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

Supplementary memorandum by R J B Morris (NT 11(a))


  1.  The original objective of the creation of the New Town was to provide opportunities for development outside the main English conurbations and in the context of Northampton was to merge the existing Town with the new development.

  It gave the opportunity for new housing and commercial development to take place and at the same time create a strong new community.

  2.  In general it is felt that primarily all the objectives have been met, but there are some residual problems arising from development of the earlier housing estates which are now 30 years old.

  The provision of housing generally has been of a satisfactory standard and has provided opportunity for people to acquire property at reasonable prices. The same principle applies to commercial premises where new employment areas were created as part of the master plan and these have also been successful in attracting new investment.

  3.  Northampton is the largest New Town in the Country with a population of 200,000, and is the powerhouse of the County of Northamptonshire.

  The Town is aiming to work positively with the East Midlands Development Agency albeit that it is at the southern edge of the East Midlands Region.

  The Town is working positively with the new regional partnership for Northamptonshire and its prepared to work with all its neighbouring authorities to ensure economic prosperity to Northampton and the County.

  4.  The original master plan has been overtaken by successive local plans including the present one which was adopted in 1997. However, the original master plan is still to some extent a guiding principle for development and re-development.

  5.  A majority of expansion in the 1970s and early 1980s took place on the eastern side of Northampton. Effectively a population of about 40,000 people added to the existing population of 125,000 and to some extent there was a "them and us" situation. However, in the late 1980s and 1990s the expansion extended into the southern part of the Town and is now continuing on the southwest side of the Town.

  However, overall it is reasonable to assume that there has been a satisfactory integration and the "them and us" culture no longer applies.

  6.  The original intention was to expand the population to 250,000 people, and this is still intended albeit on a longer time scale.

  There is still considerable demand for housing and commercial development in the Town, and it may be necessary to consider the areas beyond Northampton's boundaries in order to accommodate these needs. Already developments have taken place beyond the current boundary in the southeast and southern sides of the Town, as part of the County Structure Plan, and it is know that there is a possibility of expansion on the northern side immediately outside of the Borough boundary. Furthermore, proposals have been considered for other commercial and residential developments on the southwest side of the Town beyond the M1, and this is still included in the County Structure Plan as a "Special Development Area".

  7.  The age profile of the population is generally younger than the national average, and in many ways is as a result of the Town being a New Town, although there is a considerable indigenous population which is reaching retirement age.

  8.  Demand for commercial land is very strong and it is likely that this will be exhausted within the next few years. It is expected that this demand will continue and because of its location Northampton has developed very strongly as a distribution centre. This requires large buildings and as a result this does absorb a considerable amount of commercial land. It is hoped for the future to concentrate on more quality employment areas sot that there may be more intense employment over a smaller area of land. Commercial development has undoubtedly enhanced the economic prosperity of the Town, but it should be borne in mind that this is in an area where there is considerable growth and as a result there are continuing developments in the nearby Town of Milton Keynes and elsewhere in the Northamptonshire area. There have been fairly strong commercial developments in other towns within Northamptonshire and the immediate sub-region and there has not been any imbalance with the strong commercial development which has taken place in Northampton.

  9.  Development in Northampton follows the principles of the current Local Plan which was adopted by the Council in 1997. This was prepared in line with the Structure Plan for Northamptonshire. The Local Plan has proved to play a major role in dealing with all Planning Applications and developments arising therefrom.

  10.  The shopping centre in Town is primarily to satisfy the demands of residents and visitors to Northampton, and to encourage the wider catchment from the other towns within the Northamptonshire area. There is a scheme proposed by Legal & General who are the owners of the existing Grosvenor Centre to expand that from 300,000 sq feet to 760,000 sq feet during the course of the next four years.

  It has to be acknowledged that there is a major shopping centre at Milton Keynes approximately 15 miles away, and as a result a considerable amount of destination shopping does take place in Milton Keynes, but nevertheless the Town Centre of Northampton is still strong and buoyant.

  11.  A question of clawback has not arisen strongly in recent years, primarily because there are only a few sites which are subject to clawback arrangements, where there might conceivably be some form of development. Other clawback arrangements apply to what could effectively be termed as public open space, and the likelihood of any clawback is therefore minimal.

  However, the present clawback arrangement between Northampton Borough Council and the former Northampton Development Corporation is on the basis that at the outset the Development Corporation would receive 100 per cent of all receipts, and this would reduce by two per cent during the course of the next 50 years.

  As a result Northampton Borough Council has not been actively considering development on any of the small number of sites which are still subject to claw back, because even now it can only receive 34 per cent of the proceeds and the remainder would go to English Partnerships as successor to the Development Corporation.

  There have been incidences of restrictive covenants having been transferred to the Borough Council from the former Northampton Development Corporation, and as a result the benefit of these covenants has resulted in some limited financial gains to the Borough Council.

  12.  The principle of clawback has not applied to housing transferred by the Northampton Development Corporation, and the problem therefore does not arise in Northampton.

  13.  It is not possible to quantify (presumably financial) the outstanding liabilities facing the authority as a result of the package of assets and liabilities transfers at the winding up of the Development Corporation.

  At that time the Borough Council took over the housing assets of Northampton Development Corporation extending to approximately 5,000 houses, and provision was made at that time for repair and maintenance to many of the houses over a period of time.

  The second package called the Community Related Assets Package, provided a number of areas of amenity space for which there would be ongoing major maintenance liabilities, and this was offset by the transfer (as part of the same package) of a number of shops constructed in those housing estates, and the ground leases of various commercial properties. There have been no major problems arising from the actual design of the houses which were constructed by the Development Corporation, but there have been problems with regard to the layouts. Major work has been undertaken at one estate in Northampton, and it is anticipated that further work will be necessary in rearranging the layouts at other estates which were provided by the Development Corporation.

  14.  It is difficult to compare the financial value of the liabilities held by the Borough Council as a result of the Town being a new town, compared with the financial value of the remaining assets held by English Partnerships.

  At the time of the transfer in 1985, the Borough Council acquired the housing assets and has properties within the Community Related Assets Package as referred to above, but the then Commission for New Towns retained all the potential employment land and residential land. Over the years it is expected that the Commission for the New Towns, and subsequently English Partnerships have obtained major financial benefits as a result of the sale of land in various parts of Northampton, benefits of which have not been passed on to the residents of the Town as a result of these disposals. Whilst it is acknowledged that the Development Corporation, and then to some extent the Commission for the New Towns did provide some infrastructure services, nevertheless there has been a major enhancement in value from the time when the land was originally acquired which effectively was at agricultural value, to sales which are currently taking place which vary between £400,000 and £700,000 per acre. It is not known exactly how many acres have been sold, but it is likely that this runs into many hundreds of acres.

  15.  English Partnerships has not participated in any regeneration partnerships in Northampton until the present time.

  However, overtures have very recently been made by English Partnerships to be involved in regeneration schemes in the Town, and the Borough Council has tentatively agreed that there could be benefits to both organisations if this were to happen. No details have been discussed, but the Borough Council has identified three areas where there may be benefits in this form of partnership.

  16.  The present SSA allocation system relies on historical rather than forward-looking data. Population figures, for example, lag two years behind. For areas where there is high population growth this causes particular problems as resources are allocated on lower population bases than actual and cannot meet the associated needs.

  For some authorities the debt transferred from development corporations can have a relatively high interest profile as fixed interest loans were taken out for 40 to 60 years in time of relatively high market interest rates. The capital block of the SSA relies on notional interest rates, which are likely to be much lower.

  More forward-looking population estimates and recognition of actual debt portfolios would be likely to assist New Towns in receiving a fairer allocation of SSA.

  17.  The pattern of ownership and role of CNT and EP has not had any implications on the Borough Council's ability to develop a house strategy for the Town.

  18.  Generally the housing stock built by the New Towns Commission in the last 30 years is in reasonably good condition. The external of the property has shown little signs of deterioration, apart from the timber components ie windows, doors, fascias, bargeboards, cladding and fencing, which relates to poor timber specification at the time of build. The Council has been able to maintain this through a five-year Planned Maintenance programme and Ad Hoc Window/Door renewals. The introduction of a Capital Window/Door renewal programme has enabled the Council to address some of the New Town estates. Future funding programmes and staff will be needed to address the estates that are left for Window/Door renewals and all other timber components. Internally kitchen units are, and will be, up for renewal.

  19.  The layout/design of housing estates has resulted in too many ``rat runs'' thus leading to undesirables entering and leaving estates undetected. The CASPAR project has started to address this issue on certain estates ie blocking of ``rat runs'' and fences surrounding estates. Door entry systems have, or are being, fitted to flat blocks. More funding programmes and staff will be needed to address other estates.

  20.  At the time of the demise of the Development Corporation in 1985, a considerable amount of infrastructure had been put into place as a result of Government funding through the Development Corporation and providing new major roads around various parts of the Town. However, this benefit has slowly deteriorated over the last 17 years, to the extent that there is now considerable overcrowding on roads. Although the Borough Council has considered the possibility of a tram network which was put forward by the private sector, this depended upon major contributions from developers of land on the outskirts of the Town, which was then hit by the publication of PPG3 which limited major developments to Brownfield sites. As a result the Borough Council in conjunction with the County Council's Highway Authority has now commissioned a study called the multi-modal transport study which is due to be completed in May 2003.

  21.  The Council continue to support commercially unviable bus routes with bus subsidy. Substantial investment is made in concessionary fares for the elderly and disabled. In addition the Council provides a grant for a local Voluntary Sector run door-to-door bus service for the elderly and disabled. The Council has been instrumental in encouraging private sector bus operators to provide a youth bus pass.

  Significant investment has also been made in providing appropriate kerb arrangements for kneeling buses to facilitate use by disabled people.

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