Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by City of Sunderland (NT 21)


  1.1  This report examines Washington New Town in response to a request for information from the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions inquiry into New Towns. The report examines the underlying principles of the new town and evaluates the original design with reference to the long term sustainability of the town. Current regeneration initiatives in Washington are evaluated in order to understand how current government approaches to regeneration and neighbourhood renewal are being implemented.


  2.1  Washington was one of the "third generation" of new towns designated in response to increasing population projections throughout the 1960s. The town is based around the former mining villages of Usworth, Colombia, Fatfield and Harraton. Over the past 20 years the new town has been the fastest growing area in the North East. The town's location, adjacent to the A1(M), gives direct access to the main north/south motorways linking England and Scotland and is within 15 minutes drive from the main cities of Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland.


  3.1  In 1963 a white paper was issued entitled "The North East A programme for regional and development for growth" which included specific proposals for a New Town in Washington. The following year the Minister for Housing announced the Washington New Town Designation Order and the Washington Development Corporation was established. Interim proposals were drafted prior to a master plan being prepared. The main philosophy underpinning this was the need to plan for full motorisation of the town. The town was therefore based on a road network with a regular grid system of half mile squares. This grid was also used to locate village areas which make up the new town. The road grid was intended to give flexibility in accommodating wide variations of land use over the years and to provide areas suitable for contained residential and industrial development. Whilst the road network was designed to accommodate transport by bus its primary function was to accommodate the private car. The pedestrian network was fully segregated from vehicular traffic. Residential areas were constructed based on individual villages with approximately 4,500 residents.

  3.2  Each village was planned to have shops, a school, village hall and pub with each village centre providing a social nucleus. A particularly important element of the masterplan proposals for each village was the substantial amount of open space for general amenity. The design of villages was based on the neighbourhood concept with each village planned as self contained entities.

  3.3  The main proposals for industry were based upon the principle of dispersal and traffic dilution in addition to the existing industrial area. From the outset it was decided to create a new standard in industrial estate layout and factory design. A particular emphasis was placed on landscaping and making industrial estates a positive element in the townscape.


  4.1  It is now approximately 15 years since the "New Town" was completed and the Washington Development Corporation abolished. The town forms a western gateway to the City of Sunderland and is made up of four electoral wards—South, East, West and North. It has a population of about 61,700 which is characterised by a relatively young and mobile age group. This population is distributed around 18 villages and the road grid network system described above.

  4.2  The new town is based around the town centre and 17 villages

    —  17 village areas Donwell, Usworth, Concord, Sulgrave, Blackfell, Albany, Barmston, Washington Village, Columbia, Biddick, Oxclose, Lambton, Glebe, Ayton, Fatfield, Harraton and Rickleton.

  4.3  The main shopping area is the Galleries, a 550,000 sq ft indoor shopping mall with an adjoining 67 acre retail and leisure park. Concord, Washington's original shopping area still provides important shopping and community facilities and there are shops in each of the villages.


  5.1  Washington plays an important and significant part in the City's and regions economy. It contains 54 per cent of the City's industrial land. There are 16 industrial estates which are segregated from village areas. The most notable employment site is the Nissan Motor Manufacturing Plant. The company employs about 4,600 people this is expected to rise as production of the new Micra begins. The importance of Washington to the region is emphasised by the number of jobs throughout the North East which are dependent on Nissan (approximately 20,000).

  5.2  The industrial estates which are distributed across Washington are also particularly important sources of local employment. These estates vary in size and character but the majority of them are located close to the primary road network which helps ensure that they remain relatively popular to national and international firms. The distribution of these sites means that nearly all residents live within 1 km of an employment site.


  6.1  Washington has a wide variety of different housing types which reflect the different periods in which they were built. The council no longer owns any housing stock as these have now been transferred to the new Washington Housing Company, part of the Sunderland Housing Group. The stock consists of 5,201 houses, 135 maisonettes, 1,410 flats and 899 bungalows. Some of this stock is in a poor state of repair and the housing company plans to tackle these problems by spending £23.2 million in the first five years and a further £111 million in Washington over a period of approximately 25 years.

  6.2  Sixty-four per cent of Washington's Housing stock is owner occupied, the area is also very attractive to private housebuilders.

  6.3  Large scale regeneration work has now begun in Albany Village with the demolition of 242 flats and improvements to 242 houses planned over the next three years. Improvements include replacement of external facades, full internal modernisation and environmental improvements.


  7.1  Washington has its own leisure centre with a sports hall and swimming pool that is frequented by 274,000 visitors a year. There is also the Northumbria centre, a large indoor venue which has been used for conferences, exhibitions and sporting events such as Darts, Netball and Basketball. The town has two main parks, the Princess Anne Park in the North and the James Steel Park on the banks of the Wear.


  8.1  One of the key issues facing all new towns is the level of long term sustainability they can achieve. Although Washington took an approach to development which recognised some of the key ingredients of "sustainability" before the term was in general use there were a number of contradictions.

  8.2  For example whilst issues such as mixed tenure, low energy buildings and facilitating community development and voluntary sector activities were incorporated and taken into account other elements such as mixed use activities, pedestrianised streets, active frontages, high density housing and public transport nodes which could have improved sustainability were largely ignored. There are other sustainability issues in Washington which are becoming increasingly important, for example, the sustainability of the housing stock much of which needs to be remodelled, repaired and improved.

  8.3  In recent years the government has been particularly concerned with promoting the sustainable city. "Towards an Urban Renaissance" and the recent Urban White Paper emphasise the need for sustainable cities. The Urban White Paper outlines a new vision of urban living which promotes;

    —  good design and planning which makes it practical to live in a more environmentally sustainable way, with less noise, pollution and traffic congestion.

  8.4  The white paper says that good design should create places which are attractive and people friendly. One of the problems facing all new towns is that they were carefully planned developments but in many cases they fail to deliver the concepts which are presently promoted by contemporary planners, urban designers and architects. For example, it is often difficult to walk to shops, jobs, leisure and other facilities. In the following section Washington is assessed against the seven key principles that are critical in creating successful streets, spaces, villages, towns and cities. These principles help remind us what should be sought to create a successful place.


  9.1  Character—Integration of villages into landscapes to reduce the impact on nature and reinforce local distinctiveness

  Most of the villages were planned to blend in with the landscape and take account of local features and topography. To this extent Washington performs well and many of the villages are surrounded by woodland and vegetation which provides habitats for a variety of nature and wildlife.

  9.2  Quality of the Public Realm—Villages with attractive and successful outdoor areas

  Whilst many of the villages have a high amount of open space and parkland the quality of the public realm within village centres is variable. The villages have been designed primarily with the car in mind therefore outdoor areas in such locations are not particularly attractive to pedestrians.

  9.3  Ease of movement—A town which is easy to get to and move through

  One of the key criticisms of Washington is that it was designed for car users and not for public transport and pedestrian use. Whilst all the villages are interlinked with footpaths these are often poorly lit and fail to create an attractive environment conducive to encouraging more people to walk. The separation of roads from pedestrians means that the town is difficult and confusing to navigate. This is also the case for motorists who are often confused by the numbered districts and the inability to drive through villages because of restricted access. There is a clear need for updated, user friendly signage in Washington. There is also a problem with the divisiveness of the road network and motorway system which runs through the town and causes physical and psychological barriers.

  9.4  Legibility—A place which has a clear image and is easy to understand

  Many of the villages in Washington do have a distinct identity particularly in relation to housing types. However taking the Washington Town as a single entity it could be argued that there is no real image or identity and that the town is hard to understand and navigate around. The Galleries shopping mall is the main focus of the new town however this is enclosed and there are no active frontages with pedestrians and traffic. The 17 villages often feel isolated and disconnected despite attempts to improve footpaths and linkages between them.

  9.5  Adaptability—A place that can change easily

  Washington has evolved since it's inception as a new town however the grid road network upon which it is based means that it is difficult for villages to adapt. The road network acts like a collar therefore new development and change is unable to straddle more than one village.

  9.6  Diversity—A place with variety and choice

  Another criticism of Washington is that the urban landscape is monotonous much of the new housing built by private investors in the 1980s and 1990s is based on standardised house types and cul de sac developments which lack character. The housing built under the Development Corporation is often more distinctive as it was commissioned and designed by different architects. However many of the materials used in these more innovative house designs were poor quality and are now requiring repair and replacement. It is in these areas where the architecture and design is more distinct and has more in common with the fundamental principles of the new town which planning policies should be attempting to protect.


  10.1  Washington is home to a range of innovative projects which are trying to enhance the lives of people in the community and reflect the distinctive cultural life of the area. The City of Sunderland recently published its Area Regeneration Framework Strategy for Washington. This guides the allocation of Strategic Initiatives Budget (SIB) funding. The Washington Area Committee has £200,000 a year to invest in projects which contribute to the objectives of the Area Regeneration Framework. In the past five years £1 million-worth of SIB funding has been channelled into Washington initiatives. Below is a brief summary of some of these initiatives.

  10.2  Washington Pride—This multi agency partnership brings together people from the public, private voluntary sectors who want to make the area a successful, safe, vibrant place to live and work. Washington Pride has taken a road show to all four wards to ask local people what they think about issues such as transport, community facilities, housing and community safety.

  10.3  North Washington Healthy Living Centre—A healthy living initiative backed by a massive investment from the New Opportunities Fund. £1 million for the area has been secured. The programme covers Concord, Usworth and Sulgrave and aims to enhance the well being of local residents. Plans for North Washington include:

    —  Improved transport in the community

    —  Arts projects

    —  Exercise facilities

    —  Support for the elderly

    —  Credit union

    —  Education and training

    —  Men's health project.

  10.4  Bridge (Training and Education Opportunities for Women)—Bridge controls a budget of in excess of £500,000 a year and is the lead agent for North Washington Sure Start's community parenting scheme. Bridge welcomes all women and particularly targets and supports those who are socially excluded, including lone parents, women on low incomes, disabled women, those with learning difficulties and women who are experiencing poor mental health. Bridge has two main bases in Sulgrave and Colombia with a new family centre in Albany.

  10.5  Washington Millennium Centre—This new community centre is at the heart of Concord, North Washington and was funded by the City of Sunderland, the Millennium Commission and National Playing Fields Association. More than 60 groups use the centre each month and facilities include a community library, electronic village hall, creche, café, disco area and multi-user floodlit outdoor games area.

  10.6  Washington is also in the unusual position of being home to three major government initiatives which target the overall development of children and young people. These projects are concentrated in the North and West ward where nearly a quarter of the population are under the age of 16.

  10.7  North Washington Sure Start II—This is a £2.25 million initiative which releases trained staff to work with families to promote the physical, intellectual and social development of pre-school children, thus enabling them to thrive once they start school.

  10.8  On Track (4-12s)—North Washington is one of only 24 areas nationally to benefit from On Track, a seven year programme which aims to strengthen vulnerable children and their families. The City Council's bid has attracted Home Office funding of £450,000 per year from 2000-03. On Track is part of the governments crime reduction programme and provides a range of support services to children, and their families, who are at risk of offending.

  10.9  Youth Inclusion (13-16s)—This government initiative which is managed by Crime Concern aims to reduce the number of arrests among 13-16 year olds, reduce recorded crime and reduce truancy and school exclusion. The programme is funded by the Youth Justice Board with local matched funding of £75,000 per year. Activities include midnight basketball and a four day residential course at an outdoor activities center.

  10.10  It is clear that there are a number of ongoing regeneration initiatives in Washington, however, there is concern that there are small pockets of deprivation within specific villages.

  10.11  One of the problems associated with the way the government currently approaches regeneration and neighbourhood renewal is that funding is focussed and awarded on the basis of deprivation and indicators of deprivation. The worst areas from across the UK compete nationally and tend to receive money based on ward areas. In Washington the four ward areas taken together do not perform particularly poorly because deprivation is concentrated in specific neighbourhoods. The masterplan framework conceived Washington as a single entity therefore a holistic and joined up approach to regeneration which encompasses all the villages is required.

Key issues in Washington


Young People —  Shortage of good quality youth provision in Washington
—  Shortage of leisure facilities
—  Increased provision of supported housing for young people
—  Need for more pre-school provision and family support
—  Drug, solvent and alcohol misuse among young people

Housing—  Need to encourage private landlords to improve stock and management of properties.
—  Sustainability of stock eg non traditional housing needs to be remodelled
—  Need to assess future housing need with reference to population analysis

Health—  Reduce by 10 per cent the gap between the areas with the lowest life expectancy at birth with the population as whole by 2010
—  Need to promote community led solutions to tackling health related issues

Economic Growth—  Need to increase employment rates in the areas with the poorest initial labour market position by 2004
—  Need for more small business units and start up facilities
—  Encourage private sector investment in the regeneration Washington

Community safety—  Need for increased community safety on housing estates
—  Need to address youth disorder and anti social behaviour

Environment—  Need to enhance the environment by improving parks and open spaces
—  Need for user friendly signage in Washington
—  Need to reduce the litter problem Lack of maintenance to woodlands and plantations which has community safety implications
—  Need for further development of industrial land
—  Reduction of graffiti in the Washington area
—  Enhance lighting for environmental and safety purposes

Transport—  Improve access to public transport
—  Promote safer routes to schools
—  Improve cycle routes to and within Washington
—  Reduce the emphasis on car users and encourage public transport which is accessible to all age groups and at all times

Social and cultural—  Need to establish local demand for refurbished and enhanced community facilities
—  Support and increase the participation of local communities in regeneration initiatives
—  Shortage of play facilities and provision of teen shelters
—  Demand for increased sports facilities in Washington


  11.1  The Environment Department is presently undertaking an area based study of Washington. Since the new town was completed there have been many important national social and economic changes. Similarly in terms of planning there have been important shifts in what is considered good practice and how planners think about urban areas, towns, design and layouts. Many of the National Planning Guidance Notes have been revised since the Washington Masterplan proposals were completed in 1985. In particular new guidance on housing (PPG 3) and transport (PPG 13) has been published these advocate different densities and patterns of land use than previously. Part 1 of the study will provide an opportunity to assess some of the strategic issues facing Washington.

  11.2  Part 2 of the study will examine each of the village districts which comprise Washington. This analysis will show the dynamics of each village. The following five themes will be used to evaluate each village district:

  1.  Housing

  2.  Employment estates

  3.  Community facilities

  4.  Environment

  5.  Transport

  11.3  In December 2001 the Government published a green paper on planning. This outlines the governments proposals to reform the planning system in particular the document proposes a new framework for development plans. This study will be prepared in light of the recommendations made in the document. The green paper recommends more detailed action plans for smaller local areas of change such as town centres and neighbourhood undergoing renewal. The Washington study will adopt this approach by identifying priority areas in Washington which are most in need of revitalisation.


  12.1  Most New Towns were developed under special legislative and administrative arrangements with unusual powers and access to funds. This is true of Washington where a Development Corporation was created to secure the development of a new town. The Washington Development Corporation was the delivery vehicle for growth with a limited life. Such arrangements no longer exist as the Development Corporation has been disbanded. The City of Sunderland does not have the assets or special powers that the Development Corporation had to intervene in the market and assist in promoting new development. When the Washington Development Corporation was disbanded the housing and associated assets were passed over to the local authority. Economic development land was passed to the Commission for New Towns which subsequently became English Partnerships.

  12.2  As mentioned above all of the housing which was transferred over from the development corporation to the local authority has recently been transferred to the Sunderland Housing Group as a registered social landlord. The council does not have any large holdings of land within Washington to bring forward or encourage specific development as the Washington Development Corporation was able to.

  12.3  English partnerships has the power to grant outline planning permission for B1, B2 and B8 uses on land that it owns. The local authority is normally consulted on such applications but problems can occur when this does not take place. This emphasises the need for a close working relationship between English Partnerships, the local authority, community groups and transport organisations. It also reiterates the importance of having an integrated spatial framework to ensure development is guided to the right locations.


  13.1  Most new towns and their administrative arrangements included many concepts currently held in high regard by national and EU administrations. They contained good practice in many areas for example they:

    —  Took a long term holistic approach to the planning, development and management of areas embracing an integrated approach to the development of physical, economic and social structure.

    —  Had a lot of success in attracting private investment particular inward investors (Nissan)

    —  Provided valuable examples of success in development and redevelopment on greenfield and brownfield land. Washington in particular redeveloped many brownfield sites.

  Their weakness stemmed from three sources

    —  The Development Corporations holistic approach relied on imperfectly engineered partnerships with other public authorities. Co-operation was often frustrated by conflicting financial systems.

    —  There was no connection between the growth of the new town and the income available to the local authority which took responsibility for the on going running costs, and the initial capital cost of some facilities and services.

    —  The sudden closure of development corporations and handover of assets to the Commission for New Towns caused problems. The legislation under which the CNT was set up gave it a much narrower role than the development corporations. Through the CNT the government became asset strippers selling of large amounts of land and assets.


  14.1  It is clear that there have been many achievements in Washington and that the new town has represented a long term holistic approach to urban development and renewal, which has been lacking in other urban policies. However whilst the aims and principles behind the masterplan and the new town movement in Washington were laudable and worthy of praise it is clear now that are a number of underlying problems particularly in relation to sustainability and social exclusion in some of the village districts.

  14.2  The City of Sunderland has begun to try and address these through a number of regeneration initiatives which are described in more detail above however further funding will be required to help make environmental improvements and alter the infrastructure upon which the new town is based. New planning policies which address a wide range of issues will also be required to help promote regeneration and development in villages areas. The long term holistic approach described above as an example of good practice needs to be replicated in regeneration initiatives to ensure an integrated approach to the development of physical, economic and social structures in Washington. With this in mind the government should consider how they can develop specific policy initiatives for new town areas as they present a set of unique problems and challenges.

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Prepared 16 April 2002