Memorandum by Welwyn Hatfield Council
Welwyn Hatfield Council is unique in having
two New Towns, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City within its boundaries.
They are "first generation" New Towns, designated in
1948. Consequently, our submission restricts itself to issues
relating specifically to the first generation New Towns is that
The New Towns were established to deal with
overspill from major urban centres and as economic generators
in the regional economy. They still fulfil those roles.
All of the New Towns suffer from problems which
are unique to New Towns, primarily the consequences of development
over a short period, leading to uniform deterioration over time
and the need for large scale infrastructure renewal.
The Department of Transport, Local Government
and the Regions (DTLR) and the Treasury should be advised that
there is a need to invest capital funds in the New Towns now in
order to prevent further decline and a need for higher investment
in the future, and that the way in which Standard Spending Assessments
are calculated for New Towns should be reviewed.
However there are different issues in the first
generation new towns and the later new towns in terms of remaining
land holdings available for development.
The proposal should be put to the Department
of Transport, Local Government and the Regions that in the first
generation New Towns the minimal remaining assets held by English
Partnerships should be transferred to the appropriate New Town
local authority on terms to be agreed, and that a proportion of
the income from sales of assets in the later New Towns should
be reinvested in the first generation new towns.
2. FIRST GENERATION
The first generation New Towns developed out
of the 1944 Abercrombie Plan for the regeneration of London. They
were established from 1946 onwards. The aim was to create good
living and working environments which would attract investment
and facilitate continuing economic health. The new town movement
is generally regarded as successful and the New Towns represent
prosperous, well developed communities.
However, the early New Towns were built during
an idealistic and optimistic period immediately following the
second world war, before the introduction of sustainable planning
policies. In consequence they suffer from a number of problems,
inherited from the design practices of the 1950s and 60s.
The towns were mainly planned and built over
a very short period and subject to experimental planning and building
techniques. They were designed to cope with the specific requirements
of post-war communities and without the needs of future generations
in mind. Large parts of the towns now need major redevelopment
to meet the demands of societies which have moved on from the
earlier concepts, but without the flexibility of urban fabric
which more traditional towns have.
The main problems of the first generation New
(i) Deteriorating infrastructure, all built
at the same time and now in need of replacement or major change
to meet modern needs.
Mains services installations.
Highways, both adopted and private.
Extensive footpath networks.
Town centres and neighbourhood
Park and recreation facilities.
Substantial landscape regeneration.
(ii) The maintenance and/or replacement of
cheap and cheerful buildings of poor quality, system built housing
and other non-traditional housing, again all deteriorating at
the same time.
(iii) Countering inadequate planning which
created narrow roads and inadequate parking for residential areas
in most parts of each new town.
(iv) The sheer scale of routine maintenance
problems such as huge areas of grass verges and open spaces, paths,
playing fields, woodland and large numbers of roadside trees which
are significantly greater than those in conventional towns.
(v) Employment in many New Towns was based
around a single major employer which has now gone. This results
in particular pressures in attracting replacement employers and
the need to make provision for small businesses.
(vi) The demographic profiles of the New
Towns are artificial as the original populations of the towns
were predominantly young families "imported" en masse.
This brings problems with a higher proportion of the New Town
populations now being elderly, putting increased pressure on local
3. NEW TOWN
The issues outlined above lead to substantial
costs which are unique to the New Towns and are costs resulting
from them being New Towns. There is a need for reinvestment in
the towns, but the ability of the local authorities to address
these issues is limited.
The standard spending assessment (SSA) which
determines the revenue support grants to local authorities is
predominantly population based. It does not recognise the unique
costs which are peculiar to the new towns. District Council SSAs
are calculated within the other services block.
The majority of New Towns remain in "Two
Tier" authorities. A number of the services they provide
are not taken account of in the District Council SSA but are in
the County Council SSA. In that context, New Town need tends to
be the poor relation of' Social Services' and "Education"
and relies heavily on housing criteria as an indicator of deprivation,
which disadvantages the new towns. Further, it does not take into
account the cost of leisure and community facilities, all of which
are provided at a higher level in new towns.
There is no special funding through basic credit
approval for housing renewal and infrastructure, despite the scale
of the problems suffered in some of the first generation new towns
and there is no special capital challenge funding which relates
to the new town reinvestment problems.
Other discretionary funding sources, particularly
those which rely on deprivation indicators, tend to be skewed
against new towns and are also subject to a pattern of changing
Like the Commission for New Towns (CNT) before
it, English Partnerships (EP) has a contradictory brief. It is
required to dispose of its assets at the best price for land and
property and return the Government's investment to the public
purse, ie act in the interests of the Treasury and the tax payer.
At the same time, it is required to take into account the interests
of the local community, ie people living, working or carrying
out business in the New Towns.
The CNT tended to satisfy the first part of
that brief and disregard the second. As a result the first generation
new towns were effectively asset stripped. EP have paid more regard
to the second part of the brief, working more closely with the
new towns on issues such as town centre redevelopment, but have
not brought much investment of public funds back into the first
CNT appeared to invest only in order to facilitate
disposal of assets and had no long term interest in the new towns
which they served. Where assets were transferred to the local
authorities, these were often in a very poor state of repair and
transferred with no "dowry" to cover their maintenance
CNT's disposal activities over the years created
situations of multiple ownership, which make it extremely difficult
for the local authorities to undertake development in the interests
of the local community. The town centres are suffering from the
decline brought about by out of town shopping developments and
"simultaneous dilapidation" mentioned above, but these
problems cannot be easily addressed when they are in the ownership
of many different organisations. Multiple ownership also leads
to a lack of co-ordinated maintenance in the town centres and
creates problems when trying to negotiate redevelopment schemes.
The remaining EP assets in the first generation
new towns are now of minimal commercial value, but EP own clawback,
restrictive covenants and ransom strips which severely inhibit
the ability of the Local Authorities in developing the towns.
As mentioned, EP have minimal assets in the
first generation New Towns. It is proposed that in these towns
all of EP's residual assets, including land, subsoils, interest
in covenants and ransom strips are transferred to the Local Authorities
as successors in title.
This would immediately address a number of the
problems noted above because ownership of the assets will enable
the Local Authorities to:
Remove bureaucracy and streamline
the redevelopment process.
Carry out appropriate maintenance
Reinvest in premises where necessary.
Create more openness in the way any
transactions are handled because it will be through the democratic
Remove the stifling effect of covenants
on potential developments.
The residual assets in most of the first generation
new towns are very limited and it will need to be clear how the
transfer of such assets is to be handled.
Any transfer should create no additional revenue
costs to the recipient councils. The cost of maintenance of the
assets needs to be established and the Local Authorities will
need assets providing equivalent revenue income to balance them.
Where no equivalent revenue income exists there will need to be
support to the Local Authorities, either through payment from
EP or through grant support. Where there is a revenue benefit
to the Local Authorities, this to be used for repair, refurbishment
Consideration also needs to be given to the
use of any capital receipts which may arise in the future from
the disposal of any interest in the assets transferred from EP.
Patently part of EP's current remit is to raise money for Government
through its disposal policy and any proposal will need to reassure
the Treasury that it will continue to benefit.
The financing problems faced by the first generation
New Towns, namely ageing infrastructure all deteriorating at the
same time, run down housing areas, Town and Neighbourhood centres,
has been outlined above. Currently there is no recognition of
the particular problems in either credit approvals or the bidding
criteria for other funding regimes such as Single Regeneration
There is an urgent need to reinvest in the New
Towns to halt a spiral of decline which is already becoming evident.
If no reinvestment takes place, the original New Towns will then
require larger investment of government finance in the future
to tackle the inevitable problems of physical and social deprivation.
Reinvestment now will stop that decline and prevent the worsening
of the problem.
Three possible alternatives could be put to
(i) That the Government recognise the need
for reinvestment in the New Towns and makes appropriate provision
through either the basic credit approval or supplementary credit
approvals to allow capital spend on refurbishment schemes.
(ii) That a separate fund be established,
not subsumed into SRB, for reinvestment in the New Towns.
(iii) That a proportion of the income generated
by EP from the disposal of major assets in the later New Towns
be set aside for reinvestment in the first generation towns.