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

Supplementary memorandum by North Lancashire District Council (NT 08(a))


  1.  The original objective of Skelmersdale New Town was to accommodate the overspill population from Liverpool, which was one of the most congested cities outside London. The need for a new town to serve this objective was recognised as early as 1956 when the Lancashire Development Plan proposed Skelmersdale as a suitable location.

  By 1961 a re-housing programme and out migration had helped to relieve some of the congestion in Liverpool, but there were still 80,000 slum or obsolescent dwellings in the city.

  The mandate for the creation of Skelmersdale in October 1961 was to develop a self-contained new town with a population of about 80,000.

  2.  The creation of Skelmersdale clearly did help to relieve some of the population pressure in Liverpool, although the objective of accommodating 80,000 people has not been realised. This target population was reduced in scale in any case, due to changes in population and dispersal policies.

  3.  Skelmersdale, in particular, has a role within the sub-region as a Regeneration Priority Area, where faster rates of development of business and industrial land need to be achieved to attract further investment and strengthen local economic activity. It is identified as such in the emerging Lancashire Structure Plan and is already designated as a Main Urban Area in the current Structure Plan. This echoes the role of the Town within the Mersey Belt as a focus of regeneration activity.

  It is anticipated that Skelmersdale will also provide a location for new housing, again as recognition of its role within the Mersey Belt, through the strategic policies set out in the emerging Structure Plan.

  4.  The Basic Plan is no longer used as a guiding principle for development in the Town. This has now been superseded by local plans, the last of which (the West Lancashire Local Plan) was adopted in 1999. The pattern and extent of development, however, is not too dissimilar to that set out in the Basic Plan, although there are a few exceptions.

  5.  Generally, there has been a good integration of the old and new parts of the Town. The main shopping centre serves as a focus for the Town, and the process of integration has been aided by the fact that there was no main shopping centre in ``Old Skelmersdale'' (although there was a local centre at Sandy Lane) and that the old part of the town was spatially spread out and not self-contained.

  6.  The original population target for Skelmersdale New Town was about 80,000. (The Basic Plan also incorporated an alternative plan which extended the boundaries of the town to the north and at the industrial areas of Pimbo and Stormy Corner (Stanley) in order to accommodate a further 10,000 population and their employment needs. In the event, this expansion plan was never needed although in 1969 the Pimbo industrial area was extended).

  Following the Government's Review of the New Town Programme in 1978, Skelmersdale's target population was reduced to 61,000. Changes in population and dispersal policies had rendered the original target population of 80,000 invalid.

  In 1981, the population of the designated Skelmersdale New Town was 39,404; by the time of the next Census (1991) it was estimated to be 39,660. No up-to-date estimates are available for the designated area of the former new town, although the 1998 ward estimates (as prepared by Oxford University) indicate a population of 44,100 for the whole of Skelmersdale/Up Holland (37,100 for just the six wards of Skelmersdale). A population target was ultimately dropped prior to the dissolution of the New Town.

  The original population target for the Town will never be achieved. The rate of growth for housing and employment in the Town is now considered in the context of the strategic targets set through Regional Planning Guidance and the Lancashire Structure Plan.

  7.  The 1984 Population and Social Survey (carried out by Skelmersdale Development Corporation) indicated that 74 per cent of households who had moved to the town after 1963 came from Merseyside—a reflection of the original objective of the New Town. An Industrial Selection Register, established by the Ministry of Labour enabled industry to recruit primarily from tenants of the "sending authorities" or those on the housing waiting lists. These, together with key workers became the first priority category for Development Corporation housing. Skelmersdale's initial rate of growth and the Merseyside origin of a large proportion of its population were largely responsible for its distinctive population characteristics. In 1981 31 per cent of its resident population was aged 0-15 compared with the national average of only 22.3 per cent whilst 9 per cent were of pensionable age compared with 17.7 per cent nationally. These differences were also reflected during the 1991 Census albeit to a slightly lesser degree. The latest available estimates for the wards of Skelmersdale (mid 1998) also reveal higher proportions of children in each of the six wards compared to Great Britain. (See tables set out in Appendix 1).

  8.  A range of vacant facilities exist within Skelmersdale, primarily in the established industrial areas. SRB monies have improved some vacant premises and resulted in their take-up, although certain long-term vacancies remain.

  Approximately 84 per cent of the current local plan employment allocations lie within Skelmersdale. This reflects its strategic advantages over other settlements within the District and its designation as a Main Urban Area in the Structure Plan. The town has excellent links to the national road network; offers a range of brownfield and greenfield sites; lies close to potential workforces and has the capability of providing for clusters of hi-tech, telecoms and the ``emerging'' industries.

  The town has seen a steady level of industrial land take-up (3.7 Ha per annum over the last 10 years) which is likely to continue. As a result of rapid take-up in the early years of the Local Plan a 48 hectare greenfield site was allocated as an extension to the existing Stanley Industrial Estate, this has strong potential for attracting new and developing industries. Demand currently appears to be particularly strong for smaller industrial sites. Unfortunately some expansions of firms already located in Skelmersdale have been put on hold during the current manufacturing economic downturn.

  Skelmersdale has little direct effect on other towns in the District as it predominantly caters for the manufacturing end of commercial activities. The town often provides opportunities for expanding businesses which out grow existing accommodation in the more restricted settlements in the locality. Its ``new town'' characteristics mean there are few comparable areas offering the same range of opportunities in the area.

  9.  In terms of strategic planning, the sub-regional planning arrangements are carried out through the Structure Plan which is prepared by Lancashire County Council, in conjunction with Blackpool and Blackburn-with-Darwen BC's. More detailed plans are prepared by the District Council through the West Lancashire Local Plan.

  The problem with the current sub-regional strategic planning is that although within Lancashire, Skelmersdale has very close links with the metropolitan areas of Merseyside and Greater Manchester. This is recognised through its role within the Mersey Belt. Currently, therefore, Skelmersdale's role within its wider regional context is not acknowledged to the extent it might be.

  10.  Within the current Lancashire Structure Plan 1991-2006 Skelmersdale is identified as a main urban area and as such the shopping centre functions as a main shopping centre. This is evidenced by policy 46 in the adopted Structure Plan. Initial versions of the Replacement Joint Structure Plan 2001-2016 Deposit Draft clarify the role of Skelmersdale town centre. The town centre is classed as a tier 2 centre where medium scale development with a district wide catchment would be appropriate. A recent study by Chesterton Consultants provides empirical evidence of Skelmersdale town centre's role as serving the settlement of Skelmersdale and other areas of West Lancashire District. It can therefore be concluded that Skelmersdale only serves a role within the District, rather than the sub-region.

  In terms of investment in the town there are significant sized development sites being brought forward for development. One site comprises up to 5.71 hectares and is allocated in the West Lancashire Local Plan for mixed use development. Supplementary Guidance has been prepared and the site has been the subject of a recent feasibility study by Chesterton which will shape the marketing and development of the site over the next five years. It is likely that this site will be developed for non-food retail and leisure.

  Two other sites are allocated for business development comprising 1.45 and 1.8 hectares. There is also a site for new housing comprising 2.5 hectares, a healthcare facility (0.64 hectares) and a town centre park (5.75 hectares). The town centre therefore has significant investment planned over the next five years as part of the wider regeneration initiatives in the town.


  11.  I am not aware of any clawback on housing. Limited clawback on amenity land eg Whitemoss, Housing and New Tech Park. Clawback arrangements work over 50 years but funding for CRA2 assets only provided for 30 years. This is clearly inequitable.

  12.  Clawback has not impacted on Right to Buy as originally the housing outstanding debt was transferred to the District Council. Approximately £66 million. This was later commuted under the housing subsidy rationalisation programme.

  13.  Biggest liabilities are undoubtedly the landscaping and the infrastructure. When Estates were developed the whole landscaping was not transferred to the developer resulting in grounds and unadopted footways and roads remaining the responsibility of the Development Corporation. These responsibilities subsequently transferred to the District Council. As the footways and estate roads are not adopted there can be considerable maintenance costs and the grounds maintenance costs exceed £850,000 per annum.

  Other liabilities include the experimental and flat roof construction of a number of the buildings in the new town, together with the use of high alumina cement and asbestos, the use of which was prevalent in the late 1960s and 1970s. They also include the poor pedestrian layout reliant upon subways and footpaths.

  14.  I do not know the value of EP's landholdings but the sales by them, CNT and SDC of commercial properties and land will have been significant.

  15.  Very little in my view. Not a very willing partner.

  16.  The SSA at District level is what remains of the control total after the Counties, Unitaries and Metropolitan Authorities have received their share. Consequently the District SSA does not really reflect the need to spend, and does not take into account the specific nature and issues of the new town. The SSA formula does not allow specifically for new towns and former new towns.

    —  The SSA is based on a national formula that does not take into account specific New Town factors.

    —  The SSA for district councils is largely determined by their population adjusted for a number of social, demographic and economic indicators. None of these indicators relate specifically to New Town issues.

    —  A clear example relates to the relatively large number of footpaths and green spaces that New Town authorities have to maintain. This represents a significant cost to New Town authorities but it is not an issue specifically taken into account when calculating SSAs.

    —  It does not seem likely that a replacement for the SSA system will specifically take into account New Town issues because the replacement formula is likely to be simplified rather than made more complex.

  My view would be that improved funding for New Town authorities is most likely to be achieved through either:

    (a)  lobbying the Government for a specific grant arrangement for New Towns; or

    (b)  if the replacement SSA system contains funding elements that are at the discretion of Ministers rather than dependent on a national formula, New Town funding could be sought through this mechanism.

  17.  West Lancashire District Council has developed a Housing Strategy for the area as a whole. The issues it has had to wrestle with include the fact that 70 per cent of its social housing provision is within the New Town area. The local plan for the areas has identified the New Town area of Skelmersdale as the prime location for regeneration action. The unpopularity of the ageing New Town properties which are built on the Radburn-layout principle have meant that these are generally difficult to let and therefore the demand for social housing in this area is limited. This has caused some difficulty in producing a robust housing strategy which maximises Housing Corporation investment in the District. The Housing Corporation are rightly concerned about investing in the Skelmersdale area. The areas of demand are rather in the market town of Ormskirk and villages in the District where developments are often smaller and it is more difficult to take advantage of Section 106 agreements.


  18.  The Council have been particularly proactive in investing in the properties in the New Town estates of Skelmersdale. Major investment, mainly funded through estate action, has enabled the Authority to overcome many of the design and issues of poor construction/materials. There are still high ongoing maintenance costs associated with the former New Town properties which we do not feel are adequately reflected through the housing subsidy system. Nevertheless, the issues surrounding the former New Town estates in Skelmersdale are broadly issues of its design rather than the materials. The material issues have, by and large, been designed out. However, the high-density levels and the Radburn-design layout have not been overcome and residents are now asking for the estates to be remodelled on more conventional lines so that there is:

    —  defensible space, and that the design issues which affect crime and disorder can be designed out;

    —  parking within the curtilage of their home; and

    —  an integrated road/footpath system; and a reduction of general-use areas which give rise to anti-social behaviour problems.

  19.  The New Town layout is generally acknowledged to contribute to the "fear of crime" eg underpass access through estates and primary pedestrian routes, and motorcycle nuisance on footways in densely populated areas. Poor estate design and layout remains a major long-term obstacle to be considered in tackling the reduction of crime.

  Environmental improvements have been recognised as having a potentially beneficial impact on the incidence of certain street crimes and have been subsequently identified within the newly revised three year Community Safety Strategy for West Lancashire. Environmental improvements would include improved street lighting, revised maintenance regimes for certain soft landscaped areas, particularly adjacent to footways and bus stops, and the removal of debris and abandoned cars from estates. The Council has embraced the requirements of Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and has embarked on designing out identified risks, where practicable, in association with its Community Safety Partners.

  There are currently no identified community safety related external funding opportunities available.

  20.  The Local Transport Plan is prepared by Lancashire County Council. Some of the key proposals to reduce car dependence are:

    —  a quality bus route between Wigan and Southport, which will pass right through Skelmersdale;

    —  improvements to Skelmersdale Bus Station;

    —  funding for improvements to cycle routes and pedestrian facilities;

    —  funding has been secured through the Local Transport Plan and SRB6 for a Skelmersdale Public Transport Officer who will prepare a 10 year Transport Strategy for the Town. Part of his work will also be to develop safe pedestrian routes, in particular to public transport facilities;

    —  a rail feasibility study has been funded through the Local Transport Plan and SRB6;

    —  Urban Bus Challenge monies have been secured for a flexible bus service connecting to the employment areas in the Town (Demand Responsive Transit Scheme).

  In addition the District Council has established Local Agenda 21 Groups, which include a Public Transport Group in Skelmersdale and Cycling and Pedestrian Groups. These have already highlighted many of the transport issues which exist. This work is being taken forward through the development of the Community Strategy.

  The District Council is also preparing a Cycling Strategy and Network Plan for the Town.

  21.  The Demand Responsive Transit scheme will assist the mobility of a variety of different sectors of society. In addition, Dial-a-Ride operate in Skelmersdale and have just started a new ``Transport for Health'' bus which has been part funded by the Countryside Agency.

  Plans are in hand to establish a shopmobility scheme for Skelmersdale Town Centre.


AgeSkelmersdale New Town
Great Britain Number%
0-1512,20331.0 11,940,23122.3
16-2910,10625.6 11,142,83620.8
30-447,92520.1 10,488,05419.6
45-pensionable age5,636 14.310,526,83319.7
Pensionable age and over3,534 9.09,458,95717.7
TOTAL39,404100.0 53,556,911100.0

Skelmersdale New Town = OPCS Census 1981—New Towns Report CEN 81 NT(1).

Great Britain = OPCS Census 1981—Great Britain Report.

AgeSkelmersdale New Town
Great Britain Number%
0-1510,54426.6 11,023,72320.1
16-299,43923.8 11,356,50920.7
30-448,29620.9 10,662,91721.2
45-pensionable age6,872 17.310,570,07019.3
Pensionable age and over4,509 11.410,275,62518.7
TOTAL39,660100.0 54,888,844100.0

* Best fit of Wards and Enumeration Districts.


Skelmersdale New Town = OPCS 1991 Census—Small Area Statistics.

Great Britain = OPCS Topic Monitor CEN 91 TM SAM.


Aged under 16 Number% Aged 16-59 Number%Aged 60+ Number% Total Number%
Birch Green3,20027.4 7,20061.51,300 11.111,700100.0
Digmoor1,40030.4 2,60056.5600 13.04,600100.0
Moorside1,20027.3 2,60059.1500 11.44,400100.0
Skelmersdale North1,400 24.13,40058.6 1,00017.25,800 100.0
Skelmersdale South1,100 20.83,10058.5 1,10020.85,300 100.0
Tanhouse1,50028.3 3,00056.6700 13.25,300100.0
SKELMERSDALE9,80026.4 21,90059.05,200 14.037,100100.0
Upholland North70017.9 2,50064.1700 17.93,900100.0
Upholland South50016.1 1,80058.1800 25.83,100100.0
UPHOLLAND1,2007.1 4,30061.41,500 21.47,000100.0
SKELM/UPHOLLAND11,000 24.926,20059.4 6,70015.244,100 100.0
GREAT BRITAIN11,696,100 20.334,032,70059.1 11,819,20020.557,547,900 100.0


* Using best fit of wards.

NB figures may not add to total due to rounding.


Skelmersdale and Upholland Wards = University of Oxford.

Great Britain = ONS—


previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 August 2002