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:
|Halton||Telford and Wrekin
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.
2. THE ENGLISH
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.