Memorandum by Town and Country Planning
Association (NT 13)
1.1 The Town and Country Planning Association
(TCPA) is a registered educational charity, supported by a voluntary
membership drawn from development agencies, local government,
environmental organisations, community groups, and individuals
with an interest in planning (including elected members of local
planning authorities, chartered town planners, and members of
other built environment professions).
1.2 The TCPA was involved in the genesis
of Letchworth (1903) and Welwyn (1919) Garden Cities. The Association
played a major role in the campaigns leading to the New Towns
Act 1946 and in the subsequent government-sponsored programme
of new towns in the UK which are now home to more than two million
1.3 The Association has maintained a particular
interest and expertise in the arrangements for creating new towns,
in their design and development, in their long term management
and maintenance, and in their future role in urban policy. The
Association is acknowledged internationally for its expertise
in new town planning and development, and has been consistent
in its advocacy of the potential role of new towns as part of
a portfolio of planned responses to growth and change in city
1.4 This memorandum is focused on the five
questions in the Press Notice of 22 January, within the stipulated
limit of six A4 pages. The TCPA requests the opportunity to appear
before the Sub-Committee. Evidence would be presented by three
distinguished witnesses Wyndham Thomas CBE,
and Lee Shostak.
2. "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 towns."
2.1 The New Towns have not been built to
a single design, but most have created a pattern of residential
neighbourhoods, around a town centre, with discrete industrial/commercial
estates. The first houses in the first wave of new towns started
in 1947-51 were built to good space standards which were severely
reduced in the early 1950s in pursuit of Macmillan's target of
300,000 public rented house completions a year.
2.2 Densities were sharply increased, floor
space was cut by up to 20 per cent, cupboards and other fittings
excluded, poor-quality panels substituted for brickwork, and screen
walls and timber fences replaced with chain-link fencing. Narrow
(12 to 14 feet3.5m to 4.5m) terraced housing became standard,
and gardens and all external spaces were reduced. The TCPA protested
strongly against this policy and its obvious consequences. Protest
was in vain, against the determination of Ministers and the Treasury
and, most regrettably, the influential advocacy of many prominent
architects and architectural journalists.
2.3 Some New Towns did not escape the high-rise
fashion that was taken up in cities and towns everywhere, despite
increased cost in construction and maintenance, harm to family
life for those on low incomes, harmful environmental impact, and
little of the promised saving of land. This policy has now come
to its awful accounting. From the 1950s the TCPA stood alone against
this policy, but even we failed to see just how dreadful its consequences
2.4 In common with similar estates in ordinary
towns developed over the same period, these early housing areas
in the older New Towns are badly in need of enlightened renewal
or total redevelopment. As in ordinary places, local authorities
should be encouraged to make comprehensive action plans enabling
cross subsidy from viable mixed use redevelopment, and to seek
financial contributions from new development through planning
obligations. They also need greater support through the Housing
Corporation for the affordable housing components of such plans.
2.5 The effect of the design of each New
Town on urban management requires definition of the concept of
"urban management" and a separate study in each case.
The same applies to the remainder of the point raised by the Sub-Committee
it is not evident that the New Towns, taken together, face special
physical or financial challenges when compared with most long-established
towns of comparable size, location and character. A comparative
study of several towns, old and new, would be the best way to
establish whether most or all of the new towns are especially
handicapped and whether, if so, they need special financial assistance.
2.6 We doubt that the new towns are more
"car-dependent" than old towns of comparable size. The
comparative study we propose could consider old town/New Town
differences and similarities in this private/public transport
context in order to establish whether the New Towns face special
problems. Our suspicion is that the New Towns are especially well
structured to adapt to more sustainable ways of life. Undoubtedly
they are "laboratories" of the best professional and
technical practice of their period, and their master planning
features should be analysed and lessons to be learned should be
3. "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."
3.1 It is not established that social exclusion
in the New Towns is more or less extensive than in ordinary places.
The Association's observation is that the New Towns generally
achieved their objective of accommodating all varieties of household,
and those most in need of a home and a job in particular. Because
of the care taken in the building of the New Towns, especially
management of a careful balance between growth of housing and
jobs, the incidence of social exclusion and deprivation is less
likely than in most ordinary towns, but requires attention nevertheless.
3.2 Prejudice against the New Towns may
have disadvantaged them in bidding for money under various Government
programmes, but they have not been totally excluded and there
are even more hopeful signs the Regeneration Company that has
been established in Corby, for example, is an encouraging indication
that the New Towns are now "normalised". English Partnerships'
role in New Town regeneration partnerships and programmes is especially
appreciated if the Treasury has relaxed its cash demands from
EP to enable such activity, their move is most welcome.
3.3 Successive Governments are attracted
to area-based regeneration programmes, in the New Towns as elsewhere.
In this connection the Association would prefer to see as much
focus on tackling the underlying causes of poverty and social
dysfunction, as on smartening up the geographical areas in which
disadvantaged people happen to be concentrated. Sometimes a new
life chance comes from being set free from a location the New
Towns themselves provided such opportunities for many. Today such
opportunities barely exist.
4. "Issues relating 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; and the role of
local authorities, residuary bodies and non-Departmental Public
Bodies in promoting sustainable regeneration in the New Towns."
4.1 These issues appear to us to be at the
heart of the New Town local authorities' criticisms and proposals.
The Commission for the New Towns inherited from the development
corporations land with the equivalent of outline planning consent,
granted by the Minister. In most New Towns these consents have
beenor will soon befully implemented. Substantial
land holdings remain (now with English Partnerships acting on
behalf of CNT) in five or six towns only. No information is published
indicating how much of the remaining land in each town is covered
by long-standing consents and how much is not. It would be helpful
to know this it is the sale of land by EP for development that
would not satisfy today's planning policy framework, and the promotion
by EP of the unconsented land, that are known sometimes to be
an irritation to the local planning authority.
4.2 There is good reason now to review the
full extent of EP's land ownership in each New Town, and the planning
status of each defined parcel of land in the context of national
and regional planning guidance and the statutory development plan
for the area. This is necessary before conclusions could be drawn
about the future ownership of such land. The review panel could
include representatives of the local authorities and EP, the regional
planning body, and perhaps some independent experts. The decisions
to be made are best be reserved to the Minister.
4.3 The terms of land transfers from EP
to New Town local authorities should also be reviewed. In situations
where EP is opening large new areas for developmentrequiring
services beyond the taxpayers' initial investment in the New Town,
we see no reason why EP should be excused the same planning obligations
as any other landowner seeking to develop an estate. Clawback
clauses to safeguard the interests of the taxpayers are reasonable,
but must be capable of waiver (as is already occasionally the
case on an exceptions-only basis) if their existence obstructs
sustainable forms of redevelopment on the site.
4.4 In those rare cases in which EP is managing
very extensive areas of undeveloped land in successful New Towns
subject to further growth pressuresMilton Keynes being
conspicuous in this regardwe see EP and other stakeholders
including the local authority participating in some form of partnership
to secure orderly and sustainable development in the best traditions
of New Town building.
4.5 Most properties with no commercial value
have already been transferred as "community-related assets",
together with packages of money and/or income-producing property
to prevent "an undue burden" falling on council tax
4.6 A question which seems to arise is whether
New Town local authorities should gain financial support for regeneration
from EP's trading profits. We incline to the view that New Town
councils should continue to be treated in the same way as all
others only if their regeneration problems were clearly attributable
to the New Town development standards and patterns employed, and
made disproportionately costly in consequence, would there be
a case for additional subventions from EP. There is loose talk
of "very low densities" and other generic criticisms
of New Towns, from which exceptionally heavy cost burdens allegedly
arise, but specific cases founded on the results of comparative
studies with ordinary towns must be made.
4.7 Here it may be appropriate to recall
the discussion of first principles which took place in 1959-61
over the proposal to set up the Commission for the New Towns.
Its task, which was not changed until the first Thatcher Government
took over in 1979, was simply to manage and turn to account in
completing the town the assets taken over on winding up each development
corporation. Only after 1979 was it turned into a revenue-raising
exercise for the Exchequer. A principal reason advanced for not
passing the commercial assets to the local authorities was that
the cost of building the townsall the loans, all the losses
and all the riskwas borne by the national taxpayers. In
equity, therefore, the taxpayer should benefit from any gainswhich
would (though indirectly) help meet the central costs of extensive
and expensive urban regeneration throughout the country.
4.8 Even so, establishing the Commission
was seen as a transitional arrangement, allowing time and changing
circumstance to clarify what final ownership, management and distribution
arrangements would be best. Now 40 years on, the £4.75 billion
of Exchequer 60 year loans has largely been repaid from CNT asset
sales, and sale of the remaining assets should cover most or all
of the rest. Disparities and inequities that continue to existbetween
New Towns in the poorer and the richer regions, between New Towns
and old industrial towns, and between national and local taxpayers'
interestsrequire resolution by other levers of public policy.
5. "The role of the New Towns in their
regional economies, in both the industrial/commercial and housing
markets and their effects on surrounding conurbations."
5.1 The Sub-Committee will be aware that,
with the exception of New Towns such as Newtown in Wales which
were designed to retain population in an area from which people
were departing for the cities, the New Towns were mostly designed
to provide relief for overcrowded conurbations and, by careful
planning and design, to provide new life chances for those that
today would be called the socially excluded.
5.2 The success of the New Towns in this
regard is less than might have been hoped for. In the South East,
for example, by the mid 1970s only some 17 per cent of the people
that had left London since 1947 had found a home in the region's
New Towns. Of these, the last and the largest is Milton Keynes,
which has been the region's most important strategic growth point
for the past 30 years, and has saved much of the Metropolitan
Green Belt in its sector from development pressure over that period.
Yet even with 200,000 residents, Milton Keynes' contribution to
accommodating growth spilling out of Greater London has been relatively
5.3 It should also be noted that even though
the New Towns programme is practically complete, the scale of
migration of people and employment from Greater London has shown
no significant diminution. The New Towns, evidently, were neither
the cause of the evacuation of London's population or employment
base, nor the major recipient of it.
5.4 Unlike the rest of the South East, however,
the region's New Towns provided a new life chance for a disproportionately
high number of the socially excluded.
5.5 There is controversy over the evidence
concerning the migration of employment. Some analyses support
an argument that the New Towns attracted from their "parent"
conurbations some successful companies that would otherwise have
grown where they were. Other evidence suggests that if the New
Towns had not been available, such employment would not have grown
at all, or would have found a non-New Town location in the outfield
of the region, or moved overseas.
5.6 What is certain, is that the New Towns
proved themselves to be ideal growth points for many companies,
with their offer of room for growth and a ready supply of locally
based, healthy and willing labour. For the region as a whole,
and for the nation, the New Towns have proved to be important
platforms of economic development and wealth creation.
5.7 In summary, therefore, it is the assessment
of the Association that the New Towns have proved to be the most
valuable and effective way of accommodating a proportion of the
growth unwilling or unable to be accommodated in the older towns
5.8 Their performance as recipients of this
growth is obviously superior to those areas which were subject
to "unplanned" growth over the same period a comparison
between Milton Keynes and what was called "Growth Area 8"
(the Wokingham area), both of which have received roughly the
same scale of development over the same number of years, might
be expected to prove the superiority of the New Town policy as
a tool in urban growth management from every point of view.
5.9 Government planning policy guidance
appears to be in denial of this truth. The possibility of a New
Town (euphemistically described in policy documents as a "new
settlement") is ranked last in possibilities to be examined
in the sequential approach to the allocation of land for necessary
development. No further government-sponsored New Towns are currently
5.10 Current sub-regional studies are briefed
only to produce "options" for what is likely to be incremental
growth managed by "business as usual" local planning
processes assisted, if possible, by vaguely formulated stakeholder
partnerships. The studies are briefed explicitly not to recommend
a strategic plan or any other form of long term development framework
and implementation mechanism for the area growth area, thus excluding
consideration of the government-sponsored New Town option.
5.11 Having become established, the New
Towns generally provide a sub-regional focus for their catchments
in terms of local services, employment, housing, and cultural
activity. In that sense they service and sustain a hinterland
of predominantly rural development. In sub-regions with growth
pressures, the New Towns' relatively modern infrastructure and
attractive layout are making them ideal receptors for investment
in high tech employment and quality housing, spurring major redevelopment
schemes for their town centres. Bracknell is a case in point.
6. "Whether the Government should change
its policy in respect of design, regeneration and social inclusion
in the New Towns."
6.1 The Association is keen to discover
Government policy that specifically applies to the new towns in
these respects. We have referred to the importance for the pursuit
of sustainable development of comparative research, New Towns
and ordinary towns. We have alluded to the need for comparative
research, New Towns and ordinary areas that have received growth
of strategic significance (Milton Keynes and the former "Growth
Area 8"). We seek the factual basis of assertions that the
New Towns are exceptional in terms of the need for regeneration
and problems of social inclusion.
6.2 The Association urges the Sub-Committee
to press for the DTLR Planning Research budget to assist these
important lines of enquiry.
1 TCPA Vice President, formerly Chief Executive Peterborough
Development Corporation, Board Member London Docklands Development
Corporation, Board Member Commission for the New Towns, and Board
Member, Land Commission. Back
TCPA Chair, Director of planning and urban design consultancy
David Lock Associates, formerly Planning Manager Milton Keynes
Development Corporation, and Chief Planning Adviser Department
of the Environment. Back
TCPA Trustee, Director of economic development consultancy Shared
Intelligence, formerly Planning Director Milton Keynes Development
Corporation, and Director of EDAW planning and economic development