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


Supplementary memorandum by Halton Borough Council (NT 07(b))

Response from Halton Borough Council to the further questions raised by the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee of the House of Commons Select Committee for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

To be read in conjunction with Halton Borough Council's initial memorandum of evidence.

THE ROLE OF THE TOWN AND ITS FUTURE DEVELOPMENT

1.   What was the original objective of the town?

  The prime purpose of the New Town was to provide housing and employment for people from Liverpool and North Merseyside, planned for an ultimate population of 100,000 (90-95,000 by the year 2000, the existing population being around 27,000).

  The Master Plan designer was Arthur Ling. His introduction to the 1967 Master Plan described a number of subsidiary objectives:

    —  To use the opportunity to advance the art and science of town planning to create a new environment and a new community for people moving in as well as those already living there.

    —  To foster an integrated community in which all sections of society are anxious to play their part.

    —  To achieve unity and balance between all elements of the town: between population and employment, housing and social services, urbanity and landscape, public and private transport, utility and amenity.

    —  To achieve a planned balance between public and private transport to give good accessibility and a genuine sense of belonging to a close-knit community.

    —  To achieve unification between old and new.

    —  To take advantage of the unique physical and landscape features of the site.

    —  To accommodate changing methods of industrial production and greater automation, new forms of housing and shopping, increasing demand for recreational and cultural facilities, and new developments in means of transport.

2.   Which of those objectives do you think have been met?

  In total these objectives are ambitious, even idealistic, so it is not surprising that we have seen varying degrees of success in their achievement. Because of changing household characteristics and a certain level of out-migration the target population was never reached. The actual population of Runcorn in year 2000 (62,730) was around two thirds of the target figure.

  The New Town did indeed cater for new forms of housing and shopping, but as has been described in our main Memorandum, it was the more radical designs that in the end proved the least appropriate to deal with changing circumstances.

  Likewise, the New Town did attempt to cater for new means of transport—the segregated Busway system initially being devised for tram or monorail rather than for the single-deck buses finally chosen. However, levels of public transport usage never achieved the levels assumed by the designers. For example, they assumed a 50:50 public/private transport split for internal work journeys, whereas the recent actual figure is more like 12:88.

  The objective of unification between old and new was never fully achieved. By its very nature the New Town concept was always going to be seen by existing residents as an unwelcome intrusion, but in the event this was intensified by the feeling that a very workable, traditional town centre had been sacrificed in the cause of an over-ambitious Shopping City. This never fulfilled its potential, with the end result that everyone felt they had lost out.

3.   WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE ITS ROLE IN THE REGION/SUB-REGION IN THE FUTURE?

  Runcorn is centrally located in the "Mersey Belt", between the Merseyside and Manchester conurbations. In the terms of a study now being concluded by the North West Development Agency, Runcorn is one of the meeting points of the Mersey Belt's economically buoyant "Southern Crescent" and the more problematic "Metropolitan Axis". It therefore has a potentially key role to serve as one of the gateways between these zones, with development potential that is complementary to each. Its degree of success in this role will be crucially dependent upon two factors:

    —  Securing a second road crossing of the Mersey at this point.

    —  A recognition that, even with a strong national and regional emphasis on brownfield sites, selective greenfield developments have an important contributory role in regeneration.

4.   To what extent is the original masterplan for the town still used as a guiding principle for development and redevelopment?

  The New Town scheme has provided the physical framework that continues to act as a decisive influence on the broad location and nature of future development. The main departure from original intentions has been in East Runcorn, for three key reasons:

    —  Earlier reservations for special industrial use (new ICI installations) proved unnecessary and made way for the general employment allocations now known as Manor Park.

    —  Successes at Manor Park coupled with the emergence of the Business Park concept gave rise to the Daresbury Park proposal immediately to the East of the NT Designated Area and the exclusion of that area from the Green Belt. It is noteworthy that Daresbury Park is now recognised by the North West Development Agency as one of its Regional Strategic Sites.

    —  The emerging UDP consolidates the general buoyancy of East Runcorn by proposing further housing and employment allocations, using greenfield land but specifically designed as a "sustainable urban extension".

  At Halton Lea (formerly Shopping City) there have been significant departures from the original design concept for two key reasons:

    —  The over-elaborate access arrangements— ground-level car access (with multi-storey parking) and upper-level bus and pedestrian access—never worked well. The complications militated against its becoming a user-friendly centre attracting shoppers from further afield. The quality and range of shopping and allied business services remained deficient. In planning policy terms this led to a review of the balance of provision between Shopping City and Runcorn "Old Town". The respective centres now have equal status, whereas the Master Plan regarded the Old Town as a district centre.

    —  The access problems also led to the abandonment of the earlier intention of extending Shopping City at the same upper level, in favour of ground-level developments in retail park-style.

5.   How well have the old and new parts of your town been integrated? If they have not been well integrated,what form does this take in physical/spatial terms and what are the implications of this for the growth of the town?

  The different phases of the New Town have very different characteristics. The earlier phases met the need for rehousing from Merseyside through the large-scale provision of social housing, including two areas of high density deck-access flats. Later phases took the form of readying sites for private development, much of this being medium-density detached housing to meet the changing market demand. The different patterns of development have led to very different planning and management issues. The earlier stock has remained predominantly in public ownership, being transferred from the Development Corporation to a group of Housing Associations.

  As explained more fully in the initial memorandum, the Housing Associations have met a number of difficulties in refurbishing or adapting their New Town stock. In the case of two New Town neighbourhoods (Southgate and Castlefields) the high-density deck access schemes have given rise to particularly acute problems. The regeneration of these estates has entailed, or will entail, significant demolitions followed by redevelopment along more conventional lines.

6.   Has/can the town achieve the population that was originally planned?

  At year 2000 the population of Runcorn was 62,370 compared to the New Town target of 90-95,000, and around 830 lower than the 1995 figure. The lesser population figure is partly due to the national phenomenon of reducing household size and partly due to continuing trend of net out-migration experienced by both Runcorn and Widnes. The Borough Council has a general aim, expressed in the emerging Unitary Development Plan, of reversing this trend. The provision of sites attractive to the private housing market is a key part of the strategy, allied to continued efforts to diversify the economy away from its previous heavy dependence on the chemicals sectors. The former New Town sites in East Runcorn, now owned by English Partnerships, are a very important component of the overall stock of housing land.

7.   How does the age profile of your population relate to the national average? Is this related to your being a New Town? How do local agencies and strategies respond to that?

  Runcorn's peak New Town influx was 20-25 years ago. The young families who moved in at that time have now grown up. This has led to a different—ie higher—profiling for Halton in the current 40-54 age bands compared to the national average. These persons would have been in their 20s when they moved here. Their children are now aged 5-19, and Halton has a higher proportion for all these ages than England and Wales. Halton's profiling is dramatically different in the 20-24 age group, where young people who leave home to study tend not to return to Halton. This reflects a number of factors, including the local job market which offers insufficient job opportunities for graduates. The 30-39 age group has a lower representation than elsewhere in England and Wales, reflecting those young families who have moved out—often those with more "get up and go". The lower proportions of the older age groups in Halton completes the overall younger age profile the New Town has brought Halton. The differences, are however, smaller than previously as the "younger" feel to the population grows up.

  We are uncertain of the extent to which the implications of the different profiles have been fully explored in other agency strategies and programmes. However, the newer arrangements for inter-agency collaboration through Local Strategic Partnerships should help to ensure full use of common core data such as population characteristics.

8.   How strong is the demand for the existing commercial land? Is there demand for further commercial development in the town? What is the effect of commercial development in the town on other towns in the sub-regional economy?

  Runcorn certainly benefits from a good stock of well-serviced and well-marketed employment sites resulting from the New Town programme. Demand is strong in the newer areas of East Runcorn, in particular for distribution uses at Manor Park East, and business uses at the non-New Town zone at Daresbury Park. Demand is weaker in the older employment area of Astmoor. There is little demand for commercial office development in any of the town centre areas.

  One consequence of the New Town programme is that the Runcorn portfolio of sites is much stronger than that in Widnes, within the same Borough. There is an expectation among Widnes residents and employers that this imbalance will be addressed and corrected.

9.   Can you describe the sub-regional planning arrangements that are in place to regulate/facilitate development? Can you describe the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach?

  Halton Borough Council became a Unitary Authority in 1998, since when a number of sub-regional arrangements have changed, with the position still evolving. For certain matters Halton is part of "Greater Merseyside", which includes financial commitment to a number of joint advisory services within the Merseyside Network. For other matters, in particular police and fire services, and in dealings with the Environment Agency, Halton retains a Cheshire focus.

  For the purposes of sub-regional planning Halton is definitely within the Merseyside fold, and meets regularly with the NWRA's Regional Planning Team on this basis. The prime strength of this relationship is that Halton shares many of the characteristics of the other constituent authorities, leading to considerable unity of purpose.

  The prime weakness of the current approach is that there is no statutory basis for the production of a definitive sub-regional plan or strategy. Some preparatory work on a sub-regional planning strategy was undertaken to feed into the review of Regional Planning Guidance for the North West, but in the absence of a clear statutory basis or remit it was inevitable that this work had to make way for other, more immediate priorities.

10.   What is the regional/sub-regional role of the shopping centre in your town? What investment is proposed in the town centre area in the next few years?

  As hinted above, the New Town centre at Halton Lea serves only a local role, and there are continuing concerns as to the quality of the non-food retail offer. A study by retail consultants of current conditions and prospects for the Borough's three main centres is underway at present—following up earlier work conducted as background to the emerging Halton UDP. It is not anticipated that this study will point to a need for additional retail floorspace, but it may well contain recommendations that require an update of the three Town Centre Strategies (published in 1998).

ORGANISATIONS, REGULATIONS AND FINANCE

11.   Can you give some numerical examples of the problems that have arisen with clawback and covenants in housing, amenity space and other land uses?

  No significant problems have arisen from clawback payments, although such issues do complicate redevelopment proposals and cause uncertainty. A good example is the Castlefields estate, where the release of and the valuation of clawback sites are vital components of the emerging regeneration strategy. Currently these problems are minimised through Partnership working, but still need particular effort and joint agreement to resolve.

12.   The Committee has been made aware that in some cases clawback has made Right to Buy marginal or even negative, in terms of receipts to the local authority. Has this been the case in your authority, if so can you give a financial example? What are the implications of this?

  This is not an issue for Halton Council as all New Town public housing stock was transferred to RSL's.

13.   Can you quantify the outstanding liabilities facing your authority, firstly as a result of the package of assets and liabilities transferred to the authority at the winding up of the Development Corporation and secondly as a result of design and other issues relating to the New Town?

  The liabilities transferred from the Development Corporation comprise around 68 small parcels of land (sites of former dwelling houses) that now offer car parking facilities in the old town and the supports / buffer zones to the bridge approaches. The assets transferred comprise a community centre, four aged town centre retail units, two pub freeholds, and two sports fields.


14.   How does the financial value of the liabilities caused as a result of your town being a New Town, compare to the financial value of the remaining assets held by English Partnerships in the town?

  The capitalised value of the liabilities transferred under CRA is £10 million. We do not hold a list of assets retained by English Partnerships so we are unable to compare this £10 million with the value of EP assets.

15.   To what extent has English Partnerships participated in regeneration partnerships in your town?

  EP has been a constant, active partner in numerous regeneration initiatives, including various ad hoc programmes, as well as the more systematic bids and programmes relating to SRB, derelict land, and Neighbourhood Renewal. Previously, the key partnership arrangement was the Halton Partnership, now enlarged and subsumed into the Halton LSP.

16.   Many of the submissions have referred to the inadequacy of the existing SSA to reflect the needs of the New Towns. Can you detail those weaknesses and set out any suggestions about how any successor to the SSA could be improved?

EXISTING SSA ARRANGEMENTS:

  The current SSA methodology has been frozen for the previous four years. Within the EPCS block, SSA is allocated based on a number of assumptions:

    —  High density equals high costs.

    —  High deprivation equals high costs.

    —  High sparsity equals high costs.

  The above assumptions are valid for the traditional structure of most towns and cities but they ignore some of the basic make-up of New Towns. New Towns have large open spaces and footpaths interspersed with its housing. This disadvantages New Towns on two fronts:

    —  The high costs associated with grounds maintenance and footpaths are not recognised within the SSA.

    —  The structure of new towns prevents overall high densities, which are rewarded within the current SSA structure.

  Many New Towns, including Runcorn, were built in the 1970s and now require high levels of structural maintenance and refurbishment. These costs are not recognised within the SSA formula.

  For example, the New Town is serviced by 24 kilometres of busway. The Authority is responsible for carrying out any repairs and maintenance. However, the busway is adopted as part of the "unclassified" network, and because the actual vehicle flows are comparatively low, the Council receives only minimal funding through the SSA formula. The New Town also has an extensive footpath network, deliberately planned to be separate from the highway network. These footpaths are adopted, but the associated maintenance costs and liabilities are not accounted for in the SSA formula. The maintenance costs can be disproportionately high due to the difficulties of machine access away from the roadside.

  Other areas of disadvantage include the lack of appreciation of the fixed costs of Local Authorities. Runcorn has been experiencing a declining population, with many of the second generation adults moving out of the borough leaving behind the elderly and less well off.

  The running costs of the council do not reduce at the same rate as the falling SSA (which reduces due to the falling population). Furthermore, the residual population tend to have higher costs associated with them because of the reason outlined above.

FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS TO THE SSA:

  In general there are a number of areas in which reform to the SSA mechanism would benefit new towns, as detailed below:

    —  Full recognition of the current levels of deprivation:

    Move away from using Census data towards data that can be updated every year.

    Make greater use of Index of Multiple Deprivation data.

    —  Removal of the inequality of the Area Cost Adjustment mechanism:

    Base funding on the specific costs of providing services in London.

    —  Take realistic account of the problems associated with the effects of falling population:

    Costs do not reduce at the same rate as the falling population.

    More needy population remains behind.

    —  Move away from funding based regression analysis.

    —  Take account of a realistic tax base, the Council Tax revaluation needs to happen sooner rather than later.

17.   Has the pattern of ownership and CNT/EP's role had any implication in your ability to develop a housing strategy for the area?

  The pattern of ownership and CNT's role has not caused any problems in developing an effective housing strategy within the Borough. As mentioned earlier, the extent of EP ownership in East Runcorn has had a significant influence on the spatial planning policies, both of the adopted Halton Local Plan and the emerging Halton UDP.

DESIGN

18.   What is the balance between the original design/materials used and lack of maintenance/resources for maintenance in the causes of the poor housing conditions found in some of the New Towns?

  The socially rented housing within the New Town was transferred to the RUNHAG group of Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) some 12 years ago. Since then the RSLs have largely solved the problems of ongoing maintenance/improvement of the housing by investing the dowry they received for this purpose and by employing their own resources to the task. This action has included the demolition of the former Southgate estate and the improvement of the bulk of the stock elsewhere.

  However, due to the nature of the housing, serious problems still remain due to design issues. In particular a significant proportion of the stock consists of either concrete deck access flats or properties built with non-traditional finishes. Another contributory factor is the layout of the estates which are unsuited to modern life eg Radburn layouts, and have significant areas of public open space. Thus the vast bulk of housing problems relate to the original design and not the maintenance of the individual properties. This can be shown by the Council involvement within the Castlefields redevelopment proposals which look to demolish 600 deck access flats and their replacement with 350 new RSL properties within a wider context of Urban Regeneration, involving the development of private housing and new shopping and community facilities.

19.   Has your design led to problems with crime? If so, have you looked at ways to design out crime? Are there any funding streams currently available to address this particular problem and if so how successful have you been at bidding for such funding?

Has your design led to problems with crime?

  Crime is a symptom of deeper social problems. Design alone does not make a criminal, but it can provide opportunities for crime to be committed. Opportunist crime accounts for approximately 80 per cent of the total, and such criminals will always seek and assess the best locations to commit a crime, ie a footpath that leads to a back garden or a poorly lit, secluded area. The simple answer to the question is YES. Developments such as Southgate, Castlefields and many more of the New Town housing estates within Runcorn did not consider "Designing out Crime" measures, including Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) and therefore the design of these estates has provided the opportunist criminal with an easier target than some of the more traditional urban designs.

If so, have you considered Designing Out Crime?

  In the early 1990s the first blocks at Southgate were demolished and the new housing estate later called Hallwood Park was constructed to include CPTED measures. The estate was later awarded "Secured by Design" status, the Police national award scheme for designing out crime in residential housing.

  Another successful project in Runcorn was the re-design of the Shopping City car parks at Halton Lea (as it is now called). In the 1970s these car parks experienced very serious crime problems, concerning both vehicles and, more importantly, personal safety. The car parks have since received large investment from the Management Company and have successfully achieved Secure Car Park status. Crime has significantly reduced and the fear of crime is now eliminated, with the company and the shops seeing a sudden increase in car and shopper usage.

  Other housing developments in the New Town owned by Housing Associations, such as in Palacefields and Castlefields, are actively refurbishing or redeveloping, adopting the principles of CPTED and considering safety as a primary factor.

Are there any funding streams available to address this problem, and if so how successful have you been at bidding?

  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how the question is interpreted) the crime figures on the Halton housing estates are below the threshold for applying for funding under the Home Office Crime Reduction Programme and Burglary Reduction Initiative. However, the authority has benefited from the Home Office CCTV initiative and has installed cameras within the Runcorn area. It should be noted that there is a significant revenue expenditure associated with CCTV—monitoring and maintenance as well as line rental charges—which has to be borne by the Council.

  Overall, direct funding to address security matters is relatively low, and the main funding has to come from private investment, or from the Housing Associations who now own the vast proportion of rented housing stock within the New Town.

20.   What are you doing through your Local Transport Plan to address the problems of car dependence? Does your Local Transport Plan include provision for dealing with issues of design and layout where that promotes car dependence?

  The current Halton LTP covers the period 2001-02 to 2005-06. It specifically makes the point that there exists within the Borough a sound basis for the development of more integrated and more sustainable travel: low car ownership, the unique Busway system, good railway links, and a high proportion of trips by bus and on foot. The potential is unrealised because of past under-investment in the transport infrastructure, and the LTP goes to identify the various priorities to help redress the matter. These include Bus Quality Partnerships and Corridors, Green Travel Plans for schools and businesses, and improved cycle routes and links.

21.   Have you introduced or planned any measures to promote mobility schemes targeted at the old or the young?

  The Borough Council has clear objectives to improve Social Inclusion across all its services. These include transport, with the LTP providing an outline strategy for social inclusion. It makes the point that the council operates a policy of continuous review of its transport policies with the assistance of a Public Transport Advisory Panel made up of a wide range of interests, including community and disadvantaged groups.


 
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