements from inappropriate developments.
What I propose is the foundation of a new City, the first to be built from scratch in the United Kingdom. The new City would be able to accommodate a population of at least one million, meeting the needs of Britain’s growing housing demand in a single settlement. This new City will represent Britain’s aspirational nature, creating huge economic opportunities for British companies. It will have a hugely positive impact on both the local region, and the wider country. There is no greater or bolder project than this. It would truly exemplify what makes Britain great.
The concept of new-build settlements is admittedly controversial, which is understandable considering the very mixed history of planned communities in Great Britain. The ‘New Towns Act’ of 1946 was introduced under Attlee, intended to replace homes destroyed during the Second World War. Several further Acts enabled the creation of new settlements, increasingly to tackle population overspill from London. This ultimately produced 27 ‘new towns’, some now as large as 200,000 citizens. The most notable ‘new town’ is Milton Keynes, which persistently suffers from a number of planning issues, over 45 years after its creation. Similar issues exist in a handful of other ‘new towns’, largely due to insufficient infrastructure and layout problems. The weaknesses in these past new settlements provide valuable lessons to be considered when undertaking future developments. For example, the Milton Keynes grid system, which focuses the town on roads rather than buildings, shouldn’t be employed in the new city. Settlements should always be primarily focused on their inhabitants and community, not simply providing a bigger transport network. While to expect the new City to be perfect would be unrealistic, detailed planning that reflects upon previous developments can evade major long-term issues and ensure that the new City stands the tests of time.
Readers may also be averse to the project because of concerns over a sprawling modernist metropolis, aesthetically vulgar and culturally deficient. But that is not what I propose- quite the opposite. Founding a new city provides the ability to employ the majestic traditions of classical architecture, building in the likeness of picturesque cities like York and Bath. The experimental town of Poundbury, designed by the Prince of Wales, proves that traditional architecture and gentle urban density can happily co-exist. Creating beautiful cityscapes is achievable, provided that architectural cohesion is a major priority. There are naturally also significant welfare benefits of building a well-designed settlement. Citizens will benefit from being surrounded by attractive and intelligent architecture, as it can inspire individuals and build communities. A careful fusion of traditional architecture and modern technology will create a city that is both aesthetically charming and brilliant to live in. Integrating cultural elements in the City, such a libraries and theatres, will also help establish a vibrant community, providing further welfare benefits to inhabitants. The core philosophy of the design will be to maximise the welfare of the population, whilst drawing on traditional architectural practices.
Truly great projects must also do something great to improve Britain, and building a new City is not solely a solution to a current political problem. It also presents a fantastic opportunity for Britain to regain some of its former eminence. London was once the greatest city in the World, the undeniable centre of developed civilisation, respected and envied by international allies and rivals alike. But over the last century it has become a chaotic and overexpanded shambles, increasingly a logistical nightmare. I would go so far to say that London is no longer even the greatest city in Britain, beaten in terms of both beauty and functionality. This project provides the opportunity to build a new great City that all Britons can be proud of, that will help restore our international reputation as a nation of significance. It’s time for Great Britain to bounce back, and this project will help deliver on that.
The economic case for this project is also clearly strong. Firstly, building this new City will create initial jobs for the construction period of 7 to 10 years. Once built, it will constitute a new economic hub, with capable infrastructure that will help accelerate prosperity. The new City will be ready to both facilitate the growth of British firms, and attract foreign companies to the region. In turn, the economic prosperity will create thousands of jobs, and power a continual cycle of investment into the City. By involving British businesses at the very first stage of the project, playing a crucial role in the project’s development, it will start to build a new economic powerhouse. If Britain is to rival the growing economies of the World, we need ambitious economic projects like this.
In terms of feasibility, the notion of building a City from scratch is both plausible and tested. In the last few decades, a number of new cities have been built, mainly across Africa and South Asia. These cities have overwhelmingly been resounding successes, delivering economic prosperity and new housing for thousands of families. A clear indicator of the strength of the concept are current plans to build a similar new City in the United States. The planned construction of Belmont (in Arizona) is backed by major American business leaders, such as Bill Gates, showing that the concept holds water. City creation is a plausible plan to address population problems across the Western World, and one that Britain should employ.
The project would be an enormous undertaking, with the most significant challenge being securing funding to build the City. Assuming a population of one million citizens, the projected cost would be between £75 billion and £100 billion. The strongest solution would be a financial model which splits funding between the Government and British contractors, to utilise the merits of private enterprise. With the revenue generated by home sales, even at a state-subsidised level, the majority of capital costs would be covered, reducing the final cost to the Government. By utilising a fusion of funding sources, the project will also be firmly cemented in place, resistant to short-term changes in the political landscape.
Ultimately this project is about two crucial things. Firstly, it is about finding an elegant solution to a major political problem, that of the housing crisis. And secondly, it is about refocusing Britain’s future, with the most significant infrastructure project in our nation’s history. Britain must find again our sense of ambition if we are to progress as a nation. We need a re-discover what makes Britain truly special. This project, a new great City for Great Britain, will deliver just that.