Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by West Lothian Council (NT 47)

  1.  West Lothian Council has been requested by the Urban Affairs Sub Committee to respond to the inquiry into "The New Towns: their problems and future". In doing so, reference is made to the March 2002 submission from the New Towns Group.

  2.  Initially, we would highlight that there are two fundamental differences between the position of Scottish and English New Towns. Following the wind up of new towns in Scotland, assets were vested with the local authorities. In England, assets were passed to English Partnerships. Secondly, Scottish local authorities have full planning powers in the new towns. This does not appear to be the case in England.

  3.  In Scotland, wind-up of the five new town development corporations took place over three years with their assets being vested with the relevant local authorities. West Lothian Council inherited the assets of Livingston Development Corporation at wind-up in March 1997. Significant efforts were made to ensure that any residual matters at March 1997 were kept to a minimum. In any case, the primary vehicle for dealing with these matters was to be the local authority.

  4.  We agree with the concept of New Towns as outlined in the papers and accept the principle that New Towns should be "normalised". Indeed, in the case of Scottish new towns this has already happened in that former new towns are a part of their respective local authorities. In the case of Livingston, it was always envisaged that it would be the main sub-regional centre within the Lothians, second only in size to Edinburgh.

  5.  We do not recognise the comments about significant problems which now exist in the new towns. Undoubtedly there are particular issues given their relatively short history but no worse than in many other communities in Scotland and some of our issues are noted in subsequent paragraphs. Generally, in the case of Livingston, particularly in the last six years with the extensions to the Almondvale shopping centre, the opening of the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet Centre, the rise of Livingston Football Team and growth of leisure facilities, Livingston has in its own right become a much more mature and successful community. In terms of its location, it has many advantages for the business and commercial community and also for Livingston residents in easy access to any other part of the country. The transport infrastructure admittedly needs to be further developed, but significant strides have already been made over the last 10 years. In the context of the broader Edinburgh housing market, Livingston is now very much seen as an attractive proposition for house purchase and this will continue to develop as the council develops its policies and proposals detailed in the Lothian Structure Plan and the associated 20/20 Vision concept.

  6.  Contrary to some of the points made in the submissions, Livingston does not have a significant number of houses in need of regeneration nor does it suffer from poor urban design and housing layout. There are some concerns over footpath networks and public transport arrangements, but these are relatively minor and with comparatively small levels of investment could be significantly improved.

  7.  A negative aspect of Livingston new town wind up was the loss of substantial Scottish Office funds which went into the promotion and development of the New Town. This funding was not replaced, despite the fact that the town had not reached its target population. The activities of West Lothian Council compensated to some extent but government investment for promotion and growth was lost.

  8.  Livingston was designed for car use and the roads and lighting infrastructure created now needs substantial maintenance. Most was built at the same time and requires investment now. Again, additional grant funds are needed in addition to the routine maintenance which the endowment was meant to cover.

  9.  There are significant points made in the submission from the New Towns Group relating to covenants and claw-back arrangements inhibiting development within new towns in that these matters are dealt with by English Partnerships. West Lothian Council faces similar issues with the Scottish Executive on the debt redemption rules on disposal of housing assets.

  10.  The New Towns Group appear to be lobbying for "normalisaton" for their new towns. West Lothian Council has issues about facilities, transportation and infrastructure in Livingston but we can report significant progress and remain optimistic about the continued beneficial development of the town. We would agree that "responsible local authorities are the best-placed organisations to lead and regenerate new towns".

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