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

Supplementary memorandum by Bracknell Forest Borough Council (NT 12(a))

  I am writing with regard to your request for a response to a number of questions relevant to the House of Commons' Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions which is considering the problems and future of New Towns.

  I have set out below officers' response to each question, which I trust will be helpful. I have used your numbering.


1.   What was the original objective of the town?

  The first annual report of the Development Corporation stated: ". . . the residents of Bracknell will have home, work and friends, with facilities for shopping, education and social and cultural needs all within easy reach, and with opportunities for open-air recreation in the countryside around them. The town is to be designed as a balanced and complete community and not as a dormitory of London."

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

  The objectives of providing a place to live, work and play have been met.

3.   What do you consider to be its role in the region/sub-region in the future?

  Bracknell is defined as a Major Town in Regional Planning Guidance Note 9, recognising its role as a major town centre for employment in the south-east region. The vision for Bracknell over the next 15 years is set out in the Deposit Draft Berkshire Structure Plan 2001-2016 and states "By 2016 Bracknell will be a culturally self-confident centre, hosting a wide range of shopping and leisure activities. It will be the home of a number of major national and international companies but will also be a place where new businesses can easily be created and grow. The town's accessibility will be increased by connections to Heathrow and improved links to London and other areas including the Blackwater Valley. There will be a rebuilt town centre easily reached by public transport and enabling a good standard of short-term access by car. The new centre will contain expanded shopping, leisure and employment but also a major housing element. Between now and the end of the Plan period the town will continue to grow, building on the investments made in the 1970s and 1980s. New housing areas will be developed so as to maximise the opportunities for public transport use."

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

  The original masterplan has not been used since the Development Corporation was wound up in 1982. This has been superseded by more up to date development plans.

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 estates developed as part of the original New Town strategy, and those built subsequent to the New Town corporation being dissolved, are physically attached to the town centre and each other. However, although linked by open spaces and footpaths/corridors, these estates were developed as distinct neighbourhoods which were and still continue to be quite insular. As a result, residents more often associate themselves with their estate rather than the town as a whole. However, newer growth on Brownfield sites tends to be better integrated with the community as a whole—reflective perhaps of the smaller scale of development proposals being brought forward.

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

  The original target population in the Mark 1 town was 25,000. A revised target of 50,000 has been surpassed with a current population of approximately 55,000. There was also a third target population of 60,000. Housing Development for that population was undertaken under the Planning Acts after the winding up of the Development Corporation. The town population today is only 55,000, largely because of falling occupancy rates.

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?

  The Borough has a higher proportion of children (0-15) and young adults (25-44) than the national figures as set out in the table below. These figures are possibility attributable to the level of family housing available in the Borough.

Percentage of Population by Age, 2006
Age rangeBracknell Forest England

  Source: ONS Subnational Population Projections

  The population profile of the Borough and the latest projections are a relevant factor in the preparation of a number of Borough strategies, particularly those relating to housing, education and social care.

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?

  Existing industrial and employment areas as planned in the New Town's development are now being actively regenerated at higher densities as demand continues to be strong in Bracknell, as in the Thames Valley, for high quality employment space. This comes predominately at the expense of existing office, warehouse and storage space, thereby creating a shortage of these less viable, but necessary land use classes. Demand is also high for headquarters in a campus style form which cannot be so easily accommodated within existing employment areas or through Greenfield development around the edge of town.

  Commercial pressure in Bracknell is similar to other non-New Towns in the area such as Maidenhead, Wokingham and Reading. This commercial growth places greater pressure on Bracknell and surrounding areas to provide additional housing to create the opportunity for more substantial and sustainable growth.

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?

  Bracknell is within the Thames Valley sub-region, and part of the Borough of Bracknell Forest is within the Blackwater Valley sub-region. Therefore planning guidance for the areas is provided in the RPG and sub-regional studies for the Thames Valley and Blackwater Valley. However, this does not affect the regulatory framework as such; Bracknell Forest is a Unitary Authority and acts as the local planning authority for Development Control purposes. Facilitation of development is primarily done locally with some input from government agencies such as SEEDA.

  Strengths include enhanced opportunities to present and defend Bracknell Forest's position within the sub-Regions. However as sub-Region guidance evolves, as a small UA to affectively monitor infact to and take forward its recommendations is increasingly to consuming.

  Bracknell Forest also acts as the Joint Strategic Planning Authority for Berkshire in partnership with the other Berkshire Unitary Authorities. This is administered through a Joint Strategic Planning Unit funded by the six Berkshire Unitaries.

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

  As stated, Bracknell is defined as a major town in the region. In the current Berkshire Structure Plan (BSP), Bracknell is defined as a major town centre which sits below the regional and sub-regional centres in the shopping centre hierarchy. This retail hierarchy is being revised in the current review of the BSP to reflect more accurately the form and function of the Berkshire town centres. It is proposed that Bracknell will significantly expand its comparison, convenience and specialist shopping offer and expand on the range of uses within the town centre to effectively serve its catchment, including housing, office and leisure uses. The age/design and underlying non-viability of the current Town Centre create major problems for the area with the vast majority of local residents choosing to use neighbouring towns for their shopping. These problems can only be addressed by the comprehensive redevelopment of the Town Centre in line with the current Master Plan.


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?

  The most significant example of a transaction subject to clawback was the sale of land forming a ransom strip to a residential development—Church Hill House, 1999. The transaction was part of a partnership approach between the Council and the Health Authority in jointly selling the land. CNT significantly delayed the sale, even though the Council and Health Authority had already reached an agreement, certified as best consideration. Eventually CNT agreed to the proposed deal and received 70 per cent of the receipt, in the region of £3,000,000.

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?

  There is no clawback relating to Right to Buys in the Borough.

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?

  There are no outstanding liabilities.

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?

  Not applicable.

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

  EP/CNTs only participation has been in maximising income from any interest in land.

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?

  One of the major funding issues for New Towns relates to the substantial investment needed to maintain the infrastructure which is deteriorating at the same time. Related to this fact are the problems associated with the nature of the infrastructure particularly in terms of the extensive footpath networks, open spaces and inadequate transport network.

  The current central government funding mechanism (both Regeneration Schemes and general revenue support) do not recognise the problems and unique costs faced by the New Towns. Regeneration funding is linked with deprivation, however, the current indicators do not recognise the problems faced by supposedly "affluent" New Towns such as Bracknell Forest.

  The results of the current review of the Revenue Support Grant distribution methodology will be published at the end of this year and many of the key issues surround the adequate funding of key services such as Education and Social Services. Specific issues facing New Towns also need to be addressed by this review. As such, the Authority believes that the area of specific Regeneration Funding should be considered further and the criteria for participation in these schemes should be reviewed in light of the unique problems faced by the New Towns.

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?

  It is not considered that this has significantly affected the Borough's ability to prepare a housing strategy. If anything, it may have made it easier as the stock is more uniform and newer than in other locations.


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?

  Overall, there is not a major problem with the maintenance or condition of existing housing stock. The main Council owned stock is in reasonable condition where the original construction was of traditional means—problems occur with "system" techniques used in some areas and on some components. Availability of materials for repairs can be difficult and expensive and mortgage acceptability is an issue on some properties.

  Blocks of flats built in the sixties are prone to condensation due to changes in lifestyle relative to the original insulation standards. Major expenditure is required to bring these properties up to current building standards for thermal efficiency.

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?

  A number of crime and design issues have arisen. Many estates were designed with garage blocks separated from homes. These could be isolated, dark and secluded. Garages could be vandalised and young people may gather near the blocks. Various unacceptable activities can occur. There are also footways as short cuts between and behind properties which have been problematic.

  The design of the Town Centre has also thrown up some problems. The impersonal oblong concrete style provides an unsympathetic backdrop. The Town Centre, although pedestrianised, is separated from the surrounding area by two ring roads. The inner ring road is flanked by delivery yards and the town centre buildings back onto the road giving a fortress effect.

  A series of community safety and environment enhancing initiatives have been undertaken to address these issues. In the longer term, however, these problems have to be addressed by the plans to completely redevelop the Town Centre to overcome the design difficulties.

  Despite the problems outlined, crime in the Borough and the Town Centre is relatively low, although perceptions are different.

  Two attempts for bids for wardens/town rangers have been made, both unsuccessfully.

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 Local Transport Plan contains a number of integrated strategies that seek to reduce car dependence and promote alternative forms of transport. This includes strategies for demand management, car parking, cycling, walking and public transport. Specific measures include the promotion of travel plans, financial contributions from developers in support of improvements to bus services and new cycleways, parking management and the provision of cycle parking facilities and reduced car parking provision in accessible locations.

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

  The large pedestrianised town centre of the original town design has created many access difficulties for disabled people, people with sensory impairments and older people with limited mobility.

  The Borough Council is currently looking at introducing a shopmobility scheme as people find it hard to walk the distances from parking through the town to key services such as the central library and council offices which are located within the pedestrianised area. Additionally, the reliance of the design of the town on multi-storey parking leads to little on-street parking for disabled people or drop off points for community transport and taxis near to services. The existing multi-storey parking areas are ageing and provide inadequate levels of accessibility compared to current access standards.

Timothy Wheadon

Deputy Chief Executive/Director of Corporate Services

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