Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by Torfaen County Borough Council (NT 29)

1.  SUMMARY

  1.1  Torfaen County Borough Council, within whose boundaries Cwmbran New Town is located, fully endorses and supports the submission made by the New Town Group of Council Authorities.

  1.2  This paper does not reiterate the issues and points raised in the joint paper, but seeks to highlight specifically the Cwmbran case and, in particular, the Welsh dimension.

  1.3  Torfaen County Borough Council request the Sub-Committee note the following recommendations:

    —  Cwmbran should be "normalised" as far as possible;

    —  Torfaen County Borough Council is the best placed organisation to lead in the regeneration of Cwmbran;

    —  Cwmbran has significant levels of deprivation and needs specific funds to address this issue;

    —  Torfaen County Borough Council lacks the assets and access to finance required to maintain infrastructure and tackle regeneration. Additional finance is required to tackle these problems through changes to the calculation that allocates general capital funding, for example;

    —  Cwmbran is a major sub-regional growth centre. In order to continue to thrive, policies need to be adjusted to encourage and sustain this success;

    —  English Partnerships assets in Cwmbran should be transferred to Torfaen County Borough Council.

2.  INTRODUCTION

  2.1  Cwmbran was designated a New Town in 1949 and is now 53 years old. It was built to provide housing close to industry already in place as a result of measures taken under the Special Areas Acts during the 1930's and 1940's.

  2.2  Cwmbran has a population of 48,000 and is a major employment centre in the South East Wales region.

  2.3  Despite the success of Cwmbran, very real issues of deprivation exist which are detailed below. In recognition of this, Torfaen County Borough Council established a Regeneration Partnership in the south-west communities of the town aimed at addressing these problems.

  2.4  The County Borough Council has established Regeneration Partnerships in its principal towns of Blaenavon, Abersychan/Garndiffaith and Pontypool which are successful. In contrast, the Cwmbran Partnership, despite significant efforts, has been unable to attract the levels of funding required to address the very real issues that exist. This reflects a view held by funders that problems do not exist in the New Town. It also reinforces the issues, detailed below, that the revenue and capital implications of maintaining the New Town are not recognised by The Welsh Assembly or its Government Agencies, and that the lack of a "normal" asset base deters regeneration activity.

3.  CWMBRAN THE ISSUES

  3.1  The facts about Cwmbran run contrary to this view. Cwmbran comprises 12 wards in total. Of the 12 wards which make up Cwmbran, New Town, two lie within the top quartile of the most deprived wards in Wales. St Dials and Upper Cwmbran ranking 176 and 163 respectively out of a total of 865 wards in Wales in terms of the composite index of multiple deprivation.

  3.2  According to the Index of Multiple Deprivation for Wales 2000, the wards of Greenmeadow, St Dials and Upper Cwmbran also feature within the top quartile of the most deprived wards in Wales in terms of income deprivation (129, 132 and 88), educational deprivation (102, 100 and 52) and child poverty (79, 195 and 85). Two of the wards feature within the top 100 most deprived wards in Wales in relation to Child Poverty highlighting the incidence of lone parent households, benefit dependency and low earnings.

  3.3  Each of the three wards exhibit high levels of social isolation and exclusion, partly borne out by the fact that they are home to some of the most vulnerable groups within our society, ie, the homeless, young single unemployed people, and lone parents. Both Greenmeadow and Upper Cwmbran suffer from poor housing, high levels of unemployment—especially amongst those aged below 25 years of age, poorly educated residents who have few or no skills and poor health. Both wards also exhibit a high level of drug and alcohol dependency, and crime and disorder, especially amongst young people.

  3.4  In physical terms, the development of Cwmbran was condensed into a 30 to 40 year period. As such, large areas of the town, built at the same time, require substantial revenue and capital expenditure to replace and maintain.

  3.5  The combination of these issues has given rise to a range of problems as set out below:

    —  Significant levels of urban deprivation in South and West Cwmbran;

    —  Social exclusion of vulnerable groups;

    —  Simultaneous ageing of infrastructure and property;

    —  Skill and training deficits;

    —  Areas of experimental housing that have proved unsuccessful and suffer internal design problems;

    —  Large areas of "planned" open space which require maintenance;

    —  Poor urban design in terms of layout and use of the car.


  3.6  Dealing effectively with these problems is hindered by the financial circumstances the New Town Authorities have inherited. In particular, the current Standard Spending Assessment does not reflect the extra expenditure required to maintain Cwmbran's environment. In this respect the ongoing development of some revenue allocation formulae using small area data may better reflect Torfaen's needs by reference to small geographical areas.

  3.7  Furthermore, the lack of an asset base due to financial controls over Community Related Assets, places Cwmbran at a disadvantage on two counts:

    —  It restricts the ability to raise monies to address problems relating to the deterioration of property and infrastructure;

    —  It acts as a disincentive to the development of land within the town that could assist in regeneration. At present 70 per cent of any asset sold is returned to English Partnerships. This does not encourage inventive solutions to problems. Recycling of the asset, however, would not only encourage this but enable investment in the future well-being of the town.

4.  CWMBRAN THE WELSH DIMENSION

  4.1  Cwmbran is the only Welsh New Town and its Community Related Assets are administered by English Partnerships, an English body whose remit principally lies in that country. It is a concern that the very pressing needs of Cwmbran will be "lost" within an organisation that controls large tracts of land in England and whose main focus of activity is regeneration in England.

  4.2  Should the New Town Assets be dispersed from English Partnerships, then the treatment of Cwmbran's assets should principally reflect the needs of Cwmbran. Our view along with the New Town Group of Authorities, is that those assets should be capable of being recycled locally under the democratic control of the Local Authority. Anything less would further contribute to the problems already experienced by Cwmbran.

5.  CONCLUSION

  5.1  In conclusion, Torfaen County Borough Council fully support the submission made by the New Town Group of Local Authorities and its principal conclusions:

    —  Democratic organisations should be in control of key assets in New Town areas.

    —  Local Authorities should have access to assets currently held by English Partnerships so they can re-invest the money back into the regeneration and rejuvenation of local communities.

    —  Covenants and claw backs are a major hindrance on the development and re-development of many sites in New Towns and is inhibiting incentives to develop new uses for many sites. Therefore, all claw backs and covenants should be cancelled to allow local authorities to develop sites to meet the needs of todays communities.

    —  English Partnerships' control of sub-soils curtails and slows down developments in New Towns.

    —  Local Authorities in New Towns should have the same planning powers as any other local authority, including rights to Section 106 agreements and planning fees. This would allow these local authorities to receive the benefit of the planning system any other local authority would take for granted. (NB Although these issues are not directly applicable to Cwmbran, experience from the past leads Torfaen County Borough Council to support this conclusion.)

  5.2  The overall benefits of transferring the assets and powers held by English Partnerships to the local authorities would include:

    —  A more responsive and democratic structure;

    —  A true partnership could operate, giving stakeholders a key role in the development of New Towns;

    —  Funds from the sale of local assets could be recycled into locally deprived areas and meet the high costs of maintaining New Town infrastructure;

    —  Local authorities would have control over the future of the communities they serve;

    —  Local authorities could buy in specialist services to help them develop sites in a responsive way to the needs of the local community.

  5.3  Torfaen County Borough Council would also wish to emphasise the special nature of Cwmbran as Wales' only New Town. In particular, that arrangements made for the dispersal of assets recognise this, reflect the Welsh dimension and take account of specific issues and problems Cwmbran faces along with other New Towns in the UK.


 
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