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The large landowner as a visionary planner

Lord Salisbury’s contribution to shaping the built environment in the county of Hertfordshire
Stéphane Sadoux


The role of large landowners in planning processes has been largely ignored by scholars. This paper aims to fill part of the gap in literature. It focuses on a range of initiatives led by Lord Salisbury in the county of Hertfordshire. It seeks to show that these actions should be examined in the light of strategic planning issues due to the housing shortage, as large landowners are engaged in debates that occur upstream, well before construction effectively takes place. The paper also aims to demonstrate that Lord Salisbury’s initiatives are best understood when they are seen to exemplify a particular vision of human settlements. From a strategic point of view, this view involves the promotion of new settlements as a way of addressing the housing crisis and can thus be seen as a contemporary manifestation of Britain’s long tradition of planned communities. In design terms, it promotes traditional architecture and urbanism. The paper insists on the importance of the networks of stakeholders who share these views, and of the methods that allow them to be implemented.

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1There is no shortage of literature for readers with an interest in urban studies and town planning. Academic specialisation and the increasing complexity of economic, political, social and environmental issues have led scholars to delve into an extensive range of distinct yet complimentary areas of research. In addition, the spectrum of disciplines and fields of study involved in scrutinising urban issues has widened over the years. Notwithstanding this diversity, some recurring themes can be identified in British academic literature: the importance of new communities in the history and future of urban and regional planning is indisputably one of them. Conversely, a number of questions have largely and somewhat conspicuously been overlooked by scholars. A striking example is the role of large landowners in planning and development processes. With few exceptions, academic research has overall ignored these estates, their owners, the strategies that underpin their long-term management and development and their contributions to current planning processes. The Poundbury experiment, led by the Prince of Wales, is of course one notable exception: it has been abundantly discussed by academics and practitioners alike. Yet most of the discussions about this specific development have narrowly focused on subjective matters of aesthetics and have thus overshadowed more profound planning issues. The publication of Davis’s recent inquiry can therefore be praised for demonstrating that great estates can and indeed should be studied in other ways: her piece, which suggests that the Grosvernor Estate in Mayfair can be investigated through the lens of resilience and adaptive capacity (Davis, 2018), has highlighted the need for more research into large estates and their owners, as well as the importance of carrying out this research in an unprejudiced manner.

2This article aims to further our knowledge and understanding of the role of large landowners in planning processes. It focuses on a range of initiatives led by Lord Salisbury, the 7th Marquess of Salisbury, in the county of Hertfordshire. It seeks to show that these actions should be examined in the light of strategic planning issues stemming from housing shortage: large landowners are engaged in debates that occur upstream, well before construction effectively takes place. These discussions have regard to a range of issues, including the allocation of major sites for housebuilding at the regional and county levels. The paper also aims to demonstrate that Lord Salisbury’s initiatives are best understood when they are seen to exemplify a particular vision of human settlements. From a strategic and regional perspective, this view involves the promotion of new settlements as a way of addressing the housing crisis and can thus be seen as a contemporary manifestation of Britain’s long tradition of planned communities. In design terms, this view advocates traditional architecture and urbanism. This paper is not a viewpoint: it will therefore not aim to discuss the appropriateness of traditional design. Rather, it aims to shed light on the range of methods and tools which have been developed and used to promote and implement such a vision. Last but not least, the paper attempts to highlight the importance of networks in architecture and planning: the definition, propagation, and implementation of Lord Salisbury’s vision of human settlements relies on a nexus of individuals and organisations who share his views.

3The paper first provides a brief historical account of past planning and design initiatives in which Lord Salisbury’s family has been involved and shows that he carries on a long tradition. The paper then briefly sets out the context in which Lord Salisbury’s various actions are set and suggests that his various roles and activities have allowed him to act as a convenor of debates related to the accommodation of future housing in the county of Hertfordshire. The paper then investigates the range of methods and tools used to put Lord Salisbury’s vision into practice: particular attention is given to the use of pattern books, which act as frameworks for urban and architectural design. The last part of the paper provides an analysis of two proposed developments in Hertfordshire, on sites which are part of Lord Salisbury’s estate: a new village at Symondshyde and an extension to Welwyn Garden City at Creswick.

4Three main types of material were used for this research. First, a range of planning documents, produced by Welwyn-Hatfield Borough Council, the local planning authority. Second, literature published by or on behalf of Gascoyne-Cecil Estates, the company that manages the Gascoyne-Cecil family’s estates. Third, and most importantly, first-hand accounts provided through a series of interviews that were specifically held for the purpose of this research. The first one was held with Lord Salisbury himself: although his vision of planning and architecture is arguably reflected in the range of projects he is leading, this paper argues that research into his role and intentions cannot merely rely on second-hand accounts. The second interviewee was Anthony Downs, who has been working with Gascoyne-Cecil Estates for two decades and is currently Director of the Estate. The third interview was held with architect and planner Andrés Duany, one of the founders of the North American Congress for New Urbanism, who has collaborated with Lord Salisbury on a number of projects. The fourth and last interview allowed to record the point of view of an academic, Susan Parham, currently director of the University of Hertfordshire’s Urbanism Unit, whose work has in particular focused on new communities in Hertfordshire. Unless otherwise mentioned, the points of view transcribed in this paper are those which were recorded during the interviews.

The county of Hertfordshire: an incubator for visionary planning

5The county of Hertfordshire holds a special place in the history of British planning: it is home to a number of world-famous planned communities which were designed and built throughout the twentieth century. The principles Ebenezer Howard had set out in his ground-breaking book To-Morrow (Howard, 1898) were first put into practice when Letchworth Garden City was founded in 1903. Central to Howard’s spatial vision was the idea that urban growth should be controlled and that human settlements should therefore not exceed a certain size: 58,000 inhabitants for the central garden city and 32,000 for subsequent satellite towns. Rather than allowing existing towns to grow further, he argued that a network of new human settlements should be built: garden cities are thus to be understood as a theory of urbanisation underpinned by urban containment and the planned dispersal of people and activities. Howard’s text and diagrams both show that he paid particular heed to the provision of transport links between various garden settlements and Howard’s in effect pioneered the idea of polycentric urban development: self-sufficiency does not equate isolation. The site chosen to build Letchworth was therefore located on the rail line that already allowed passengers and goods to travel from London to the North of the country. In 1920, building began in Welwyn, the second garden city erected by Howard and his followers, twenty kilometres South of Letchworth, on the same rail line.

6These planned communities were experiments in many respects: they were designed and built on the basis of a holistic approach to human settlements and addressed a wide range of distinct yet interrelated issues. Garden cities were of course an exercise in urban and architectural design. Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, who translated Howard’s ideas into places and buildings, demonstrated the importance of shaping settlements which are responsive to the local context. They also proved that the layout and detailing of public spaces should receive as much attention as that of buildings. Yet Howard’s theory was not merely spatial: by suggesting alternative ways of funding and governing a community, it demonstrated the benefits of thinking about human settlements not only in terms of design but also in relation to long-term management and stewardship.

  • 1 Stevenage and Hatfield are located on the same rail transport link.
  • 2 Following the New Towns Act (1946).

7The planned dispersal of London’s populations and activities initiated by Patrick Abercrombie’s 1944 Greater London plan further strengthened the county of Hertfordshire’s role as an incubator of innovative planning: four of the first generation post-war New Towns were built in Hertfordshire. Stevenage, the first British New Town, was designated in November 1946 and Hemel Hempstead followed a few months later, in February 1947. In May 1948, Hatfield was in turn designated along with Welwyn Garden City, which therefore became a New Town.1 These post-war experiments were led by the government2 rather than Howard’s Garden Cities Association, yet they were arguably still attempts at providing bold solutions to build new homes and stop uncontrolled urbanisation through planned communities. New Towns arguably became demonstrators in their own way. By way of example, Stevenage was not only the first British New Town: it also provided the first ever pedestrian city centre.

8New communities have undoubtedly been one of the most researched themes in the field of planning. The garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn have been abundantly documented and were in fact subject to discussion from the time they were being built, with pieces appearing in a range of journals, not least in the Town Planning Review (See for example Abercrombie, 1910; Reade, 1913). The emergence of planning history as a distinctive field of research in the late 1970s led to the publication of a number of volumes dedicated to garden cities and Howard (such as MacFayden, 1970; Beevers, 1988; Ward, 1992). The three generations of New Towns have also been central to numerous scholarly works and a recent edited volume has proved that we still have much to learn from them (Fée, Colenutt and Coady Schäbitz, 2021). Many authors have examined later new settlements as a continuity of the tradition initiated by Howard’s early twentieth century garden cities (see for example Alexander, 2009; Ward, 2016). In a similar vein, several scholars have sought to demonstrate the relevance of Howard’s principles to address contemporary social, economic and environmental issues: one striking example is Hall and Ward’s widely acclaimed Sociable Cities (Hall and Ward, 1998), published to accompany the centenary of Howard’s book.

The resurgence of new settlements in Britain

9Although the above-mentioned works have examined garden settlements as a precedent, a number of them have tended to suggest that such communities have a future in Britain. Such an approach is unsurprising: in planning and architecture, the past is often viewed as a source of possible lessons and inspirations for design. The recent resurgence of new settlements in Britain however serves to illustrate a crucial question: how is the past actually looked at, understood and used with the intention of addressing contemporary and anticipated issues?

10In 2014, several significant events suggested that new settlements would become front page news. In April, Nick Clegg, the then Deputy Prime Minister of David Cameron’s coalition government, announced that up to three new garden cities would be built in Britain to address the housing shortage: each of them would accommodate over 15,000 homes. The press then reported that Clegg would ‘issue a “call to arm for visionaries” to set out radical plans for new housing schemes” (The Guardian, 2014). Such a choice of words was not trivial: building new homes is notoriously difficult in Britain, particularly in rural areas where populations are reluctant to see new developments appear around their own homes. Clegg’s discourse was ironically reminiscent of Stanley Buder’s thought-provoking account of garden cities, which contributed to underline the role of visionaries who pursued seemingly utopian ideals (Budler, 1990). A few months later, in October 2014, Clegg detailed the Liberal Democrat’s plan on garden cities and climate change and argued that ten new garden cities should be built, five of which would need to be located on the new rail link between Oxford and Cambridge (Watt, 2014). That these announcements were made shortly before the 2015 general election shows that new settlements had by then become major themes in the campaign (Sadoux 2015a, 2015b).

  • 3 The finalists were: URBED; Shelter; Barton Willmore; Chris Blundell; Wei Yang and Partners.

11A second important event was the launch of the 2014 Wolfson Economic Prize competition. Whilst contestants for the previous round in 2012 had been invited to suggest ways to safely dismantle the Eurozone, those entering the competition in 2014 were asked to answer the following question: ‘how would you deliver a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable, and popular?’ It attracted considerable interest and 279 entries were received from 12 different countries. The winning entry, submitted by URBED co-founder David Rudlin, was in many ways controversial, not least because he argued that Britain should ‘take a confident bite out of the green-belt’ and that the population of 40 towns could be doubled on the basis of a portfolio approach which would include new settlements (Booth, 2014a). It is noteworthy that the finalists3 argued that debates about the location of new garden settlements have tended to overshadow more fundamental aspects of their design and delivery (Wolfson Prize Finalists, 2014). Quite apart from the fact that practitioners and scholars had been encouraged to envisage the practical delivery of planned communities, the 2014 Wolfson Prize was an indicator that this way of planning, which has always been associated with socialism, was gradually gaining momentum throughout the political spectrum: the competition, which offered a £250,000 prize, was sponsored by Conservative Lord Wolfson and organised by the Policy Exchange, a centre-right think tank.

12A third substantial contribution to the resurgence of new settlements in 2014 was the publication of the influential Lyons Housing Review (2014), which had been initiated by the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and led by former Labour Party councillor Sir Michael Lyons. It argued that

There is a growing consensus, clearly reflected in the evidence to this review, that a new programme of Garden Cities and New Towns could make an important contribution to delivering the homes we need. In exploring the impact such a programme would have, how it could be funded and over what timescales, we have sought to build on lessons from the previous experiences of Garden Cities and New Towns. We conclude that a programme of Garden Cities should be a part of the portfolio of measures to meet the nation’s housing needs and one that will have a significant impact on the long term. In the medium applying Garden City principles to other large scale development projects, especially urban extensions as Garden Suburbs and the re-modelling of existing towns have the potential to deliver more housing growth, faster, from a number of existing and new sites. All are needed to meet demand and to plan sustainably over the longer term. (The Lyons Housing Review, 2014: 90)

13Several of these points are worth highlighting. First, past experiments were believed to offer lessons that could inform future developments. Second, the Lyons review, as indeed Rudlin’s winning entry to the Wolfson Prize, suggested that new communities should be one component of a portfolio approach: new settlements were not put forward as a unique answer to housing shortage, but were part of a broader strategy that would also include urban infill and extensions, depending on context-specific constraints and opportunities. Third, the lessons learned from earlier new settlements would not merely inform the design of new communities: they could also be applied to retrofitting existing settlements. It is noteworthy that this argument was in particular made by Susan Parham, Anthony Downs and Gavin Murray in their commended submission to the Wolfson Prize. They contend that ‘certain post-war New Towns, as well as being extremely expensive to build and maintain, have suffered significant problems with low quality housing stock, poor space shaping and low demand. There could be scope to consider staged redevelopment to garden city principles, at the level of the house, block, area and town.’ Their argument is supported by a diagram (figure 1) that compares and contrast the urban and regional structure of existing and retrofitted post-war settlements (Parham, Downs and Murray, 2014: 13). In similar vein, Andrés Duany’s yet unpublished A General Theory of Urbanism (2019) makes a similar point and demonstrates how principles of garden city planning could allow to ‘correct’ post-war New Towns, and uses Stevenage as an example (figure 2).

Figure 1. Retrofitting post-war settlements according to garden city principles

Figure 1. Retrofitting post-war settlements according to garden city principles

Source: Parham, Downs and Murray, 2014: 13.

Figure 2. Correcting Stevenage New Town (urban structure)

Figure 2. Correcting Stevenage New Town (urban structure)

Source: Duany, 2019: 75.

14The coalition government’s pledge for new garden settlements went hand in hand with the publication of the Locally-led Garden Cities prospectus – effectively, a call for expressions of interests from ‘local areas’ interested in delivering a new garden city. The document made it clear that ‘schemes should […] have the full backing of local authorities in which Garden Cities are sited […]’ (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2014). Support and expertise were provided by the Town and Country Planning Association, with the publication of a range of toolkits, most notably The Art of Building a Garden City – Garden City Standards for the 21st century (Town and Country Planning Association, 2014).

15A couple of years later, the government published another document, Locally-led Garden Villages, Towns and Cities (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2016). As its title suggests, it drew attention to the fact that garden settlements can vary in scale. The document stated that the government would support twelve new garden village proposals, each of which would accommodate 1,500 to 10,000 new homes, as well as new garden cities and towns of over 10,000 homes. The Department also reasserted that larger-scale developments were equally being supported, particularly at Ebbsfleet, Bicester, Basingstoke, and Didcot. Most importantly perhaps, it was claimed that expressions of interest involving developers and landowners would be supported (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2016: 5-6) and a number of initiatives, including those led by Lord Salisbury, have clearly taken this invitation on board. Such actions can also be viewed as a response to another concern expressed in the Lyons review: the number of new homes built by the private sector has been insufficient, with 98,700 units started in 2013 when the levels needed to address housing need was at the time estimated at 200,000 new units a year (The Lyons Housing Review, 2014: 101). Proposals involving large landowners thus represent significant opportunities to boost housing provision. This situation can provocatively be set in perspective in the light of a survey carried out by Country Life magazine: it showed that half of all rural land in the United Kingdom is owned by a mere 0.6% of the population. This finding was quoted by Alex Andreou (2014) in a piece published by the Guardian. The journalist claimed that plans for new settlements announced by the coalition government that year had brought to light a ‘schism in property and land ownership’, namely that ‘housing shortage is a class issue’ (Andreou, 2014). Somewhat ironically however, proposals for entire new settlements put forward by large landowners tend to suggest that one of the answers to housing shortage could well be in the hands of these wealthy few who allow to transcend the land assembly conundrum.

  • 4 Long Marston in Stratford-on-Avon; Oxfordshire Cotswold in West Oxfordshire; Deenethorpe in East No (...)
  • 5 Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire; Taunton in Summerset; Harlow and Gilston in Essex and Hertfordshire.

16Further publications demonstrated that government discourses in favour of new communities were not affected by 2015 general election. The 2017 Housing White paper, Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, argued that ‘well-planned, well-designed, new communities have an important part to play in meeting our long-term housing need’ (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2017: 28). The same year, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local government decided that fourteen additional garden villages4 would be built throughout Britain, thus providing an extra 48,000 homes on top of those already planned as part of three garden towns in Harlow and Gildon, located in Essex and Hertfordshire.5 The following year, the government announced that 23 garden communities would be supported (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 2018). Although the building of new communities was clearly gaining momentum, it was also arousing a great deal of controversy: some claimed they would result in additional suburban sprawl and that the housing shortage could be addressed by other means (Narwan, 2018). In 2014, architect Richard Rogers, who had chaired the Urban Task Force convened by Tony Blair, had strongly reacted against proposals that had emerged from the Wolfson Prize and had argued that building new settlements was a ‘ridiculous concept.’ Instead, he advocated the pursuit of brownfield renewal in existing urban areas (Booth, 2014b). Notwithstanding these criticisms, the government made a further announcement in March 2019: five additional garden towns would be built in England, in order to provide up to 64,000 new homes (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 2019).

Large landowners and new settlements

17Media coverage of contemporary new settlement projects has largely focused on those initiated by local authorities: with few exceptions, little attention has been paid to those proposed by landowners. Land assembly has always been a crucial and challenging aspect of planning and large landowners are therefore in a position to provide an answer to this specific issue. In 2017, the Telegraph published a thought-provoking piece in which a number of estate owners were referred as YIMBYs: unlike NIMBYs, who oppose new development around their home, landowners were presented as individuals who are willing to build entire new settlements on their own land (Doughty, 2017). At the time when this article was published in the Telegraph, four such projects had been identified and all were located in Scotland: Chapleton (Aberdeenshire), Tornagrain (Inverness-shire), An Camas Mòr (Inverness-shire), and Grandhome (Aberdeenshire). Although this paper focuses on Lord Salisbury’s initiatives, it is worth drawing attention to some of the points raised by the Telegraph with regards to the Duke of Fife’s Chapelton of Elsick development. The press reported that the Duke wished to learn from other similar projects and had therefore approached Lord Morray, who had hired Andrés Duany to work on Tornagrain. The piece also mentions that Duany had been involved in the Grandhome planned settlement led by the Paton family. As stated in the introduction to this paper, Andrés Duany has also been central to the work carried out by Lord Salisbury in Hertfordshire.

18Although large landowners may have a strong interest in architecture and urbanism, they are not experts in these fields: they must therefore rely on practitioners who are able to implement their vision. The fact that a number of large landowners chose to collaborate with Andrés Duany is far from insignificant. First and foremost, his name is associated with the design and delivery of new communities. Second, and as clearly stated in the Chapelton of Elsick scoping document, Duany’s designs are grounded in the principles of New Urbanism (Chapelton of Elsick, 2012: 41). In other words, landowners who have chosen to work with Duany have done so because they adhere to specific vision which he set out in numerous publications and implemented in a wide range of developments. Yet Duany’s involvement in the Chapelton of Elsick development has provided a further example of the way value-laden and aesthetic-related views can overshadow the more profound issues that arise from the planning of new communities. In 2010, the Architects Journal published a piece that referred to Chapelton as the ‘Scottish Poundbury’ and cited critiques who feared ‘the settlement could resemble the townscape in the film the Truman Show’, since the film was shot in Seaside, a town designed by Duany (Fulcher, 2010). This paper seeks to transcend such aesthetical and arguably fruitless debates. Rather, it argues that Duany’s association with large landowners should be taken as an incentive to investigate the methods and networks that underpin the design and delivery of new communities.

19The development framework and masterplan for the Chapelton of Elsick (2012) explicitly acknowledges that its content is based upon the principles of New Urbanism. It states that the vision ‘stems from the principles of sustainable urbanism, which promote the design of walkable neighbourhoods offering a range of house types, as well as shops and jobs, in order to lessen car dependency and promote a sense of wellbeing and community.’ This key document further specifies that ‘architectural styles should reflect local climates and building practices’ (Chapelton of Elsick, 2012: 6). The framework reveals that the development is designed as a nucleus of connected neighbourhoods, whilst its morphology illustrates the ways in which New Urbanism seeks to shape the urban fabric through street hierarchy and a network of varied public spaces which are carefully detailed. By way of example, a typical close is ‘designed to accommodate small front gardens and street furniture, with cars in alleys or parking courts accessible from the backs of the houses’ (Chapelton of Elsick, 2012: 22). Hiring Duany is therefore a statement in itself: this decision reflects a landowner’s desire to deliver a settlement planned according to specific principles, which have regard to the role of public spaces in the structuration of urban morphology, to the importance of fostering walkable and mixed-use communities, and to an architecture that respects local traditions.

The Gascoyne-Cecil family and the built environment

  • 6 James Cecil, 4th Marquess of Salisbury (1861-1947).

20Lord Salisbury’s family has owned land and property in the county of Hertfordshire and beyond for centuries. The estate includes Hatfield House, one of the finest stately homes in Britain, which has been abundantly documents by scholars in the fields of architecture, archaeology and the arts. Whilst Lord Salisbury himself acknowledges that being a landowner inevitably generates an interest in architecture and urbanism, he also stresses that a number of his ancestors have been concerned with the built environment. As he points out, some examples have regard to Hatfield House, the family home: his great-grandfather, the 4th Marquess of Salisbury,6 initiated the restoration of the so-called stable yard from 1911. The family’s interest in building has however not been limited to their residence. Lord Salisbury thus mentions that between 1905 and 1939, all the estate surplus was spent on housing improvement and a large part of this expenditure was made on dwellings occupied by agricultural labourers. During the same period, the 4th Marquess of Salisbury was also involved in a significant architectural event. In 1905, shortly after Letchworth was founded, a competition was organised in order to encourage architects and builders to find innovative solutions of building low cost yet high-quality cottages. It also aimed to demonstrate that the newly enforced bye-laws were too constraining and contributed to the high cost of building (Coste, Sadoux and O’Carroll, 2021). Demonstrators were erected in Letchworth and showcased as part of the so-called Cheap Cottage Exhibition which attracted a high number of visitors. The 4th Marquess of Salisbury was one of the Patrons of this event (The County Gentleman and Land and Water, 1905). A few years later, in 1907, the Urban Cottages and Homesteads for Small Holdings exhibition was held in Letchworth Garden City. This time, the 4th Marquess of Salisbury chaired the organising committee. With other members, he wrote to the Editor of the Spectator, namely John St Loe Strachey, who had initiated the Cheap Cottages exhibition:

[…] The importance of matters that affect housing is now so widely recognised that we venture to draw the attention of your readers to the Exhibition of urban cottages and homesteads for small holdings […]. The arrangements will […] be placed on a thoroughly sound and business-like footing, and practical results of the utmost value to municipalities and others engaged in building work may be looked for. The present rapid development of Garden City offers a unique opportunity for such experiments. (Salisbury et al., 1907)

21The Marquess remained engaged in these debates over the years and took a keen interest in the Rural Housing Bill. He expressed his concern in the House of Lords on 16 January 1913:

I do not think it will be necessary for me to trouble your Lordships by going into any great detail as to the necessity for something being done. I take it that the dearth of houses for the working classes in rural districts may be looked upon as an established fact. […]  I will only say that, out of a total of 655 rural district councils, 182 have practically admitted, or could be forced to admit, the dearth of rural accommodation in their districts. That is a very big figure. (Hansard HL Deb 1913)

  • 7 Department of Civic Design
  • 8 The Housing, Town Planning etc. Act (1909)
  • 9 Archival material held at Hatfield House shows that he was a strong supporter of the Association’s (...)

22His engagement in these contemporary debates occurred at a crucial time: planning, as a discipline and a profession, emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century. The first planning department was opened at the University of Liverpool in 19097 just as the first piece of planning legislation was enacted.8 The Town Planning Institute was founded a shortly after, in 1914. Abundant archival material demonstrates that the 4th Marquess was regularly invited to speak at important events and on 7 March 1914, he opened the Liverpool Town Planning and Housing Exhibition and Conference. The introduction to the transactions published after this event show that he was well aware of the possible contribution landowners could make to providing housing: the text claims that his opening address ‘emphasized the great need for friendly cooperation between landowners, ratepayers and municipal officials’ (Adshead and Abercrombie, 1914: 14). Although no specific example of such joint effort is mentioned in the text, it is noteworthy that the Marquess had supported a practical experiment near Liverpool a few years earlier, when he leased 180 acres of land for 999 years for the Wavertree Garden Suburb development. A similar situation occurred in Hertfordshire the following decade when Ebenezer Howard was attempting to assemble the land required to build a second garden city. He had been successful in acquiring 1,458 acres near Welwyn when part of Lord Desbourough’s estate had been put up for auction. Prior to this transaction however, Howard had contacted the Marquess who was then President of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association9 and sold an additional 700 acres of his own estate at agricultural price, thus contributing to the foundation of Welwyn Garden City.

23The 4th Marquess of Salisbury’s involvement in facilitating the development of new communities should however not merely be considered from the perspective of land provision: it must also be viewed as an illustration of collaborations between landowners and designers, who shared a similar vision of how human settlements should be built. This early example prefigures current collaborations between large landowners and a number of architects and urbanists. The first phase of the Wavertree development, designed by Raymond Unwin, received considerable attention. A contemporary observer contented that it aimed to ‘meet the needs arising out of the housing problem, and to provide houses on the outskirts of the city with gardens and open space in the immediate vicinity of the residences’ (Clarke, 1920: 93). Ewart Culpin, the then Secretary General to the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association, further reflected upon the positive contribution of quality public spaces to the population’s health, using Wavertree as an example:

One acre in every ten is set aside for open spaces. […] The roads are of varied construction. They are planted with trees and grass margins, and the widths vary between thirty-six, fifty, sixty and eighty feet. In addition to the buildings, a recreation ground containing bowling green and tennis courts has been laid out, and a children’s playground has been provided. The estate has appealed strongly to those anxious to see better conditions of housing in Liverpool, and in his annual report the Building Surveyor for the City of Liverpool has testified to the advantages of the Liverpool Garden Suburb and has said that “the beneficial effect on the character and the well-being of the people who live in such delightful surroundings, in which the provision of sunlight and pure air, and other sanitary necessities of healthful living are so admirably secured, must be incalculable.” (Culpin, 1913: 55-56)

24The variety of open spaces and their role in the structuration of a settlement’s morphology is illustrated in figure 3, which relies on the use of contrast as a means of persuasion: the design of Watertree is compared to what the settlement would have looked like had it been laid out according to contemporary regulations enforced by the Liverpool Corporation. This type of representation echoes a plate included in Raymond Unwin’s ground-breaking Nothing Gained by Overcrowding (Unwin, 1912) in which he compared and contrasted residential planning according to contemporary by-laws and garden city principles (figure 4). More recently, Duany’s company, DPZ, used the same visual language to highlight the difference between a traditional neighbourhood and suburban sprawl (Figure 5). If anything, these examples demonstrate that traditional urbanism are best understood when they are examined in the light of the designs they react against.

  • 10 Robert Cecil, 5th Marquess of Salisbury, (1893-1972), Viscount Cranborne from 1903 to 1947.

25The plans of the first phase of the Wavertree development in Liverpool exemplifies Raymond Unwin’s work: organic and connected streets adapt to the local context and buildings are grouped around a range of open spaces designed to accommodate specific uses. This approach is not only reminiscent of the plans Unwin had drawn up for Letchworth Garden City and Hampstead Garden Suburb a few years earlier: it also reflects his effort to elaborate meticulous design methods, which he set out in Town Planning in Practice (Unwin, 1909), a manual that influenced generations of architects and planners. Unwin’s vision was therefore not only put into practice in the developments he designed: it was also articulated on paper. The houses which Unwin and his collaborator George Sutcliffe designed in Wavertree are deeply rooted in the Arts and Crafts movement: built artefacts are an adaptation to and consequently, an expression of a specific context and local traditions. It is noteworthy that a few decades later, the 5th Marquess of Salisbury10 further strengthened his family’s engagement in the promotion of context-responsive architecture. Speaking at the House of Lords in May 1943, he argued: ‘It is, I suggest, almost impossible to design standard types of agricultural cottages entirely suitable for every part of this country. In different parts there are different conditions and differences of tradition’ (Hansard HL Deb, 1943). As this paper will show, the 7th Marquess of Salisbury carried on this long tradition.

Figure 3. Liverpool Garden Suburb as it is and as it might have been

Figure 3. Liverpool Garden Suburb as it is and as it might have been

Plate comparing the garden-suburb as designed and a hypothetical development on the same site, based on the then Corporation’s requirements.

Source: Gladstone, 1920: 54.

Figure 4. Nothing gained by overcrowding

Figure 4. Nothing gained by overcrowding

Plate comparing housing developments designed on the basis of bye-laws (left) and garden city principles (right).

Source: Unwin, 1912: 4.

Figure 5. A comparison of traditional and suburban sprawl

Figure 5. A comparison of traditional and suburban sprawl


The people of Hertfordshire: where will they go?

26Britain has long suffered from a severe housing shortage and the latest projections show that current provision trends will most likely fail to address the ever-increasing demand. In 2016, the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs argued that ‘the Government’s target of one million new homes by 2020 is not based on a robust analysis. To address the housing crisis at least 300,000 new homes are needed annually for the foreseeable future. One million new homes by 2020 will not be enough’ (House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs, 2016: 5). In 1898, Howard’s Three Magnets diagram famously asked: The People. Where will they go? Notwithstanding heated debates over the course of the twentieth century, the question arguably remains unanswered. The issue is multi-scalar: allocation of new housing must be dealt with simultaneously at the regional, county and local levels. The county of Hertfordshire is of course under a great deal of pressure: its location, within easy commuting distance of London, makes it particularly attractive. The projected increase in the number of households for the Welwyn Hatfield local authority from 2018 to 2028 is 6.5% (Office for National Statistics, 2021).

The Chancellor and the designer

27In June 2014, Lord Salisbury spoke at the University of Hertfordshire of which he is Chancellor. He asserted that if more houses had to be built in the county, it was important to ensure that the places built are those where people want to live and work and that people can be proud of as they are of Letchworth and Welwyn garden cities. These words were pronounced as an introduction to the Chancellor’s lecture given by Andrés Duany, who discussed urbanisation and sought to demonstrate the benefits of building new garden cities to address the housing crisis, particularly in Hertfordshire. The connection between Lord Salisbury and Andrés Duany occurred through the Marquess’s daughter, who lives in New Orleans and had become aware of Duany’s involvement in rebuilding following Katrina. In Lord Salisbury’s own words: ‘and so began an association between Andrés and me, and I hope, Hertfordshire, which will be of enormous benefit to all of us who live here.’

28Although Duany acknowledges that although the talk he gave at the University of Hertfordshire was his ‘standard American lecture,’ he felt its reception was different in the British context:

I gave my lecture, […] comparing suburban urban sprawl with traditional urbanism. Usually, [in the US] I have to pull back a few punches, because so many people who attend the lecture live in a gizmo suburban place. And I am absolutely venomous, by being humorous. I am devastating because of humour, people laugh unpleasantly. But because I was in England, I could say ‘this is America, not England, please don’t import this’. […] It was one of my better lectures because I didn’t have to hold anything back. I wasn’t insulting anybody personally.

29In his introduction to the lecture, Lord Salisbury reminded the audience that Duany had worked with the University of Hertfordshire in 2008, when he and his team led a series of design of workshops, referred to as charrettes, which aimed to produce and assess a series of possible scenarios for accommodating new housing in the county. As stated in the report produced following the charrettes, the Hertfordshire Guide to Growth project was in fact an initiative of the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire. It was based on the housing projections available at the time and on the fact that a under a quarter of the 83,000 new homes required by 2021 had been built in 2006. (DPZ, 2008: 7). In their preface to the report, the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor argue that pursuing the development approach that had prevailed in the county for the past forty years, namely ‘developing plots of all kinds as opportunity arises’, is ‘not the optimal vision for the future’ (DPZ, 2008: 3, 11). This view is of course widely shared. As Susan Parham duly notes, continuing to develop land on a business-as-usual trend would be ‘socially, economically and environmentally disastrous.’ Furthermore, and as Duany explains, the government then intended to impose a minimum number of new dwellings and assign sites for development in each county. He furthermore stressed that when a county was deemed unable to address these issues, central government would step in and assign the sites. Parham argues that inevitable development in the county calls for reflecting upon ways of making it ‘acceptable socially, culturally, politically and of course, sustainable.’ She most importantly suggests that the local university has a major role to play in these discussions. It is in this context that Lord Salisbury, as Chancellor of the University, encouraged a range of stakeholder to reflect upon future growth in the county and thus acted as debate convenor and facilitator.

The landowner as an eager learner and cautious stakeholder

  • 11 For an in-depth discussion of the method, see Lennertz and Lutzenhiser (2017).

30Whilst the scope of this paper does not allow to delve into the complexities of the charrette process,11 it is worth quoting the definition included in the Lexicon of Urbanism produced by Duany and his team:

A charrette conducts the necessary detailed study and testing under public scrutiny. In a charrette, the design process takes place in proximity to the site and in the presence of those affecting and affected by the outcome, generally the neighbors, developers, elected officials, and administrators, all who will ultimately pass judgement upon it. The process tends to catalyze agreement by engaging in ongoing negotiation during the stage of maximum flexibility, at the moment of conception. The principal advantages of a charrette are the efficiency of the process, the assent which it earns, and the accurate response to the problems and opportunities. Ultimately, the purpose of a charrette is to give those concerned enough information to make rational decisions. (DPZ, 2014, 12.4)

31One of the specificities of the charrettes organised by DPZ has regards to their timescale. In Duany’s own words:

We always work in the presence of our decision-makers. They are not going to come into our office and we are not going to fly in regularly. So we settle in for seven or eight days, we meet on a daily basis and we get back to them every twenty-four hours. We have meetings with a range of people: neighbourhood groups, elected officials, community members, the municipal staff. So we are always getting feedback at a terrific pace. Most [practitioners] get things wrong after five weeks. We get it wrong as often as anyone else, but we are corrected within twenty-four hours. We have a twenty-four-hour cycle.

32Charrettes are thus intended to feed local expertise into the design process. As Duany himself explains: ‘I have an expertise but we bring in the other people who are local who also have expertise. I do not become an expert in English housing plans, someone else does that. […] The success of our team was due to our method. [We create teams] with experts. I don’t have time to become an expert. This is widely misunderstood and this is our method’. This is an important statement: it clarifies the designer’s role in the process, namely one which consists in drawing from local expertise. As a landowner, Lord Salisbury was of course involved in the charrette process and Duany appears to have been surprised by his level of engagement: ‘I couldn’t believe that someone of this category was present at all times. I am not present at all times in my own charettes. But he was there […].’ When asked to describe his role and attitude, Duany explains: ‘Lord Salisbury is not an expert planner, but he is an expert on experts. […] He knows how to identify an expert and to enable him’.

33As a landowner, Lord Salisbury has an interest in future development in the county. This point is in particular raised by Anthony Downs, who states that:

Whilst estates can (and do) look at matters over an extended timescale, it is nevertheless important to take a commercial view. If one fails to do so, then ultimately one will cease to exist. In the context of existing developments, notably those proposed by Gascoyne in Hertfordshire, Gascoyne are determined to demonstrate that it is both possible to deliver high quality, attractive developments that adhere to the core principles of placemaking whilst at the same time providing an acceptable return to the landowner. It is a question of balance the structure of the agreement with the housebuilder and a sensible view on what constitutes acceptable land value. In this way Gascoyne hope to encourage and demonstrate to planning authorities, communities, developers and other landowners that there really is an alternative to the status quo of mass produced, volume housing that invariably fails to deliver or meet the expectations of those that live within them. 

34Yet Duany describes Lord Salisbury as a man who deliberately remained on the side-line during the charrette process:

Because he owns a lot of land, some of it often comes up as designated for development. And of course, that means profit, because this is what happens when your land enters development from the green belt. He has always been very distant, the opposite of what an American developer would do. He was not only neutral: he would always disadvantage himself. It was a unique experience. And this was serious money. When it turned out that land that belongs to the estate may be developed, there was almost discouragement from his part. The ethical level was off the charts.

35When prompted to comment on the attitude of other large landowners he has worked for, Duany comments:

They are so extreme in their sense of responsibility to the people that I have to remind them to be realistic. I have to tell them that a project that does not make money will not actually be built. It was surreal and touching, they keep asking what is best for their people. This is because their family has been around for centuries and hope to be around for many more centuries. They also have ancestors who built beautifully. They have a lot of pressure to get it right, it is unique. […] I have worked for people who are not aristocrats and behave like money-grabbing people. Aristocrats feel the responsibility and care about what is best for their people.

Scenario-building: filling the strategic planning gap

36The report published following the charettes (DPZ, 2008) provides an in-depth examination and assessment of six possible scenarios for accommodating future growth in the county: continuing existing trends; building on brownfield and greyfield sites; designing transport-oriented development; providing settlement extensions; building satellite garden villages; erecting a stand-alone garden city (figure 6). Susan Parham explains that these examples ‘represent certain types of development issues, constraints and opportunities which are assessed.’ She adds that ‘this work draws from DPZ’s long expertise but also on knowledge found in the University of Hertfordshire, particularly in the field of geography. The scenarios were not meant to be mutually exclusive: they aimed to raise people’s awareness of their respective characteristics and implications.’ The six scenarios were assessed against eight criteria, namely climate, resources, transport, ecology, business, community, placemaking and buildings. Each scenario’s overall score allowed to provide a ranking, which suggested that transport-oriented development is the most sustainable one. Notwithstanding its strengths, and as the report suggests, this model comes with a number of key weaknesses, not least the lack of available sites in existing urban areas. Second and third in the ranking are respectively new satellite garden villages and a new standalone garden city.

Figure 6. Six scenarios for accommodating growth in Hertfordshire

Figure 6. Six scenarios for accommodating growth in Hertfordshire

Source: DPZ, 2008: 11.

37When Susan Parham joined the University of Hertfordshire, she became interested in the work Lord Salisbury and Gascoyne-Cecil Estates had been carrying out. She argues that the charette method is particularly worth examining, because it makes use of scenarios and thus draws from the field of management. She also considers that although visual methods were central to the exercise, aesthetics were not used narrowly, but rather as a tool to think about the nature of development. Most importantly however, and as Parham contends, the Hertfordshire Guide to Growth project was an exercise in strategic planning: it aimed to think about the future of an entire county. Yet, it was initiated by a University Chancellor and landowner: in other words, it was not the product of a public-sector led process. Whilst Parham laments the fact that this type of exercise should have been initiated and run by the county council, she argues that Lord Salisbury has contributed to filling a gap in practice, which she sees as a direct consequence of the government’s move away from regional spatial strategies and the lack of skills in local authorities.

The toolkits of traditional architecture and urbanism

38As a landowner, Lord Salisbury has not only been involved in convening and facilitating debates at the strategic level. He has also been very active in promoting traditional architecture and urbanism. During the interview held for this research, Lord Salisbury used the word ‘vernacular’. When prompted to provide his own definition of the term, he acknowledged that it is difficult to explain:

I think it is about local materials more than anything else. We don’t do violence to what has been produced locally. We have a slight traditional Georgian bias, as indeed happens in Poundbury, but I would not argue that this means you must have sash windows and a Georgian look to every house. [Vernacular] means materials within the high standards you try to impose.

39Anthony Downs holds similar views. He refers to the vernacular as the ‘materials palette’ and adds that in Hatfield, this would essentially involve red brick. Although this paper focuses on proposals for new communities, it is noteworthy that Lord Salisbury has been actively engaged in a number of projects aiming to restore Hatfield Old Town, such as the new housing built by Gascoyne-Cecil Estates on Arm and Swords Lane and Church Lane (figure 7). As Duany explains, Hatfield greatly suffered from post-war planning, when Hatfield was designated as a New Town: ‘I would say that Hatfield was by British standards very unpleasant. Lord Salisbury has been doing as much as he can to restore it. […] He has been involved to the level of choosing windows.’ The implementation of a traditionalist approach of architecture and urbanism is however a complex matter. It is noteworthy that Lord Salisbury expresses concern over the issue of skills required to deliver traditional architecture: ‘we are back into one of the great sins of omissions of the big housebuilders and of the construction companies. In this country they completely failed to train anyone in the skills needed.’ One of the solutions to this critical situation, he argues, lies in further education:

Public money in higher education has all gone into universities […] and they completely starved further education colleges. […] One of our lobbying efforts has to be to use further education colleges, in conjunction with future employers, to do something about this. If you look at Rolls Royce in Derby, for all their difficulties, they have engineering apprenticeships up to extraordinary high standards, embedded relationships with the local universities so that their students can go onto courses in these universities. There is a seamless relationship between further education, higher education and the big local employer. […] We could do this with the construction industry […] and I have been talking to the Cabinet Office about this.

40Anthony Downs holds similar views and adds: ‘the problem also extends to literature. […] Many of the books I will point architects or builders to were probably published in the latter part of the nineteenth or early part of the twentieth century.’ The need for such guidance underpins the elaboration of specific methods which Gascoyne-Cecil Estates use to set out, promote and implement a particular vision of architecture and urbanism.

Figure 7. Gascoyne-Cecil Estates housing development on Church Lane, Hatfield (2015)

Figure 7. Gascoyne-Cecil Estates housing development on Church Lane, Hatfield (2015)

Photo credit: Yann Mazimann

41The idea that cities have to some extent been built according to patterns is not new. Spiro Kostof’s historical inquiry associated patterns with meanings (Kostof, 1991) and the use of patterns in design has been traced back to Vitruvius and Palladio (Urban Design Associates, 2004). This method has not been limited to a specific geographic area and Reiff (2000) has highlighted interactions between British and American designers. Upton (1984), whose work focused on the role of pattern books in the transformation of domestic architecture in America in the nineteenth century, argued that they fulfilled two main functions. First, they allowed to identify familiar forms and to pass them on. Second, they contributed to show that although distinctiveness and novelty were desirable in architectural design, change should not undermine precedents.

42The use of a pattern book as a design tool is central to the work of Gascoyne-Cecil Estates. The introduction to the latest edition (Gascoyne Places, 2020) explains its raison d’être: it was produced as a way to support the development of a range of estate sites, in particular those which are earmarked in the draft Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan. The first section of the pattern book shows that the document is grounded in a detailed study of local character: historic towns and villages are seen as repositories of the ways in which communities have addressed a range of questions over the course of centuries:

Our extensive engagement with local communities has shown that architecture which speaks to local tradition is the most pleasing and desirable. In order to avoid a clumsy pastiche, it is vital to possess a detailed knowledge of the architectural and urban patterns of the county. The sense of place achieved by historic settlements is a function of a number of factors. The way homes relate to the public, the changing views as one walks through, or the height and density of buildings all have an instrumental role to play in local character and charm. (Gascoyne Places, 2020: 15)

43With this in mind, the pattern book provides an appraisal of what is referred to as the ‘local vernacular’ and highlights the key components of historic towns and villages as well as their role in shaping the built environment. The method used to produce this record relies on a visual inspection of areas believed to have the most pleasing character. A range of places were surveyed, including Old Hatfield, Hertford, Welwyn Garden City as well as a number of villages in Southern England. The information gathered is then fed into a series of standardised templates. This process, referred to as urban coding, informs the production of the overall regulating plan for the development area. This plan is drawn up according to a specific approach, namely transect planning, which is characteristic of New Urbanism. The pattern book states that this ‘design tool takes a cross-section of a place to demonstrate, understand and then regulate changes in environment, urban design and architectural detail from the rural to the urban’ (Gascoyne Places, 2020: 44). In a piece published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Andrés Duany and Emily Talen argued that this approach allows to shape environments that vary in terms of their level and intensity of urban character: ‘rural elements must find their place in rural locations, while urban elements must find their place in more urban locations – not unlike natural ecological systems where plan and animal species coexist within habitats that best support them’ (Duany and Talen, 2002: 245). By way of example, a rural area will essentially include agricultural land, woodland or wetland and buildings will typically have one or two storeys. Public spaces would usually be parks or green paths. In an urban area however, one would encounter a range of higher buildings and squares. The key features that allow to define each type of zone are represented in a matrix which includes a short description of the main characteristics of the zone as well as a more detailed description of key aspects of design, such as building placement on plots, frontage types, buildings heights or the type of public space that may be found in a given transect zone (figure 8). The transect therefore allows to visualise the knowledge acquired through a survey and is also employed as a tool to design future developments, which are informed by local character: a regulating plan drawn up according to the principles of transect planning defines spaces according to their characteristics (figure 9).

Figure 8. An example showing the characteristics of transect zones

Figure 8. An example showing the characteristics of transect zones

Source: Gascoyne Places (2020 : 45)

Figure 9. An example of a regulating plan drawn up according to transect zones

Figure 9. An example of a regulating plan drawn up according to transect zones

Source: Gascoyne Places (2020 : 46)

Figure 10. Map showing the location of proposed Gascoyne settlements, including Symondshyde and Creswick

Figure 10. Map showing the location of proposed Gascoyne settlements, including Symondshyde and Creswick

Source: Gascoyne Places (2020: 41)

Symondshyde: a new village for Hertfordshire

44In 2015, Gascoyne Cecil Estates published a Case for a New Hertfordshire Village (Gascoyne Cecil Estates, 2015). The document narrates the origins and historical development of the English village and stresses the importance of planned settlements that emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth. It argues that the significant reorganization of the housing system during the Georgian period encouraged landowners to ‘create planned villages on their estates for a number of reasons, which were at once commercial, philanthropic and private in purpose’. The document also refers to early and late twentieth century planned villages, including the garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn. Gascoyne-Cecil Estates argue that the proposal for a new village offers a unique opportunity as a key component of the Welwyn Hatfield local plan. It would accommodate 1,100 housing units, a school, workspaces, allotments and a range of community spaces and amenities. JP Planning Associates, who represented Gascoyne-Cecil Estates during the Welwyn Hatfield draft local plan consultation, contended that alternative sites would prove less sustainable than Symondshyde (JB Planning Associates, 2020). The new village was in effect put forward as an alternative to the business-as-usual trend identified in the Hertfordshire Guide to Growth, namely the piecemeal extension of existing urbanised areas.

45As Anthony Downs duly notes, the emergence of new communities is nothing new: ‘Look back in time. In 1900 there was nothing in Hertfordshire […]. Villages have sprung up in history when there was a need and landowners built them when they believed this was the right thing to do.’ Yet he explains that there has been a ‘knee-jerk reaction to Symondshyde, because it is seen to destroy the green belt. But do we think that urban sprawl is better than defining where towns and villages end and giving them a heart and a soul?’ Although this view is not the most popular in the county, the Council itself has acknowledged that the development of a new village at Symondshyde would allow to contain urban sprawl. Moreover, removing the proposal from the emerging local plan would undermine its ability to provide the required number of new homes.

46A Technical paper prepared by JB Planning Associates on behalf of Gascoyne-Cecil Estates outlines the vision that underpins the new village proposal. It argues that a sustainable transport network would support the development, and thus the needs of residents of businesses. It also states that the integration of small-scale businesses and employment opportunities would contribute to the local economy. Although the new homes would be fit for twenty-first century needs, they would be traditionally designed, according to the principles set out in the pattern book, in order to ‘ensure that building forms follow local traditions’ (Gascoyne Cecil & JB Planning Associates, 2018: 1-2). More specifically, the pattern book ‘contains very detailed information on local building traditions, urban patterns, detailed design considerations, permeability and accessibility’ and thus ‘provides a framework that ensures that master planning principles are applied to all new developments […]’ (Gascoyne Cecil & JB Planning Associates, 2018: 6).

47The masterplan for Symondshyde was produced by Brooks Murray Architects (figure 11), who explain that it was ‘designed from the existing traces on the ground, the marks left by preceding centuries of human and natural activity: the Great Wood, bridle paths, streams, mature hedgerows and other marks. They dictate a natural shape, size and feel of the village plan.’ This approach echoes the principles Unwin had set out in Town Planning in Practice, but it is also unsurprisingly also reminiscent of Howard’s theory, which clearly stated that a masterplan should adapt to a site. It equally reflects Duany’s approcah: ‘our plans are unique in not having a discernible pattern, we respond to the land in the way that Unwin recommended. We follow traces and every tree. Because some people have been thinking about these things for much longer than we have.’ In short, this attitude is one of the characteristics of traditional urbanists.

48Howard intended garden cities to be linked by public transport, but also by green infrastructure. A document setting out the landscape for the surrounding area was prepared by Michelle Bolger Expert Landscape Consultancy on behalf of Gascoyne Cecil Estates. It states that a multifunctional landscape will ‘remain in productive agricultural use’, in order to maintain or enhance critical ecosystem functions, whilst making them accessible to populations for recreation (Michel Bolger Expert Landscape Consultancy, 2017: 1). Although the words used by Patrick Abercrombie in his time were different, these principles were those advocated in the Greater London plan which gave birth to the green belts.

Figure 11. Masterplan for Symondshyde

Figure 11. Masterplan for Symondshyde

Source: Gascoyne Places (2020: 53)

Creswick: an extension to Welwyn Garden City

49A second site identified in the 2016 Draft Local Plan for future development was Creswick. The land, which is also owned by Gascoyne-Cecil Estates, is located on the South edge of the garden city and is currently part of the green belt. The site is contiguous with the New Town rather than the original garden city. The draft local plan suggested it could accommodate 300 dwellings to be built over a ten-year period and states that the green belt harm was assessed as moderate high (Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, 2019). In many ways, this proposal, and indeed the new village at Symondshyde, are examples of what David Rudlin had referred to as a taking a confident bite off the green belt. A document produced by JB Planning Associates on behalf of Gascoyne Cecil Estates published in 2015 argued that ‘it will be necessary to review the green belt boundaries’ to accommodate the new housing needed in the county and that the proposed development would contribute to the creation of a ‘soft edge’ for the garden city. Although it would involve expanding the urbanised area, the extension is presented as a means to create a stronger long-term boundary for Welwyn:

The overriding concept of the Creswick Masterplan is to form a legible and robust soft edge to Welwyn Garden City, which is made up of distinctive character areas to creating individual neighbourhoods which vary in density, scale and appearance, thereby reflecting their relationship to the town and the adjacent countryside. (Gascoyne Cecil Estates, 2015: 23)

50The masterplan, designed by Brooks Murray, covers 12.86 hectares. It includes 310 new houses, a café, a shop and a number of home offices. Overall, the density is higher than in the historic garden city, but remains relatively, with an average of 24 housing units per hectare. Various types of public spaces are provided and form a network of connected open spaces. Building densities also vary and are lower around the Southern edge of the site, where detached houses follow the curve of a street.

Figure 12. Excerpt of the masterplan for Symondshyde

Figure 12. Excerpt of the masterplan for Symondshyde

Source: Gascoyne-Cecil Estates and JB Planning Associates (2018: 25)

Long-term management and stewardship

51A fundamental aspect of new communities as originally imagined by Ebenezer Howard was related to governance and stewardship. These issues have arguably been taken on board by Gascoyne-Cecil Estates. Thus, the management committee which would be set up for Symondshyde new village is described by Anthony Downs as ‘an evolution of what exists in Letchworth.’ According to Lord Salisbury, the management committee can be seen as a board of directors and its elected members would have to be residents of the village. He explains that a number of models were studied, including the Milton Keynes Park Trust which owns portfolio of land and property that provide income for the upkeep of space in the New Town. The management committee would however work on a different basis: all residents of the new village would be required to pay an annual contribution to a fund which would allow to cover expenditures for services that the council is unable to pay for, in the same way as the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation still does today. Lord Salisbury argues that it is important that everyone contributes to the fund, regardless of tenure: ‘if you are living in social housing but are paying, you can say I’m your equal, and I think this is important.’ As the new village would however be developed on a freehold basis, payment on behalf of social housing residents would be made by the housing associations.

52According to Lord Salisbury, this type of management allows to align the interests of all parties. He sees it as ‘it is a mixture of local democracy and unashamed paternalism.’ He also highlights the fact that the estate will keep a certain level of control, not least through its representation on the management committee, and that respecting the pattern book will be a ‘strict paternalistic and immutable rule.’ With regards to this particular aspect, Anthony Downs points out that ‘with local authorities, everything ends up being the size of a bin lorry or a fire truck. If you have a management company, you can take other views. You can have mews […] and you can design on a more human scale.’ This comment is of utmost importance: secondary and tertiary roads in the development would be owned and managed by the company. Their design would therefore not need to comply with local regulations. In many ways, such an approach is reminiscent of Lord Robert Cecil’s involvement in the campaign against building bye-laws in the early twentieth century: he was involved in the Building By-Laws Reform Association, which aimed to ‘promote amendments to by-laws so that official control of private building shall not extend beyond the demands of public health and safety and thus to prevent encroachments on individual liberty’ (British Architect, 1903).

Progress in planning

53At the time of writing, the Welwyn Hatfield plan has not been approved and the developments proposed by Gascoyne-Cecil Estates can therefore not be taken forward. Lord Salisbury argues that the inability to implement the projects is ‘not due to the planning system, which has its weaknesses, but to the main planning authority, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, being so slow in adopting a local plan.’ Notwithstanding his interest in developing part of his estate, he points to the fact that the delay in adopting the local plan means that more homes will be built in the county:

Their delay has been foolish from their point of view because, of course, they do not want huge numbers of houses. If they had adopted the plan a few years ago, they would probably have got away with 7,000 to 8,000 [new homes]. Now we are looking at 15,400. And equally, if they don’t have a plan at all, any developer can come along with a request for planning permission, and by law there is a presumption that planning will be granted. So what the delay has meant is that there is now even less protection for the locals than if they had gone ahead and done it. This seems to be political cowardness.

54In similar vein, Anthony Downs says:

We are a relatively affluent county. [A lot of people think] ‘I bought my home overlooking a field and I have an eternal right to look over a field.’ We have regular elections and councils don’t think twenty years ahead, they think ‘what is going to make me popular in the next five minutes?’ A new development, however good it may be, will not go down with the locals, especially those who are vocal. But when there are no new homes, there are no new schools, community centres or transport infrastructure. […]


55The argument made in this paper, namely that large landowners can make a major contribution to addressing housing shortage in Britain, could be seen as somewhat provocative. Yet, the very fact that they are in a position to provide the land needed to build the new settlements successive governments have called for is in itself an incentive to document their points of view and investigate the range of initiatives they are involved in to promote new settlements. The various actions led by Lord Salisbury in the county of Hertfordshire have shown that a large landowner can engage in this process at various levels, from strategic planning to architectural design, with good reason: the delivery of planned communities is a multi-scalar and cross sectoral enterprise.

56This paper has also highlighted the importance of considering Lord Salisbury’s actions in the light of the vision he advocates. It has sought to show that his promotion of new settlements, traditional architecture and urbanism is best understood when set in the perspective of an intellectual history of planning: it can be seen as a contemporary manifestation of Britain’s long tradition which originated more than a century ago and provides an interesting case-study of the role of precedents in design. In addition, Lord Salisbury’s collaboration with carefully selected designers such as Andrés Duany demonstrates the importance of examining current plans for new settlements as the product of networks of stakeholders and practitioners who share the same vision. Furthermore, the paper sought to stress the crucial role of the toolkits developed by those who strive for the implementation of this vision: the means used for delivery are arguably as important, if not more, than the vision itself.

57This paper also aimed to highlight the need to ground academic debates in first-hand accounts, which allow to record discourses, which can later be subject to a range of interpretations. Although an in-depth analysis of planning documents can provide an invaluable insight into the characteristics and aims of a proposed development, they are no substitute for the raw material collected through interviews.

58It is hoped that this paper has shown that academics in a range of disciplines should further scrutinise the role of major landowners in shaping the built environment, not least because their current projects will no doubt be subject to future historiographical research. This unique opportunity to document history in the making should not be missed.

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1 Stevenage and Hatfield are located on the same rail transport link.

2 Following the New Towns Act (1946).

3 The finalists were: URBED; Shelter; Barton Willmore; Chris Blundell; Wei Yang and Partners.

4 Long Marston in Stratford-on-Avon; Oxfordshire Cotswold in West Oxfordshire; Deenethorpe in East Northants; Culm in Mid Devon; Welborne near Fareham in Hampshire; West Carclaze in Cornwall; Dunton Hills near Brentwood in Essex; Spitalgate Heath in South Kesteven, Lincolnshire; Halsnead in Knowsley, Merseyside; Longcross in Runnymede and Surrey Heath; Bailrigg in Lancaster; Infinity Garden Village in South Derbyshire and Derby City; St Cuthbert near Carlisle City in Cumbria; North Cheshire in Cheshire East.

5 Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire; Taunton in Summerset; Harlow and Gilston in Essex and Hertfordshire.

6 James Cecil, 4th Marquess of Salisbury (1861-1947).

7 Department of Civic Design

8 The Housing, Town Planning etc. Act (1909)

9 Archival material held at Hatfield House shows that he was a strong supporter of the Association’s work, which he helped financially and through his extensive networks.

10 Robert Cecil, 5th Marquess of Salisbury, (1893-1972), Viscount Cranborne from 1903 to 1947.

11 For an in-depth discussion of the method, see Lennertz and Lutzenhiser (2017).

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1. Retrofitting post-war settlements according to garden city principles
Credits Source: Parham, Downs and Murray, 2014: 13.
File image/png, 160k
Title Figure 2. Correcting Stevenage New Town (urban structure)
Credits Source: Duany, 2019: 75.
File image/png, 437k
Title Figure 3. Liverpool Garden Suburb as it is and as it might have been
Caption Plate comparing the garden-suburb as designed and a hypothetical development on the same site, based on the then Corporation’s requirements.
Credits Source: Gladstone, 1920: 54.
File image/png, 553k
Title Figure 4. Nothing gained by overcrowding
Caption Plate comparing housing developments designed on the basis of bye-laws (left) and garden city principles (right).
Credits Source: Unwin, 1912: 4.
File image/png, 252k
Title Figure 5. A comparison of traditional and suburban sprawl
Credits DPZ
File image/png, 297k
Title Figure 6. Six scenarios for accommodating growth in Hertfordshire
Credits Source: DPZ, 2008: 11.
File image/png, 165k
Title Figure 7. Gascoyne-Cecil Estates housing development on Church Lane, Hatfield (2015)
Credits Photo credit: Yann Mazimann
File image/png, 882k
Title Figure 8. An example showing the characteristics of transect zones
Credits Source: Gascoyne Places (2020 : 45)
File image/png, 277k
Title Figure 9. An example of a regulating plan drawn up according to transect zones
Credits Source: Gascoyne Places (2020 : 46)
File image/png, 317k
Title Figure 10. Map showing the location of proposed Gascoyne settlements, including Symondshyde and Creswick
Credits Source: Gascoyne Places (2020: 41)
File image/png, 694k
Title Figure 11. Masterplan for Symondshyde
Credits Source: Gascoyne Places (2020: 53)
File image/png, 1.8M
Title Figure 12. Excerpt of the masterplan for Symondshyde
Credits Source: Gascoyne-Cecil Estates and JB Planning Associates (2018: 25)
File image/png, 744k
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Electronic reference

Stéphane Sadoux, The large landowner as a visionary plannerAngles [Online], 15 | 2022, Online since 15 November 2022, connection on 30 May 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Stéphane Sadoux

Stéphane Sadoux is a town planner and an historian. He graduated from the universities of Oxford, Newcastle and Grenoble. He is currently director of Unité de Recherche (LabEx) Architecture, Environnement & Cultures Constructives, Grenoble School of Architecture (ENSAG), Université Grenoble Alpes, France. His research has mainly focused on planning history, theory and practice in Britain, with specific reference to garden cities. He is a visiting fellow at the University of Hertfordshire. Contact: sadoux.s [at]

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