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

Supplementary memorandum by New Towns Group (NT 14(c))


  The New Towns Group represents ten of the local authorities within the New Town Special Interest Group, a specialist group within the Local Government Association. These are:
HaltonTelford and Wrekin
Milton KeynesWarrington
NorthamptonWest Lancashire

  The Group welcomes this opportunity to send additional evidence in light of the Governments' announcement on the outcome of stage 1 of the quinquennial review of English Partnerships. It is anticipated that a number of the local authorities represented by the Group will send their own individual submissions answering the questions specifically about their New Towns. This paper will therefore only respond to those questions which consider overarching issues.


  The New Towns Group welcomes the outcome of stage 1 of the English Partnerships' review. The Group believes that the review took on board many of the issues raised with regard to the considerable degree of concern about the operation of English Partnerships as an inheritor of Commission for New Towns assets and liabilities. In particular, the Group welcomes the Minister's commitment to transfer assets and planning powers to the local authorities, as this will permit local authorities to effectively manage local assets for the benefit of the local community.

   Nevertheless, the New Town Group believes that there are a considerable number of issues which still require to be resolved. These include:

    —  The definition and extent of ``strategic'' assets by English Partnerships.

    —  The timescale for the transfer of assets and powers to local authorities, including supporting resources.

    —  The level of regeneration it is anticipated English Partnerships will undertake in the New Towns.

    —  The source of the finance for English Partnerships to undertake brownfield regeneration work.

    —  The need to address the issue of clawbacks and covenants.

    —  The need for increased democratic input into the operation of English Partnerships.

    —  The need to address why, given the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales, English Partnerships continues to operate in Cwmbran.

    —  Progressive transfer of planning powers.

    —  Following the transfer of assets from English Partnerships to local authorities, receipts from the sale of assets should be available for use by the local authority, rather than being recycled to HM Treasury.

  The New Towns Group believes that these issues remain critical to the future prosperity and growth of the English and Welsh New Towns.

  3.  The Strategic Sites Issues

  There is considerable concern, following the announcement of stage 1 of the review, with regard to how the definition of 'strategic' sites in New Towns will be drawn up, and the timescale for the transfer of non-strategic sites.

  It is the belief of the New Towns Group that the vast majority of former CNT sites should be transferred as soon as possible to local authorities, and with it, the necessary expenditure and human resources to meet the needs of developing and maintaining these sites. Failure to transfer these sites within a short timescale will only increase the risk of fears of a firesale of English Partnerships sites, with none of the benefits being accrued by local authorities. This will not only result in a financial shortfall for local authorities, but will also mean that they will loose the opportunity to direct the outcome of the use of such assets. In order to prevent a sudden sell-off of sites held by English Partnerships, we shall be encouraging Ministers to direct English Partnerships to avoid unnecessary sell-offs.

  The definition of strategic sites will be part of the negotiations of stage two of the English Partnerships review and we will take the opportunity of discussing this issue in greater detail over the coming months. The Group believes that one such definition could be that strategic sites are those sites which the market either cannot or will not invest in without public sector funding. This would, for example, cover areas in need of regeneration and sites which need remedial work. In such cases, English Partnerships could play a valuable role, in conjunction with other partners, to develop or redevelop such sites.

  The selection of sites to be maintained by English Partnerships will be critical. We look forward to discussions on which sites best meet the agreed criteria. We also believe that English Partnerships should maintain its role in the Millennium Communities initiative. There is however some concern that the proposed brownfield regeneration fund would be funded from the sale of New Town assets, resulting in no benefit for the New Towns.

  4.  Patterns of English Partnerships Intervention

  English Partnerships has not had a remit to regenerate areas within New Towns. In our initial submission to the Committee, we drew attention to the fact that there were considerable levels of deprivation within the New Towns. There is little or no evidence of English Partnerships having participated in regeneration schemes in the New Towns, bar their recent work on town centre redevelopments and interest in areas such as Woodside in Telford. The New Town Group believes that English Partnerships should use its expertise as a matter of course to work in partnership with local authorities and other agencies to assist in the regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods in New Towns. This would partially alleviate the problem of New Towns not having sufficient access to regeneration funding. In addition the Group reiterates its concern that many New Towns, despite having severe social exclusion issues, are not eligible to apply for Government assistance through structural funds.

  5.  Clawbacks and Covenants

  The Group remains concerned that English Partnerships will retain its clawback and covenant arrangement. We drew attention to this brake on redevelopment and regeneration in our previous submission. Covenant and clawback arrangements are in some cases just as important as the question of assets. The money from clawback arrangements results in less money being available for local authorities to engage in regeneration schemes. We hope that the Government will look seriously at this issue in stage two of the review as it is a major handicap to most of the former New Towns.

  6.  Planning Powers Transfer

  The Group wishes to reiterate its view that planning powers should be transferred as soon as possible from English Partnerships to local authorities. While we welcome the Government's announcement at stage one of the review, we hope that the transfer will not be delayed by the Government's review of planning issues. Any delay will continue to fetter the ability of local authorities to plan for the future. In order for the local authorities to meet the new development skills required, following the transfer of English Partnerships assets, there must be a simultaneous transfer of planning resources.

  7.  English Partnerships in Wales

  The Group is surprised that the Government did not take the opportunity in stage one of the review to announce that English Partnerships would no longer be operating in Wales. We believe that the interests of the future economic and social development of Cwmbran would be best represented through Torfaen County Borough Council.

  8.  Meeting the needs of the New Towns

  If, as it seems, English Partnerships retains some land and powers within the New Towns, it should meet the specific needs and aspirations of the towns. In particular, it should:

    —  Support sustainable development.

    —  Support regeneration schemes.

    —  Engage with local communities and work in genuine partnership with local stakeholders; not least local authorities.

    —  Transfer all non-strategic assets as soon as possible to local authorities.

    —  Transfer planning powers and resources as soon as possible to local authorities.

  9.  The Existing SSA Structure

  New Towns are penalised under the current SSA system. The Group would wish to see the Government examining the issues highlighted below when considering the review of the Revenue Support Grant system.

  9.1  Meeting the needs of the Community

  Under the current SSA formulae, there is a concern that the special needs of New Towns are not fully recognised. New Towns have a disproportionate amount of undeveloped land set aside for recreation and amenity use, as well as to make the built environment more attractive. In addition, New Towns have lengthy road networks and poor public transport infrastructure. Unlike traditional towns, the infrastructure and structures within the New Towns were built within a relatively short timescale. The result is that the towns suffer from simultaneous ageing, which needs repair and maintenance. This obviously has cost implications for the local authorities who have a large number of structures to repair within a short period of time, rather than the gradual repair schedule experienced by traditional town councils. It is important that any future formulae take into account these special needs and the Government earmarks money to help authorities maintain these sites.

  9.2  Growth and demographic change

  Many of the New Towns have relatively high growth rates. Warrington, Telford, Northampton and Milton Keynes in particular have high growth levels. The current SSA formulae do not take into account the problems faced by growing populations and the issue is compounded by the fact that DTLR uses historic data and ONS estimates often do not reflect real growth rates. The result is that growing towns lose money year on year and are penalised by the Government's financial ceilings when Councils try to meet the shortfalls through raising additional Council Tax. Councils with falling populations also face financial difficulties under the current SSA system, but the Government's financial floors protect them.

  A further concern is the demographic make-ups of the New Towns. Often New Towns have differing demographic make-ups to traditional towns, with higher than average numbers of children and an increasing number of older people. The result is that New Towns have to meet the spiralling costs of increased school provision and special provisions for the elderly.

  A possible solution, which should be examined, is for specific grants to be allocated by the Government to assist growing authorities meet the costs of population growth.

  10.  Conclusion

  The New Towns represented by this group believe the outcome of stage 1 of the English Partnerships review has provided significant scope for making a real difference to the future governance and growth of the former New Towns. However, the details and speed of delivery will be critical. Failure by the Government to transfer assets and planning powers to local authorities as soon as possible will leave the New Towns handicapped, needing for additional resources and no control over planning developments, while English Partnerships sells off the assets. We believe that Stage one of the review has also failed to address some significant aspects of English Partnerships activity, most notably the operation of English Partnerships in Wales and the retention of clawbacks and covenants. If New Towns are to remain engines of growth and prosperity in the British economy, the Government must address these issues, along with changes to the funding of local authorities.

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