Memorandum by Dacorum Borough Council
Dacorum Borough Council is pleased that a review
of the issues facing New Towns is being undertaken, as we believe
New Towns have particular needs and pressures that should be better
reflected in future Government policy and resource allocation.
The Borough of Dacorum is located in West Hertfordshire
and comprises approximately 81 square miles, with a total population
of 138,000. It comprises three main settlements Hemel Hempstead,
Berkhamsted and Tring. Hemel Hempstead was one of the post war
New Towns created after 1947.
We have organised our submission around the
five key issues that the sub-committee intends to examine.
A. THE EXTENT
The design of Hemel Hempstead new town is a
reflection of its timepromoting social, economic and environmental
issues of the 1950's and reflecting the way people (then) wanted
to live. In this sense Hemel Hempstead is a great success. The
town today is very close to the original new town plan in terms
of (optimum) size and layout; modern quality neighbourhood housing
with a community focus, separated by strategic open corridors
and amenity areas; a prosperous centrally located linear town
centre; and a very large industrial or business estate fuelled
by its close access to the M1 providing a range of job opportunities.
The 1950's new town principles however do not
fully promote sustainability as we understand it today or match
today's lifestyles/pressures. New towns have faced similar pressures
as other historic towns but in some respects have been less able
to adapt. The uniform design, age, often style and lifespan of
buildings does and increasingly will provide new towns with unique
problems. This is shown in Appendix 1, which sets out the current
issues/future challenges against the original New Town key design
B. WHETHER SOCIAL
Hemel Hempstead is located close to London and
therefore overall has similar economic conditions to those prevalent
in much of the south-east low unemployment, high housing and living
costs and high average income. However, this masks some real social
issues within the New Town, which have not been fully recognised
in national indicators or funding criteria:
Poverty In a piece of research carried
out for Dacorum Borough Council in 1998-1999 the following wards
were identified as being the most deprived in Dacorum Highfield,
Grovehill and Bennetts End. All are New Town wards. The factors
which led to this ranking include numbers of children receiving
free school meals, Jarman Index scores, Council Tax and Housing
Benefit recipients and numbers of unemployed people. Highfield
ward is ranked in the top 25 per cent most deprived wards in England
according to the DTLR Index of Multiple Deprivation 2000. Grovehill
is ranked in the top 33 per cent most deprived wards in England.
Homogeneity The New Town neighbourhoods
were developed at different times and occupied as they were built,
successively, which means that that there are differences between
the populations of wards in the New Town. The older neighbourhoods
generally have an older age profile. In contrast, Grovehill, which
is one of the newest neighbourhoods, is the most densely populated
and has the highest number and proportion of children. It is the
second most deprived in Dacorum, and among the top 33 per cent
of deprived wards in England.
New Town Housing Until the Government's
use of the most recent Index of Multiple Deprivation in 2000,
the quality of housing in the New Town (recently built in traditional
materials, traditional designs with gardens and well-maintained)
meant that Dacorum scored low for deprivation. The number of housing
factors in the earlier Index of Local Deprivation ensured that
deprivation in Hemel Hempstead was not officially recognised.
Education From data provided in January
2002 it appears that there are differences between the children
from Dacorum, of whom more than half live in Hemel Hempstead,
and other areas. For example at Key Stage 1 the average for Dacorum
children is below the County average for reading, writing and
maths. They show the lowest attainment in maths, equal lowest
in writing and second lowest in writing in the County. At Key
Stage 2 the differences are less marked.
In Dacorum in 2001-02 there are 27 children
on the child protection register, and 179 looked after children.
This compares with 32 on the child protection register and 69
looked after in St Albans, which is similar to Dacorum in population
size, urban/rural mix and unemployment levels.
In the 1991 Census the proportion of post school
qualification-holders in Dacorum was above the UK and County average.
However there were huge differences within those figures.
|UK Average||13.4 per cent
|Dacorum Average||17.7 per cent
|Hemel Hempstead||13.1 per cent
|Highfield Ward||4.3 per cent
Mobility and access to services Initially neighbourhoods
were designed to be fairly self-sufficient with each neighbourhood
having a spread of local facilities shops, a church, community
centre, a pub, etc. With the increase in car ownership people
in the new town neighbourhoods now travel between neighbourhoods
much more freely and the local dependency has diminished except
for a very few. This loss of local dependency has led to an imbalance
in the type of facilities available locally and the loss of viability
for those organisations/services based locally.
The nett result is that those who are most vulnerable to
financial social exclusion are unable to travel easily and find
their choices limited to that which is left at neighbourhood level.
Services at this level can be poor and expensive further compounding
C. ORGANISATIONS AND
(I) THE CONSEQUENCES
SYSTEM; (II) THE
(III) THE ROLE
The Building of Hemel Hempstead
The Development Corporation, established to achieve development
of the New Town, had land acquisition/development powers which
enabled it to pursue the objective of a "socially balanced
community" with relatively little hindrance.
Commission for the New Towns
The work of the Development Corporation was substantially
complete in the early 1960's and its assets were transferred to
a newly formed Commission for the New Towns (CNT) in 1962. The
CNT had a landlord role but also was empowered to complete the
second Master Plan, which primarily involved development of Grovehill
neighbourhood in partnership with the Borough and County Councils.
As Hemel Hempstead matured the CNT gradually reduced its
role. Planning powers had been returned to the local authority
in 1962; CNT housing was transferred to the Council in 1978. The
main exception to this withdrawal has been in land ownership and
former Commission land now held by English Partnerships (EP),
who own significant tracts of land in the Industrial Area and
around the edge of the New Town. EP has also inherited the commercial
attitudes of CNT in negotiating restrictive covenants, claw-back
arrangements and ransom strips.
The Role of English Partnerships
There should be advantages for the community in such extensive
ownership in that it gives an opportunity to test new ideas and
display best practice. It is important, however, to engage the
community in design and content of schemes and achieve some financial
benefit. Sadly these elements seem to be lacking in the remit
of English Partnerships, who do not have the community agenda
of the Development Corporation or even CNT. Financial regulations
by the Treasury, eg in target setting the volume of land sales,
seems to be the main driver.
The continuing EP ownership includes some of the most valuable
areas (eg north-east Hemel HempsteadNEHH) or sensitive
Green Belt sites (eg Bunkers Park). Experience shows an unwillingness
to engage even with the local planning authority on such sites
and a failure to deliver community benefits with any sense of
urgency, if at all. For example a planning brief/master plan on
NEHH, expected to be progressed as a joint exercise, has still
not been achieved by EP over 2 years since the joint approach
was agreed. Similarly joint action to achieve the development
of the Paradise site has become a unilateral project for EP as
they continue to challenge planning policies.
English Partnerships was a major objector (in terms of numbers
of objections) at the recent Local Plan Inquiry. While the Council
could not complain about the principle of EP maximising land values
there were issues about quality of design, mix of uses etc which
were not being addressed other than in financial terms.
A Future Approach
There is a major opportunity for English Partnerships to
under-score the local authority's power of planning for social,
environmental and economic well-being. If it could pump-prime
community developments or defer capital receipts to enable investment
in infrastructure, then some problems could be addressed.
The importance of a fresh approach is also highlighted in
a New Town such as Hemel Hempstead where because of the pace of
development in the 1950's and 1960's large areas such as the town
centre are ageing together and the scale of need is greater. On
the other hand this potentially makes regeneration more economic
and gives an opportunity for comprehensive planning in public/private
partnerships. EP could be a major player with or without land
ownership if its remit is redefined as there is currently no suitable
national regeneration agency.
D. THE ROLE
There is no doubt that Hemel Hempstead new town has had a
very significant impact upon both the regional economy and housing
markets. The general prosperity that has been experienced in the
South-East over recent decades has helped develop Hemel Hempstead
and Dacorum into a vibrant area where people seek to both live
The major Industrial/Business Park, built as part of the
new town and which is adjacent to junction eight of the M1, provides
an excellent location for both local and national businesses and
has been a significant influence on the economic success of the
town. Hemel Hempstead, and in particular the business park is
a major inward attraction of people for employment purposes. Employment
opportunities are diverse but are focused around manufacturing,
hi-tech and service sectors. This provides average wage levels
that are higher than some other surrounding areas, particularly
adjoining districts to the north and east of Dacorum.
Demand for housing in the area has led to high average house
prices both in Hemel Hempstead and to an even greater extent in
other towns and villages within Dacorum. There is a difference
in house prices, with adjoining areas to the north, east and west
of the Borough being less expensive, this results in a large proportion
of people working in the area commuting in from these areas. Although
the Borough has a good supply of affordable housing to rent at
approximately 12,500 dwellings, this is insufficient to meet the
demand that exists. The economic prosperity of the town has been
a contributory factor in the reduction of affordable housing with
over 8,000 Council dwellings being sold under the RTB since it
The combination of relatively full employment in the Borough,
high average earnings, high private sector housing costs and the
supply of affordable housing has resulted in a skills shortage
and difficulties in the recruitment and retention of key public
service employees. This has become particularly noticeable in
the last two-three years and affects in particular health services,
education and transport.
The fact that many young local people need to look outside
the Borough for accommodation in less expensive housing areas
obviously has an effect on the demand for housing in those localities
and will have an inflationary influence on prices in those Boroughs.
The New Town has, for the reasons set out above had a major
influence on the regional economy and housing markets. The town
has attracted significant investment that would have had the effect
of limiting investment in some other towns in the region, particularly
those such as Luton, Dunstable and Aylesbury. On a more local
basis other towns and villages within Dacorum often feel that
Hemel Hempstead is the centre of local investment and service
provision to their detriment.
E. WHETHER THE
In spite of the increased pressure faced by the New Towns,
we believe they have and do provide a high quality of life for
their communities. However, their ability to change and respond
to the way we live now is different from other towns and needs
to be supported and recognised through Government policy and by
all public bodies. We would suggest:
The first wave, post war New Towns should be a
specific category in any future Urban Renewal/Regeneration programmes,
to ensure very local neighbourhood issues of deprivation/social
exclusion can be addressed.
That the issues of future New Towns block obsolescence
are taken into account in Government housing policy and funding
That EP be given a remit to work in practice with
Local Authorities and other public bodies in New Town areas to
achieve social, economic and environmental regeneration objectives
as opposed to their commercial objectives, as at present. We believe
the Terms of Reference and Key Performance Indicators of EP should
be changed from being Treasury driven around maximisation of capital
values, to demonstrating regeneration objectives around urban
renewal, job opportunities, environmental quality and social inclusion,
in partnership with Local Authorities and other public bodies,
to locally driven timescales.