Memorandum by Halton Borough Council (NT
1. INTRODUCTION HALTON
1.1 Halton Borough comprises the towns of
Runcorn and Widnes together with the nearby villages of Moore,
Daresbury, Preston Brook and Hale. It was formed in 1974, 10 years
after the formal designation of Runcorn New Town. Thus in a very
real sense Runcorn New Town and Halton Borough have grown up and
1.2 The maturing has not always been easy.
The new Halton Borough was given an immensely difficult legacymuch
social deprivation, environmental pollution and degradation, economic
over-dependence on heavy industry, etc. In addressing all these
problems, the Borough needed to mesh the very different communities
of Widnes (South Lancashire) and Runcorn (North Cheshire) on opposite
sides of the Mersey estuary, and at the same time handle the "old"
and "new" divisions in Runcorn brought about by the
induced development of the New Town.
1.3 Runcorn New Town was one of the first
new towns to be based around the expansion of a sizeable existing
town. It was designated to provide for overspill population from
Liverpool and North Merseyside and as such was largely based on
public sector housing provision. The residential neighbourhoods
included radical, highly assertive developments incorporating
deck-access flats (Southgate and Castlefields). The Masterplan
concept included the unique dedicated Busway network, serving
the brand new Shopping City at its centre and key employment sites
on the fringes.
1.4 The operational history of the Development
Corporation became closely entwined with that of the New Town
in neighbouring Warrington, designated only four years later but
with its raison d'e®tre being very different growth-led reclamation
of largely redundant military sites, its housing elements based
very largely on the concept of the provision of sites for the
1.5 The geographical links with Warrington
led to the amalgamation of the two Development Corporations in
1981, with operations thereafter being led from Warrington. The
results of this evolution can clearly be seen on the ground in
Runcorn. The later stages of the New Town development (East Runcorn
especially) are much more akin to the private development style
in Warringtonand indeed many of these newer Runcorn residents
tend to look to the Warrington area for key services including
shopping and secondary schooling.
1.6 Halton Borough Council is a member of
the grouping of local authorities that include New Towns the Local
Government Association's New Towns Special Interest Group. Through
this connection Halton is contributing its comments and ideas
to the current Quinquennial Review of English Partnerships. It
is crucial that the English Partnerships review and the Select
Committee Inquiry inform each other adequately.
1.7 Key statistics on Runcorn New Town and
map are attached at Appendix 1.
2. COMMENTS ON
The extent to which the original design of
the New Towns is leading to concerns about their long-term sustainability,
in particular the effect of their design on urban management,
how car dependence might be reduced and the balance between new
development and the regeneration of older parts of the towns.
2.1 The radical design elements of Runcorn
New Town have proved a mixed blessing. Four features deserve particular
mention to illustrate this the Busway; Shopping City; residential
neighbourhood layouts (with particular reference to Southgate
and Castlefields); landscaping and open space.
Busway The unique, dedicated Busway
system was based on the idea that no location in the New Town
would be more than five minutes walk to a bus stop giving fast
and reliable service to all other parts of the town. The service
was intended to be so good that it would be used in preference
to the car, even given the equally elaborate Expressway road system.
In practice, the Busway system has never fully lived up to expectation
for a number of reasonsincluding issues of maintenance,
security, and the various consequences of anti-social behaviour.
Some of these matters are being addressed through the Local Transport
Plan, but fundamental questions remain as to its future, including
the question of links to East Runcorn, an area of the New Town
which was never served by the original Busway system.
At present, the Busway remains an incomplete
system which does not link to the more recent employment developmentsand
consequently limits residents' ability to use the system to access
employment opportunities particularly in outlying areas beyond
the New Town, eg Daresbury and Widnes. Projects funded through
the Single Regeneration Budget have attempted to deal with this,
but with limited success. The physical limitations of the Busway
coupled with reliance on transport operators who maintain a service
of limited operating hours, particularly in evenings and at weekends,
have had a major impact in reinforcing the social exclusion experienced
by many of the New Town residents.
Shopping City The designers of the
New Town had to decide whether the main town centre should be
based on a new site, or on an expansion of the existing Runcorn
town centre. The new site argument won, with the established Runcorn
centre effectively relegated to the role of a district centre.
"Shopping City" was designed as a state-of-the-art covered
centre, with separated pedestrian access via high-level walkways.
It was planned to serve an ambitious, sub-regional role, with
spending power to be attracted from well outside the New Town
area. It was developed on this basis through a partnership between
the Development Corporation and Grosvenor Estates as owner/developer.
Not all the ambitions were fulfilled.
The scale of the Shopping City ran ahead of the population growth
needed to support it (the data at Appendix 1 show that the New
Town development never secured its population target). The complicated
road patterns, the "monolithic" concept of Shopping
City itself and its associated multi-storey parking, all proved
unattractive to sub-regional shoppers. The quality and range of
the shopping "offer" was never as good as originally
hoped, and the centre was eventually sold on to new owners. Latterly,
the original plans for an extension at the same upper level were
abandoned in favour of ground level shopping and adjacent parking,
in the now-current style of retail park. The recent ground-level
developments link reasonably well to the upper-level shopping
and have helped to generate a healthier overall feel to Shopping
City (re-named Halton Lea by the current owners). However, very
difficult issues will arise in the coming years as the fabric
of the original "monolith" comes up for renewal.
The reduced shopping role actually
achieved by Halton Lea gave a little more scope to the functioning
of the "Old Town" centre, with the Borough Council acting
as partner in a joint venture company with other developers. With
the benefit of Single Regeneration Budget (SRB4) funding, a number
of regeneration schemes are being implemented, including major
new developments for further education, arts and leisure. Important
retail elements of the regeneration have, however, been deterred
by doubts over commercial viability. The balance of provision
between Old Town and Halton Lea has undoubtedly been an issue
here, allied to the ongoing "leakage" of retail expenditure
to external centres, including Liverpool, Warrington and, more
recently, Cheshire Oaks.
Residential neighbourhoods The New
Town was planned to provide a total of 10 new residential neighbourhoods,
each to a different design to achieve distinctiveness but each
to be provided with a good range of local facilities. Two of the
estates, Southgate and Castlefields, incorporated high density
deck-access flats built using innovative industrialised methods.
Both estates have proved problematic, as briefly described in
the notes below. None of the other neighbourhoods included a significant
element of flats, but they did use "rationalised traditional"
methods of construction. During the course of the construction
programme, cutbacks in Development Corporation funding led to
inferior materials being used, later necessitating very expensive
refurbishment work in a number of the estates. Cutbacks in funding
also led in a number of cases to a lesser provision of local community
facilities than originally intended.
Southgate was a residential neighbourhood
of high-profile ultra-modern flats adjacent to Shopping City.
The estate eventually proved unmanageable due to a number of physical
drawbacks and to the growing concentration of social problems
with which it became associated. In 1989, coinciding with the
wind-up of the Warrington-Runcorn Development Corporation, the
estate was demolished. It was replaced by conventional family
housing managed by two of the Housing Associations who collectively
had taken over the entire Development Corporation housing stock.
In its new guise of Hallwood Park, the neighbourhood is now functioning
very successfully around 550 houses in place of the 1,300 flats
previously on the site.
Castlefields is another residential
neighbourhood of unconventional design a mixture of system-built
deck access flats and bungalows built to Radburn principles on
a sloping site, bisected by the busway. More recently than Southgate,
the combination of physical and social problems necessitated a
review of its future, leading to decisions by the Housing Associations
to proceed with a phased programme of demolitions of some of the
deck access blocks and their replacement, again with more conventional
housing. The Housing Associations however are struggling to meet
the abnormal costs arising from the demolitions and the topography.
A range of urban management problems
arose in Castlefields due to its unconventional layout, the highly
unsociable nature of the deck access and corridor arrangements,
the design and locational shortcomings of the covered Local Centre,
and the physical barrier created by the Busway. In addition, the
neighbourhood secondary school (Norton Priory) faced many operational
problems and never reached its full design capacity. Recently,
in the light of a Borough-wide review of secondary school places,
the decision was taken to close this site following an amalgamation
with another neighbourhood school.
The combination of all these issues
at Castlefields has necessitated the commissioning of a major
"masterplanning" exercise to help settle its future.
This covers the whole estate and involves the Housing Corporation
and English Partnerships as well as the Housing Associations and
the Borough Council.
Landscaping and open space High quality
landscaping is a notable feature throughout Runcorn New Townbut
this has brought significant penalties in terms of maintenance
costs, in particular landscaping within the residential layouts,
and the planting associated both with the Busway and Expressway
systems. Over-abundant vegetation growth has led to a number of
actual or perceived problemsespecially worries about personal
safety and security at bus stops and on footpaths, and concerns
over highway visibility on many parts of the Expressway system.
The Local Transport Plan has had to include major expenditure
items for landscape modification and maintenance, while the Council
has been severely disadvantaged in resource terms by the exclusion
of independent footpaths from the Standard Spending Assessment
Runcorn Town Park is a very substantial
feature, fulfilling the original concept of "bringing the
country within the town." It provides a highly attractive
and continuous swathe from north to south. However, coupled with
the Expressway and Busway arrangements, Town Park also has the
effect of substantially increasing the physical division between
East Runcorn and other parts of the town. This separating effect
was a contributory factor in the failure of Norton Priory school.
Whether social exclusion in the New Towns
is being exacerbated by the current Government approach to regeneration
and neighbourhood renewal, in particular in relation to small
pockets of deprivation.
2.2 Issues of social exclusion are a significant
concern in many of the Runcorn New Town neighbourhoods. In the
national Index of Multiple Deprivation 2000, all the New Town
wards fall within the top 10 per cent most deprived wards in England.
Furthermore, four are in the top 5 per cent overall, five are
in the top 5 per cent for income deprivation, and six are in the
top 5 per cent for health deprivation and disability.
Some of these problems are being tackled through
SRB rounds 4 and 5 programmes, including "capacity building"
projects of various kinds and schemes to improve residents' accessibility
to local training and employment opportunities. The two programmes
actively address the social exclusion issues inherent in the New
Town Wards, and the mid-term review of the SRB4 programme "Realising
the Benefits" demonstrates the effectiveness of the programme
to date. However, the problems are so deep-seated and wide-ranging
that action over a six or seven year period will never be enough.
The SRB programmes have been developed in association
with the Halton Partnership, out of which the new Local Strategic
Partnership has evolved. Halton bid successfully for Neighbourhood
Renewal funding and is confident that available resources can
be used to good effect. However, it is too soon to judge how well
the LSP and Community Strategy arrangements are going to work.but
if it can provide a framework of stability and continuity this
will clearly be preferable to the past succession of seemingly
ad hoc and short-lived funding initiatives.
The Borough Council, in developing its regeneration
programmes, has always had to take care to be even-handed between
the needs of all its constituent communities, within and outside
the New Town, and between Runcorn and Widnes. The Council's commitment
to the further development of Area Forums throughout the Borough
should help in this respect (the Area Forums involve groupings
of neighbouring wards which pay no particular regard to New Town
or non-New Town status).
Issues in relation to the organisations and
regulations operating in the New Towns, in particular:
The consequences of English Partnerships'
control of the land supply and its role in the planning system;
The effect of the transfer of
assets and liabilities to local authorities;
The role of local authorities,
residuary bodies and non-Departmental Public Bodies in promoting
sustainable regeneration in the New Towns;
The role of the New Towns in their
regional economies, in both the industrial/commercial and housing
markets and their effect on surrounding conurbations; and
Whether the Government should
change its policy in respect of design, regeneration and social
inclusion in the New Towns.
2.3 EP ownership interests are now confined
to East Runcorn (Sandymoor and Manor Park) but in Borough terms
these areas represent a strategic resource and have a key role
to play in fulfilling the main objectives of the emerging Halton
Unitary Development Plan, ie to reverse recent trends of net out-migration
of population from the Borough.
These areas are "greenfield" thus
bringing their development into the national and regional greenfield/
brownfield debate. The Borough Council has made no secret of the
fact that in recent years housing development on "brownfield"
sites has averaged 23 per cent compared to the national target
of 60 per cent of new homes on brownfield land by 2008. There
are clear reasons for this, notably the extent of contamination
of previously-used sites in the Borough related to chemical and
allied industries. The draft UDP proposes a twin-track approach
to future development needs a recognition that both greenfield
and brownfield sites need to be allocated for future development,
but with greenfield proposals expected to compensate for any loss
of environmental capital through "planning gain" arrangements.
English Partnerships clearly have an important
potential role in such a "twin-track" approachbut
it would require them to fully endorse the overall objectives
of the UDP and to see themselves as active contributors to the
goal of sustainable development, rather than being confined wholly
or mainly to a revenue-maximising role.
The Borough Council has good working relationships
with English Partnerships on planning matters. The Council would,
nevertheless, regard the current position of EP in the planning
system (through the 7.1 and 7.2 procedures) as unjustifiably privileged
and anomalous. The Council would support a reversion to the normal
planning regime for all EP schemes.
It is worth recording that we can point to a
number of cases where, after the demise of the Development Corporation,
an enlightened approach by the Commission for the New Towns enabled
Halton to secure some very worthwhile facilities. Here are three
examples in Runcorn, promoted under the general banner used collectively
by the New Town local authorities in the early 1990s "Invest
Rock Farm: This was a development
of land in CNT's ownership adjacent to Town Park, not part of
the original proposals. A successful, mixed tenure development
was achieved through negotiation private, shared ownership and
Sandymoor circuit: This was an overall
scheme to encourage walking, cycling, leisure and amenity facilities
in East Runcorn, at the same time as securing better links between
the housing and employment areas and a suitable buffer zone for
the nearby established village of Moore. The agreed package included
the transfer of the Moore buffer land from CNT to Halton Borough.
Trident Park: This is the most recent
development at Halton Lea (Shopping City) where CNT's original
ambitions to provide further retail development were translated
into a significantly modified scheme incorporating important leisure
elements (including the Borough's first multiplex cinema).
2.4 Questions of asset transfer, balancing
packages and "clawback" proved extremely complex. There
are examples within the Borough to demonstrate where the system
for balancing assets and liabilities worked reasonably well, and
where it failed badly. On a more general point, however, it appears
unjust that the accounting period for the assessment of assets
to offset local authority liabilities should be limited to 30
years, while the period for "clawback" payments to EP
should be 50 years.
2.5 The New Town housing assets were transferred
to a group of Housing Associations. As already mentioned, the
design of the earlier estates has led to significant management
problems. The "corporatist" nature of the estates has
been distinctly out of tune with the more modern concepts of mixed
tenure and diversity. In these circumstances the role and outlook
of the Housing Associations is crucial. The approach developed
at Castlefields has been helpful though still emerging a formal
grouping of the Housing Corporation, Housing Associations and
Borough Council for the purposes of "joint commissioning"
of the regeneration programme.
The concept of joint commissioning, ie formal
collective commitment between different public bodies, would appear
to have a wider application in helping to securing stronger partnerships
in pursuit of the goal of sustainable regeneration. Joint Commissioning
has clear relevance to the purposes of the Local Strategic Partnership
and the Community Strategy.
2.6 The role of Runcorn New Town in the
regional and sub-regional economy is a complex story, entailing
both gains and setbacks, and changing patterns of in- and out-commuting.
At the start of the New Town, ICI was the major
employer and already had a strong scientific and manufacturing
presence in the chlor-chemicals sectors. Its scientific base was
significantly strengthened during the New Town development years
with the growth of R&D and HQ functions at The Heaththough
not as a direct consequence of the New Town concept. In the early
1970s, Halton's scientific base received a significant further
boost through the setting up of Daresbury Laboratory by the Science
Research Council, in the location immediately to the east of the
Somewhat in contrast to these successes, the
earlier New Town industrial estates at Astmoor and Whitehouse
were never developed at a rate to keep pace with the job needs
of incoming residents, and the New Town neighbourhoods suffered
large-scale unemployment and consequent social exclusion problems.
Latterly, while Astmoor and Whitehouse tended to experience a
range of problems in lettings and adaptations to modern requirements,
the more recent Manor Park employment areas have generally been
very successful in attracting good quality developments. These
successes, coupled with the prestige associated with the strong
scientific presence of Daresbury Laboratories, have given the
required confidence to the private developers of the Daresbury
Business Park, this site subsequently being included in the North
West Development Agency's shortlist of strategic regional sites.
In the sub-regional context, Runcorn New Town
is centrally located in the "Mersey Belt". The NWDA
has recently been studying contrasts in the Mersey Belt between
the more buoyant "Southern Crescent" and less buoyant
"Metropolitan Axis" areas. Runcorn sits at an important
meeting point of these two zones and the New Town assets thereby
play an unusually significant role in the sub-regional economy.
In organisational terms, there is currently
some confusion of roles between English Partnerships and the North
West Development Agency. It could well be helpful to all those
operating within the region for EP's New Town residuary role to
be handled on a regional basis by the RDA. The broad development
issues surrounding the future of the New Town holdings would then
be handled as part of the Regional Strategy, with due links to
Regional Planning Guidance and due observance to the requirements
of sustainable development.
2.7 Experience in Runcorn New Town clearly
indicates that extensive housing schemes based on monolithic,
single tenure provision are likely, sooner or later, to come to
grief. For the future, housing provision, be it through major
regeneration or new-build, should always focus on achieving mixed
development, mixed tenure solutions. Funding regimes for social
housing schemes should be designed to support these aimsand
should always be flexible enough to allow community input at the