Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by Telford and Wrekin Council (NT 26)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  When the post-war Labour government introduced the New Towns Act in 1946 they saw this as an opportunity to create planned and integrated towns in contrast to the piecemeal way most development was secured at that time.

  This was a bold and pioneering initiative to create new communities that avoided the worst aspects of urban living—pollution, congestion and poor housing.

  Telford New Town (originally Dawley New Town) was designated as a third generation New Town in 1968. The early population target for Telford was 220,000. At the time it was Britain's largest land reclamation scheme involving over 2,000 hectares of slag heaps, colliery tips, quarries, disused mineshafts and derelict works that was the East Shropshire Coalfield. Consequently, the New Town was expected to fulfil a dual role—to regenerate the East Shropshire coalfields and to absorb overspill from the over-heated West Midlands conurbation. In the late 70's the population target was reduced to 150,000.

  To understand the problems of the former New Towns requires some knowledge of the unique circumstances that apply to them and the singular and fundamental role played by English Partnerships where they are the major landowner as in Telford. The future prospects of the former New Towns will vary according to local circumstances. We can only portray our views on Telford's future, but suspect that this will apply to many others.

  Telford's role has fundamentally changed from its original one of accommodating overspill from the West Midlands conurbation to that of a sub regional centre for growth. The significant investment in local infrastructure and the extensive land available for development means that it is well placed to accommodate growth. To capitalise on this potential, Central Government and its Regional agencies need to actively promote former New Towns like Telford as centres for growth to a much greater extent. At present the former New Towns do not feature on the national urban policy radar. The situation is exacerbated by an inadequate recognition of the social exclusion and regeneration problems experienced in Telford. A way needs to be found to develop social and economic policy that is more sensitive to the specific and unique circumstances that exist here which would allow these problems and opportunities to be addressed locally.

  4.  In summary, the key issues for Telford are:

    —  Normalisation—to have levels of liabilities and assets and powers to control and influence development through the planning process similar to those found in "normal" local authorities.

    —  Fair Funding—to receive grants from central government that properly recognise our actual and growing population.

    —  English Partnerships—to fundamentally review their role and activities within the former New Towns that will enable the regeneration and sustainable development of Telford and its community.

    —  Growth—stronger policy support to facilitate growth that will enable Telford to realise its full potential and fulfil its role in the region.

    —  Regeneration—a more sensitive social/economic policy framework to enable the Council and its local partners to access regeneration funding.

    —  Maintenance—sufficient capital and revenue resources to allow the Council to maintain its extensive and ageing network of roads, open spaces and woodlands.

  Despite these challenges and handicaps, Telford and Wrekin Council is a successful and highly regarded local authority. It has pioneered the Government's modernising agenda, much of it before it became Government policy.

    —  A local Strategic Partnership has been in place for 10 years.

    —  It has externalised its highway and open space maintenance functions through a new Hosting Contract.

    —  The Council has transferred its housing stock to a local RSL, the Wrekin Housing Trust.

    —  It has one of the highest rated Local Education Authorities in the country and has a reputation for innovative thinking (eg, the National Grid for Learning initiative).

    —  It's Local Transport Plan is one of the most highly rated in the country and many of its initiatives are seen by government to be national examples of good practice.

    —  Our Best Value Performance Plan is highly regarded nationally reflecting a strong commitment to performance management linked to corporate strategic priorities and objectives.

  We have achieved this, and much more, in spite of rather than because of our unique local circumstances. With appropriate support from central government and its agencies we could achieve much more in partnership with our local community.

Recommendations

    —  Central Government's policies and funding former regimes need to be refined to facilitate the regeneration of the areas of severe depravation within the New Town.

    —  Full planning powers should be restored to the local authority over all the land held by EP.

    —  English Partnership's land assets in Telford should be transferred to the local authority to provide the resources that will enable the regeneration and sustainable development of the district to effectively meet the needs of the local community.

    —  Government funding should be provided that recognises the significant additional maintenance liabilities within Telford in terms of its extensive highway infrastructure open space and woodland areas.

    —  The vital role former New Towns like Telford are making and can make in the future as regional growth centres should be supported more strongly to make more effective use of the immense infrastructure and human investment made over the last 30 years and which will give Telford a sustainable future.

2.  DESIGN AND LONG TERM SUSTAINABILITY

  The principles applied to the planning and design of Telford in the 1960's followed established thinking on how places were laid out, built and managed and also the lifestyles people would adopt. Influenced strongly by prevailing conditions in urban Britain—congestion, pollution and poor housing stock—the New Towns provided the layouts that created diametrically opposite characteristics, namely, low density, segregated uses, generous open space, separation of houses from the road network and the provision of extensive local (mainly publicly funded) facilities within walking distance.

  Thirty years on, we have recognised that the urban form of traditional towns and cities is fundamentally sustainable and that the patterns laid out in former New Towns like Telford are the very antithesis of this. This has lead to:

    —  Low density dispersed estates, which cannot support an effective public transport system.

    —  Low levels of car ownership in some of the more peripheral estates making journey to work problematic.

    —  Declining local public facilities.

    —  A redundant shopping hierarchy.

    —  A pedestrian network with inadequate levels of natural surveillance.

  The absence of a recognisable public realm (the concept of "the street" is practically non existent outside the older six original settlements on which Telford New Town was based) combined with a vast network of open space and significant road infrastructure leads to major community safety problems. Not surprisingly, this is the highest concern expressed by people in Telford in recent surveys.

  The original New Town concept assumed integrated urban management and continuing massive capital and revenue support. Most of the built form, open space and highway infrastructure was completed in a short space of time and 30 years on is in need of significant refurbishment/replacement. The successors to the "cash rich" Development Corporations are cash strapped local authorities like Telford and Wrekin Council.

  To make matters worse, the right-to-buy legislation has now divided external spaces between houses into a myriad of ownerships especially in the Radburn layouts prevalent in the estates of south Telford.

  When the early estates, such as Woodside, Sutton Hill and Brookside were built in the late 60's, the Government priority was to build quickly and cheaply. Some 5,000 houses built at this time were timber framed and the life expectancy of these houses was, consequently, much reduced. Some 30 years on, a significant number of dwellings in these estates are past or nearing the end of their useful life.

  One particular development, the Courts area of Woodside—a deck-access development of 366 units, is in such an appalling state that senior executives from English Partnerships, the Housing Corporation and the Treasury who have all seen them at first hand agree with the local community that they must be demolished as a matter or urgency.

  The Council wishes to pursue an investment, regeneration and development strategy that transforms Telford's fundamentally unsustainable pattern of development to a more coherent urban form. Unless this is achieved, economic and social objectives will continue to be undermined. What needs to be done in terms of physical regeneration is becoming clear:

    —  Introduce mixed uses to bring people closer to more opportunities and to create a safer public realm.

    —  Develop new road networks linked to new developments that will support public transport and connect isolated communities with each other and to local facilities and employment areas.

  New delivery mechanisms, supported by adequate funding will need to be put in place to enable this to be achieved. A priority for this must be the Woodside estate where the highest levels of deprivation in Telford exist. A masterplan has been commissioned through EP and Advantage West Midlands (the RDA) to provide the framework. However, the resources to deliver it remain elusive due to the current rules around funding that apply to key agencies particularly EP.

3.  SOCIAL EXCLUSION AND NEIGHBOURHOOD RENEWAL

  Three of Telford and Wrekin Council's Wards are amongst the 10 per cent most deprived in England with another three within the 15 per cent most deprived. Telford and Wrekin is ranked 96 out of 354 local authority areas in terms of the national Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). Neighbourhood Renewal Funding is currently targeted at the most deprived 88 local authorities ie, those which feature in the top 50 on one or more of the IMD six domains. Because of the nature and the incidence of deprivation in Telford and Wrekin we are consequently disadvantaged by the IMD, and are unable to access Neighbourhood Renewal Funding for these areas which are widely recognised as being in desperate need of investment.

  Whilst the Telford area has benefited from other Government area-based initiatives which seek to combat social exclusion—Education Action Zone and Sure Start—the area has not been designated as a "Regeneration Zone" within Advantage West Midland's Regional Economic Strategy. This will seriously disadvantage the area, having no access to regeneration funding from the "single capital pot" in the future.

  Notwithstanding this, the worst early New Town estates are experiencing "abandonment" through a collapsing housing market, high crime levels, appalling physical conditions, undesirable private landlords and high levels of deprivation. This phenomenon, at its most virulent in Woodside, could spread to a number of adjoining estates where similar underlining conditions exist. These problems are on a parallel with the worst peripheral estates in the West Midlands conurbation.

  From the local wage levels perspective, both the top and bottom 10 per cent of full time employees in the Telford and Wrekin area earned less than their counterparts in the West Midlands as a whole; the figure being about 95 per cent in both cases. This needs to be viewed in the context of the West Midlands employees earning less than the average for Great Britain as a whole, this reduction being more marked with the top 10 per cent of employees than the bottom. From a UK wide perspective, the top earners in Telford & Wrekin earn about 87 per cent of the average, while the bottom earners earn about 92.6 per cent.

  English Partnerships, who in other former coalfield areas invest heavily in regeneration, have no remit for regeneration in Telford—despite owning 80 per cent of all developable land in the town. Revenue from the sale of these assets goes directly to the Treasury. Their role is one of asset disposal and not re-investment or regeneration.

  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the local authority has very limited resources of its own due entirely to the unique way assets were originally obtained and transferred, common to most if not all former New Towns.

  As a result, Telford is faced with an enormous regeneration problem, fully recognised by relevant government agencies, but with very limited access to any regeneration funding and with nominal assets available to the local authority.

  It has been estimated that if there is no substantial intervention, 3,500 dwellings will need to be demolished over the next 10 years. The ultimate cost to the public purse will be enormous. Quite simply the "do-nothing" scenario is not an option and consequently the current rules have to change to allow us to tackle these problems now before they become much worse.

4.  CONSEQUENCES OF EP'S ROLE IN TELFORD

  It is difficult to over-estimate the significance of EP's influence and remit in Telford. The fact that its role is to fundamentally raise capital from its significant local assets for the benefit of the Treasury and its inability to accept any responsibility for, or major role in addressing, the town's wider development and regeneration needs has severely hampered the Local Strategic Partnerships aspirations for Telford to prosper and provide a high quality of life for all.

(a)  Clawback/Covenants

  Despite having no on-going obligations to previously developed land, English Partnerships do enjoy certain rights and controls over these areas. In essence, they are entitled to a financial clawback should any land previously transferred be redeveloped in a way that increases its value. This mitigates against regeneration initiatives where enhanced land values are used to fund/subsidise local improvements or facilities. There is further clawback payable by the council to EP on all former Development Corporation houses which were purchased by the council and are now subject to Right to Buy, even though no longer owned by the Council following transfer of its housing stock. The clawback exceeds the residual disposal amount received by the Council under the transfer arrangements so each disposal reduces the Council's already limited capital resources.

(b)  Lack of LA assets

  As with other former New Towns land was originally acquired by the public sector and then disposed of at an enhanced value. English Partnerships, not the local authority, have inherited these assets. They hold 80 per cent of the developable land in Telford and yet none of the capital receipts received are returned locally—instead the receipts go directly to the Treasury. The impact of this on the Council has increased since taking on responsibility for Unitary services where the need for infrastructure maintenance and development for schools, roads etc, is only partly met by Government allocations, thus increasing the pressure on the Council's very limited disposable land holding.

(c)  Lack of Planning Control

  Through historic powers, which have not been rescinded, English Partnerships are able to largely by-pass the normal planning process. Outline consents granted up to 30 years ago remain valid in perpetuity. Consent for detailed development is granted by EP with the Local Planning Authority reduced to the role of consultee. Consequently, the level of influence of the Local Planning Authority through the Local Plan and locally approved Supplementary Planning Guidance is very limited and that of the local community much reduced.

  The securing of local community facilities and other infrastructure investment through the normal S.106 route is not available. While some community provision is secured through consultation with EP, no provision of sites for secondary schools required primarily to meet demands created by the EP development, for example, is made as a matter of corporate policy.

  Similarly, there is a reluctance to allocate good sites to accommodate housing for the social rented sector and an even greater reluctance to integrate housing with other development. Over the last 11 years less than 1,300 dwellings have been constructed by Registered Social Landlords out of a total of around 10,000 new dwellings.

  A further consequence is the lack of planning fees. This is estimated to be in the order of £1.5 million in relation to EP's remaining land holdings. Planning fee income now forms a significant proportion of every authority's planning service budget. The Council's planning service is consequently severely underfunded which prevents it from employing the full range of staff needed to deal with the complex regeneration and development needs of the whole district.

  To bypass local democratic involvement in the development process is an anachronism and serves little purpose other than to maximise the revenue received by the Treasury. These factors collectively undermine Telford's ability to deliver quality co-ordinated development that will meet the wider needs of the people of Telford as envisaged in the government's recently published Green Paper on Planning.

5.  TRANSFER OF ASSETS/LIABILITIES TO LOCAL AUTHORITIES

  EP hold 144 hectares of housing land and 158 hectares of employment land with the benefit of S7.1 consents. This makes EP's housing asset in Telford the largest in its portfolio. Telford's own asset base is minuscule by comparison—around 7 Ha of housing land most of which is subject to clawback.

  We estimate the value of EP's land assets in Telford to be £270 million. If a significant proportion of this land was transferred to, or made available in partnership with the Council, this would enable the following to happen:

    —  Investment in the deprived former New Town estates in south Telford to address abandonment, reverse their decline and turn them into sustainable communities.

    —  Enter meaningful partnerships with other agencies/private sector to bring in additional funding for regeneration and new investment by using our land assets as leverage and a source of capital.

    —  Deliver the transformation of the Town Centre of Telford into a lively, mixed use place with an evening economy that will serve the needs of the whole community and not just those who come to shop by car in the daytime.

    —  Support the development of connected communities through the creation of a network of new safe public streets, supported by a quality public transport service.

    —  Deliver essential infrastructure and supporting facilities including schools.

  Possible options such as simply transferring the former New Town assets to the local RDA would not address these issues, but simply transfer the problem to a different organisation which currently does not fully recognise the regeneration needs of Telford.

  There will, however, be the need to transfer the skills and staff resource available to EP to the local authority to allow them to undertake their enhanced role.

6.  ROLE OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES AND OTHERS IN SUSTAINABLE REGENERATION

  For any community to be truly sustainable it needs to be sustainable in economic, social and environmental terms. Moreover, the local community, residents and businesses together, must be a part of the process and have full ownership of the town's future direction. The effective vehicle for this is the Local Strategic Partnership through its Community Strategy. We have in Telford a long established and effective partnership already in place.

  In the former New Towns, the local authority's role is undermined by the unique circumstances it finds itself in. It is essential that arrangements are "normalised" to allow democratic and holistic to fulfil this local authorities role effectively.

  Given adequate resources and skills base, local authorities would wish to enter into new and effective partnerships with a number of agencies and the private sector to deliver sustainable regeneration. The LSP and local Community Strategy would provide the overall framework that would give these partnerships focus and legitimacy and achieve the longer-term goals of sustainable regeneration.

  As referred to elsewhere in this submission the Council has, with its local partners, a vision for the future of Telford but is severely hampered in delivering it with its inadequate control over the development process and lack of resources. We are keen to see Telford:

    —  Building on its strengths and capacity to continue to be a fast growth area in the region.

    —  To deliver a more sustainable pattern of development that will allow Telford to become a sustainable community.

7.  ROLE OF NEW TOWNS IN THEIR REGIONAL ECONOMIES

  A key role for the New Towns has been to help stimulate and accommodate the housing and employment growth needs of the regions they are located in. That role continues today. The West Midlands RPG adopted in 1998 recognised that "the former New Town of Telford will continue to have an important role as a regional growth centre."

  Telford has significant land available for both residential and employment development supported by an extensive road and open space infrastructure. Consequently, Telford has the capacity to grow. Growth, however, needs to be channelled into existing "developed" areas as well as undeveloped sites if it is to become a fully sustainable settlement. If we do this, Telford uniquely will become more sustainable through growth.

  New Towns like Telford are not there to compete with the more established urban areas. They fulfil a complementary role as recognised within the emerging West Midlands RPG.

8.  GOVERNMENT POLICY ON DESIGN, REGENERATION AND SOCIAL INCLUSION

  In planning terms the government's policies on design and regeneration are articulated to a large extent through the various PPGs. These promote quality and sustainable patterns of development that are entirely consistent with Telford's development aspirations. What is needed, is the opportunity to control development in the former New Towns through the normal planning process to allow these policies to be delivered locally.

  Recognition also needs to be given to the fact that the planning and design principles, which under-pinned former New Towns like Telford, are contrary to accepted principles of sustainable development as now advocated by Central Government. Telford has the largest remaining stock of housing built on the Radburn principle and has an out-of-town shopping centre as its town centre. What needs to be done is in little doubt the introduction of mixed uses, higher densities, a safe public realm, connected communities, an effective public transport system and a diverse, vibrant town centre.

  There is consequently, a special and additional obligation on Government to ensure that resources and mechanisms are in place to allow these previously developed areas, which are fundamentally unsustainable, to be revisited and restructured as well as ensuring that any new development follows good practice.

  In addition to new development, the regeneration of the most deprived estates in Telford needs to be addressed. Current mechanisms for allocating funding do not pick up more localised concentrated areas of deprivation like Woodside. The IMD is too crude a mechanism for recognising these specific pockets of deprivation.

  Unless the problems of areas like Woodside with its collapsing housing market can be tackled, Telford cannot become a town with a sustainable future regardless of levels of growth and new employment.

  An holistic approach is required that joins up the Government's social, economic and environmental objectives. This is exactly what the New Towns were set up to do by the post-war Labour government. A lack of joined up practice by the different government departments since then has dogged the development of New Towns like Telford. We now have a unique opportunity to turn that original vision into a reality.


 
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