Barton Willmore’s Ian Tant on how a housing obsession bagged a place on the prestigious Wolfson Prize shortlist


As I write this, I’m basking in the glory of my practice, Barton Willmore, having been selected as one of the five shortlisted entries in the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014. The competition asked entrants how they would deliver a garden city that was visionary, economically viable, and popular. Pleasant though this is, I really need to pay tribute to the small team of people within Barton Willmore who put the submission together. While the partners gave the go-ahead to put time and resources into the submission and many people within and beyond the practice contributed to the ideas and the debate. The serious thinking and hard work was contributed by James Gross, Kathryn Anderson, Kevin Parker, Mark Sitch, Robin Shepherd and Jenni Montgomery - brilliant job, all!

In fact the ideas that underpin the submission come from wide-ranging experience in the planning, design and delivery (and the latter’s the most difficult part) of new towns and cities and new neighbourhoods across the UK and internationally (including China, where they’re not only planning new garden cities, they’re building them). For those who are interested, our submission can be seen here.

When the prize was announced in late 2013, it was too good an opportunity to miss to develop our thinking on a wider stage

The Barton Willmore approach is not a masterplan for a garden city – it’s a routemap for delivering a substantial number of these throughout the country. It starts by seeking to tackle the problem of gaining national and local support for new places, thereby de-risking the proposal for developers and investors. It then looks at the role of landowners and “patient money” in enabling development and of governance in steering design and construction and engendering local control. There is no “masterplan”: each settlement, each development and each place will be different. 

The practice didn’t enter into this lightly; nor is it a one-off event. The concerns and drive that fed into the submission were already there within our teams. Seeking ways to ensure the delivery of new homes in new places is not just an idea – it’s an obsession that has gripped us for decades. So when the prize was announced in late 2013, it was too good an opportunity to miss to set out those ideas and develop our thinking with the hope of putting that on a wider stage. And recognising that this isn’t just a design matter, we assembled a core team of urban designers and planners with help from all disciplines within the firm to develop the ideas and create our submission.

Being shortlisted is just the start: now we need to develop our ideas and the challenge is to transform the clear thinking that underlies the submission into delivery on the ground. Winning the prize would be terrific but the real prize will be seeing new homes under construction by their thousands in new places of real quality and, yes, beauty.

Ian Tant is a senior partner at Barton Willmore