Letchworth Garden City
Centenary Competition

by Sandra Haley

Originally printed issue 69  June 1997

For those of you who did not attend the talk given by Sarah Carrick in March, let me begin by explaining the background to the competition.

Although Ebenezer Howard visualised an interaction between town and country, Lctchworth's first century has mostly been spent developing the urban area. The farms on the rural estate have been successful commercially, but there has not been any overall strategy for the rural estate, only piecemeal conservation and environmental work. With Letchworth's centenary approaching in 2003, the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation decided to run a competition to find a professional group, who could devise a management plan for the Garden City's rural estate, which would enhance the life of the inhabitants of Letchworth, and take it into the next century.

The objectives included:- 

creation of a practical, attractive landscape,
encouragement of public access and enjoyment 
increased bio-diversity

However, competitors had to maintain the farms' profitability by not reducing the farming area by more than 4%: Also, they were to identify areas where small environmental/landscape developments could be part of a separate competition for local groups. It was planned that the selected scheme would be started in the autumn of 1997, and capital works completed by 2003. 

The assessors were Stuart Kenny  Director General of Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation; David Lee - The Landscape Institute; Tom Hancock - Town and Country Planning Association; Simon Lyster - Director General of the Wildlife Trusts; and myself -representing the Letchworth Garden City Society. 

During 2 days in April we looked at the 22 entries and invited 4 teams of competitors to attend interviews to explain their ideas in greater detail. 

The winner of the £15,000 prize was lIlman Young Landscape Design, who impressed us all with their enthusiasm and imaginative scheme.
Their design follows Howard's original model for social cities, with the existing urban estate replacing the role of the central city, and the satellite towns being replaced by 3 'Resource Centres' around the rural estate linked by a new circular route (the Greenway) around the edge of the rural estate.

The Resource Centres are based at:-

Radwell Ecological Park - 

The existing meadow, grassland and open water to be retained and improved, and opened up to limited public access. The habitat alongside the River Ivel to he improved with new footpaths and interpretive material Animal grazing would continue. A new lake could be created in an adjacent arable field, away from the wildlife site, surrounded by informal play and picnic areas of grassland. Car parking and toilet facilities to be provided at Nortonbury Farm and, perhaps, long-term, refreshments and information centre.

Willian Village Gateway- 

The plan would be based upon Willian's archaeological and ecological features. Proposals include recreating the willow bed and holding seasonal demonstrations of traditional countryside crafts at the estate offices. The estate office could also be used as the base for a visitors' centre and, perhaps, guided cycle tours. Display boards could draw attention to the historic/archaeological features. The entrance to the village to be marked by special gateway features.

Wymondley Wood -

New planting would supplement the existing plantations to the south of the estate to provide a woodland area of approximately 11 hectares - creating 'Wymondley Wood'. This would improve the landscape and provide new wildlife habitats. There would he mixed deciduous, coniferous trees with an understorey of hazel coppice. Existing water areas would be retained and improved, if necessary, to provide wetland areas. There would he a waymarked trail and public access would be encouraged. Community involvement in fact, might be encouraged from the beginning by recreating Arbour Days to plant the trees. Long-term, Wymondley Wood could become a local nature reserve.

There would also be:-

The Letchworth Greenway 

This would be a modern interpretation of Ebenezer Howard's
"Grand Avenue" encircling the town, and consists of a circular route between the rural and urban estates providing a surfaced walkway for pedestrians and cyclists with, perhaps, separate access for horse riders. Access from the urban estate would he encouraged because it would connect the Resource Centres with existing playing fields, schools, leisure centres, etc. Planting would reflect the different landscapes the Greenway passed through, and there would be seating, signs and litter bins.

Green Links 

There would be secondary routes along existing footpaths and field boundaries which would be enhanced by surfacing the tracks and planting or fencing if appropriate, again, with seating, signs and litter bins.

Landscape Enhancement and Containment 

The existing landscape would be enhanced by various methods such as improving and adding hedgerows, reinstating field boundaries and additional shrub/tree planting in various areas, too numerous to mention here. All existing woodlands, hedgerows, aquatic sites, etc. would be retained intact. 

The team from Illiman Young Landscape Design were very keen on involving the local community, so as the development progresses over the next 6 years, it may well be adapted and changed as local people are consulted. I found this scheme very exciting and believe it would give Letchworth's inhabitants in the town's second century a rural estate to match the urban estate, which our forebears had the vision to create for us.

The other short listed entries, who receive £2,000 each, were:-
Kate Collins and Richard Weston
Sarah Greco, Roger Westman and Wendy Wright
John Etchells and Reading Agricultural Consultants

Further prizes were given to 2 teams from the University of Edinburgh:-

Tim Beecher, Laurence Osborn, Daryl Westen   £250
Kate Mallett, Philip Crowe, Graham Ryder £500

and 2 teams who submitted entries with aspects of particular merit:-

Treyer-Evans, Crudgington (Excellent Graphics) £500
Rupert Kempley (Tree Lined Circular Walk)     £500