Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by David Wright MP (Telford Constituency) (NT 18)


  Telford New Town was designated in 1968 following the expansion of the Dawley New Town initiative. The project focused on two key themes. Firstly, the drawing together of a series of towns and communities located on the east Shropshire coalfield with the aim of reviving the faltering local economy. Secondly, the creation of new residential estates and facilities for people moving out of poor housing conditions in the Black Country. These two objectives resulted in massive public and private sector investment and the delivery of one of the largest land reclamation projects ever undertaken in Europe. It has taken over thirty years for the communities of Telford to properly gel together, and even now most of the older towns still have their own identities and community loyalties.

  The term "new town" is of course now inappropriate when referring to communities such as Telford. The phrase tends to conjure up an image of a town where large-scale investment has recently taken place and consequently the problems of urban living have been banished forever. That, of course, is not the case.

  The Committee requested that evidence focused on some key areas and questions, this submission is tailored accordingly.


  Much of the initial infrastructure in Telford, which was built quickly to create the town, is reaching the end of its investment life. The design principles adopted in many of the new estates were focused on low density and the segregation of residential and industrial/commercial uses.

  The use of Radburn design layouts in the housing areas in the south of the town has led to major management problems. There are large zones of unkempt open space and many residential areas have no real identity or defining landscape features. The accommodation itself was often poorly built. The local centres constructed to serve these communities are poorly designed with large areas of uncontrolled public space. The facilities were constructed all in one phase and now look very dated. There is also a shakeout of any diversity in shopping provision due to the dominant role of the Telford Shopping Centre. In general there is no recognizable street structure in areas such as Woodside and Sutton Hill and the housing stock, which was built quickly and cheaply, has fallen into significant disrepair.

  There are a number of particularly problematic local neighbourhoods in terms of housing design and layout. The "Courts" area on Woodside is one such example where a large number of deck access properties, in mixed ownership, are being progressively abandoned due to disrepair and their poor design. Criminal activity in the area is extensive, particularly burglary and drug dealing. At present the local authority is working hard with the community to assemble a strategy to clear the properties but it is very difficult to assemble resources to tackle the problem, this is covered in more detail below.

  Alongside these newer areas are the older communities which pre-date Telford, such as Dawley, Madeley and Oakengates. These areas have a more traditional town layout but the infrastructure is dated and is in need of significant investment. The local shopping centres have been badly affected by the Telford Shopping Centre and many will need to change their role with the reintroduction of residential uses into areas formerly dominated by retail uses. This process will require the extensive re-modelling of these smaller centres and this will need significant public and private sector investment through partnership vehicles.

  The Telford Shopping Centre is an extremely successful out of town style retail centre built in the middle of the town. At present it does not operate as a town centre as intended in the original new town concept. The centre closes down at 5.30 pm and does not provide any night time economy of merit. The collection of buildings in the area is architecturally poor and the site provides no significant landmark buildings. The local authority has developed a major town centre redevelopment proposal to tackle these issues but is finding it difficult to resource the initiative.


  Telford does not fall within the priority areas currently identified by government for urban renewal activity. This causes a major problem because there are a number of wards in the town which exhibit high levels of deprivation. Three wards are in the 10 per cent most deprived in England and a further 3 are in the 15 per cent most deprived. If these wards were in any other town they would immediately be targeted for regeneration activity. The structure of the town means that certain estates can be clearly identified as regeneration priorities but no central Government support can be currently accessed. It is extremely difficult to explain to communities in these areas that they do not qualify for support.

  The economy in Telford has for a number of years been based on low waged and largely un-unionised labour. There is also a significant element of part time and agency-based employment. This has left many people with little or no resource to invest in their homes, particularly those in marginal owner occupation. The RTB disposal policies pursued by Telford Development Corporation in its closing years has left a major problem with many low income households living in poorly built homes on badly designed estates.

  The availability of facilities for young people on large estates is limited and expectations are also low. Anti-social behaviour is a major problem across the town and this is exacerbated by the design of many estates.

  In many large urban areas the local authority can utilize land assets to drive forward regeneration. Unfortunately this is not possible in Telford due to the transfer of Commission for New Town assets to English Partnerships. Consequently there is the dual regeneration problem of a lack of community assets and no access to mainstream regeneration funding. The scale of resources available from other Government agencies, such as the Housing Corporation, is not large enough to enable comprehensive housing led initiatives to be constructed. At present the strategy of Advantage West Midlands is to steer resources into Regeneration Zones focused on the conurbation. Once again resources are therefore not available to assist in a number of deprived wards in Telford. Ironically these wards would be prioritized if transplanted into Sandwell or Birmingham, the very areas that many people moved away from for a better start some thirty years ago.

  A failure to address these issues now will result in a massive future regeneration bill. We need to invest now to sustain Telford and save resources in the future.


  At present English Partnerships are under review and this was the subject of a debate recently in Westminster Hall. The land holding of EP generates the following problems in Telford:

    —  Financial clawback which mitigates against the development of regeneration initiatives;

    —  Lack of local authority land holdings to pump prime regeneration initiatives;

    —  Inability to use Section 106 agreements in relation to EP land;

    —  No planning fee income for the local authority who work on EP projects;

  At present EP contribute significantly to Treasury coffers through the disposal of sites in Telford. EP do provide support to a number of projects in Telford, but this is secured through difficult negotiation. It would appear that the structure of re-investment in coalfield areas is different to that in new towns, some normalization would be helpful.


  An effective Local Strategic Partnership is in place in Telford and they should lead the regeneration of the town. The assets of EP should therefore be handed over to the local partnership for deployment on agreed regeneration priorities. The handing over of EP assets to Advantage West Midlands would not be supported locally and would mean that resources are diverted to the conurbation area and will not secure the regeneration of Telford.

  The housing problems identified in south Telford are significant. Existing mechanisms for intervention cannot deliver significant change and Telford is excluded from regeneration programmes. A comprehensive approach to renewal of the local housing market is needed linked to a holistic wider regeneration strategy. A south Telford "Housing Market Renewal Area" is needed. Due to the effective engagement of a range of partners in the town a delivery vehicle can be easily assembled to deliver a Housing Market Renewal Area. This would involve the local authority, English Partnerships (if retained), Wrekin Housing Trust, the Housing Corporation and the local community.


  Telford has been an engine of economic growth in the West Midlands over recent years. It can continue to perform that role in terms of land availability for industrial and residential growth.

  The construction of the M54 in the early 1980's, coupled with Regeneration Zone status, led to major growth in the Telford economy. This growth was sustained when other areas were in severe decline.

  Today the Telford Campus of Wolverhampton University provides a major research and development asset for the town and Technology Corridor status linked to the conurbation is critical. Major growth will need to be prompted through regional support in order to counter a loss of jobs in the local manufacturing sector in recent years. The ongoing development of the plastics/polymer technology business will be important for the town.

  The location of the town, in the west of the region, means that transport links are particularly problematic. Congestion on the motorway network through the West Midlands is a significant problem. Rail service links to the conurbation and through to London are also somewhat erratic in terms of delivery.

  The town should be considered alongside the conurbation when investment to promote urban renaissance is put in place. The town can provide a focal point for high quality new housing development, with a concentration on higher density schemes. The inevitable clearance of poorly designed and constructed new town estates will require mixed tenure redevelopment projects to be developed, this is not possible without greater control over land disposal activity and partnership working with developers, RSL's and the Housing Corporation.


  A number of key changes are required in Government strategy in relation to new towns, they can be summarized as follows:

    1.  Development of regeneration strategies for each of the new towns with access to Neighbourhood Renewal resources;

    2.  Creation of a Housing Market Renewal Area, with regeneration linkages, in south Telford to tackle the design and disrepair problems across the area (with the potential to develop a pilot initiative that could be applied in other towns);

    3.  Normalisation of arrangements in relation to the land holdings of EP with assets passed to the local authority;

    4.  Deployment of RDA resources tailored to the needs of each new town;

    5.  Investment in the quality and design of major, and local, shopping centres, including resources for CCTV, through a Town Centre Design Fund;

    6.  Availability of Home Office funding to design out crime on Radburn housing estates.


  The Government has the opportunity to spend to save in relation to the new towns. If we do not pick up the issues outlined above we will have to return in a number of years when the problems are more deep seated and the solutions far more expensive to deliver.

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Prepared 16 April 2002