Memorandum by Department for Transport,
Local Government and the Regions (NT 33)
1. The Urban Affairs Sub-Committee has asked
for evidence in relation to New Towns and wishes to examine the
the extent to which the original design of the
New Towns is leading to concerns about their long term sustainability,
in particular the effect of their design on urban management,
how car dependence might be reduced and the balance between new
development and the regeneration of older parts of the towns;
whether social exclusion in the New Towns is
being exacerbated by the current Government approach to regeneration
and neighbourhood renewal, in particular in relation to small
pockets of deprivation;
issues relating to the organisations
and regulations operating in the New Towns, in particular
the consequences of English Partnerships'
control of the land supply and its role in the planning system;
the effect of the transfer of assets
and liabilities to local authorities; and
the role of local authorities, residuary
bodies and non-Departmental Public Bodies in promoting sustainable
regeneration in the New Towns;
the role of the New Towns in their
regional economies, in both the industrial/commercial and housing
markets and their effect on surrounding conurbations;
whether the Government should change
its policy in respect of design, regeneration and social inclusion
in the New Towns.
2. This memorandum covers New Towns in England;
Basildon, Bracknell, Central Lancashire, Corby, Crawley,
Harlow, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, Milton Keynes, Newton Aycliffe,
Northampton, Peterborough, Peterlee, Redditch, Runcorn, Skelmersdale,
Stevenage, Telford, Warrington, Washington, and Welwyn Garden
3. Some MPs and Local Authorities have raised
areas of concern, both during the House of Commons 29 January
2002 Adjournment Debate (English Partnerships and the New Towns)
and in responses to the Department's Review of English Partnerships.
Specifically MPs have drawn attention to the state of housing
and infrastructure, transport and car dependency, and the need
to ensure that the New Town communities are sustainable. Issues
have also been raised on the economic situation in some New Towns.
A common theme from all contributors to the Adjournment debate
was the role, land owning and planning powers of EP. It is thought
that EP's land holdings on the outskirts of some new towns causes
it to focus on those areas to the detriment of more central and
deprived areas in need of renewal elsewhere. These points are
dealt with under paras 24-32 (Sustainability), 33 (Exclusion),
40 (Regional Economies) and 34-39 (Organisation and Regulations).
The latter section discusses the impact of EP's remit in brief
and the EP Review will look at some of those issues in greater
4. A brief history of the origins of the
New Town movement is attached at annex A. The original ideas,
and their implementation are relevant to issues of planning and
5. No New Towns have been designated since
1970. The New Towns programme was rapidly run down in the 1980s,
as the number of public agencies appointed or supported by central
government was reduced, with greater reliance on the operation
of the free market to secure economic advance.
6. The Commission for New Towns remained
an autonomous organisation until 1999. In May of that year, the
CNT joined with the Urban Regeneration Agency to form English
Partnerships. Although English Partnerships is a single operating
entity, both the CNT and URA retain their separate statutory identities.
The CNT side of EP therefore retains its duty under the New Towns
Act 1981 to maintain and enhance the value of the land held and
the return obtained from it, but with regard to the convenience
and welfare of persons residing, working or carrying on business
7. The towns were originally financed by
long term loans from the National Loans Fund. CNT repaid all the
outstanding debt in early 1999, many years early. Since then some
£120m has been invested by CNT in the new towns and just
under £600m of receipts have been generated.
8. During their lifetime, the development
corporations were empowered to apply to the Secretary of State
for his agreement to proposals about the way in which new town
land was to be developed. Such approvals came to be known as 7(1)
approvals, after the relevant section of the Act. CNT inherited
the consents which the Development Corporations had obtained.
The Act also provided for the Secretary of State to make a special
development order which would allow the corporations, as well
as the CNT, to authorise development in accordance with the approvals.
The most recent Order dates back to 1977.
9. The Secretary of State's approvals have
no time limit and, as a result, CNT can still today authorise
development in line with consents given more than ten years ago.
Various statutory and non-statutory requirements now exist for
CNT to consult local planning authorities and other appropriate
interested parties, including the relevant Government Office,
before authorising development. These provide a degree of Government
control over the way in which development is permitted.
10. Nevertheless, the responsibility for
authorising development in support of 7(1) approvals lies with
the CNT board. Such approvals exist in only 8 of the former new
towns and provided the land is still in CNT ownership, it is still
able to authorise development. (These planning powers apply in
Milton Keynes, Telford, Warrington, Basildon, Peterborough, Runcorn,
Central Lancashire and Washington.) In the remaining towns, standard
procedures under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 apply.
11. Since the wind-up in March 1992 of the
Milton Keynes Development Corporation, New Towns policy has effectively
been absorbed into the mainstream of planning, housing and urban
12. Government planning policy is largely
set out in a series of Planning Policy Guidance notes. Of crucial
importance is PPG1 General policy and principles, which
sets out the Government's overarching approach to planning and
explains that this should be underpinned by three themes sustainability,
mixed use and design.
13. The Department has a PSA target that
at least 60 per cent of new housing should be built on brownfield
land by 2008. Local planning authorities are required to adopt
a sequential approach to housing, by giving priority to re-using
previously-developed land within urban area, bringing empty homes
back into use and converting existing buildings, rather that developing
greenfield sites. This is in contrast to the original approach
to New Towns, which were largely built on greenfield land. Where
extant section 7(1) approvals relate to greenfield development,
EP must consult with the relevant Government Office on any proposal
falling within the scope of October 2000 Greenfield Direction.
This applies to sites of 5 hectares or more, or comprising 150
dwellings or over, and raises particular issues in some New Towns,
such as Milton Keynes, where almost all available land is greenfield.
14. One of the main drivers behind the New
Towns movement was the need to deal with population growth, and
in particular to provide housing. Housing design and density varied
considerably across the New Towns, Stevenage, for example, had
a number of large public sector housing projects, whilst Milton
Keynes contains a sizeable proportion executive-style housing.
The later New Towns managed to deliver more varied tenure and
price mixes, than either the earlier New Towns or other contemporary
15. MPs and Local Authorities from several
New Towns have raised concerns about their design and construction
and while there are some issues specific to New Towns, there are
many similarities with issues raised by other urban areas. For
instance, high demand, and the consequent need for affordable
housing, is a feature of the London and South East housing market
generally; low demand is mostly prevalent in the North with sizeable
pockets in the Midlands. There can also be problems with the condition
of private sector housing in some areas.
16. The Government's housing policy statement,
The Way Forward for Housing, together with the Urban and
Rural White Papers and the National Action Plan on Neighbourhood
Renewal, provide a comprehensive framework for addressing these
17. In areas of high housing demand, rising
house prices can result in increased need for affordable housing
for the lower paid. The Department seeks to address this in a
number of ways. Public investment in affordable housing through
the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme will
rise to over £1.2 billion by 2003-04, almost double the level
in 2000-01. The Department is also providing £250 million
through the Starter Home Initiative to help 10,000 key workers
buy their own homes in areas where high house prices are undermining
staff recruitment and retention. Last year English Partnerships
approved developments which will provide over 3,600 new homes,
including affordable homes in areas of high housing pressure.
For example, EP will be facilitating the development of at least
1,200 new homes in Milton Keynes this year, over 350 of which
will be affordable. Next year EP aims to commit up to 450 affordable
homes in Milton Keynes across a range of tenures, from housing
association rent through to low cost sale.
18. The southern New Towns provide a possible
avenue for addressing housing provision. EPgiven their
land holdings in New Townscould also have a role to play,
and this is something the EP Review (see below) will be considering.
19. Three areas in the South East have now
been designated potential growth areasMilton Keynes, Ashford
and the London-Stansted-Cambridge Sub-Region. Studies are proposed
to examine the need and scope for additional growth in these areas.
The Thames Gateway, which includes Basildon, has also been already
identified as a growth area. The nature of future development
will vary according to local need and the existing site.
20. EP is at the front of efforts by the
Prince's Foundation to consider master planning and development,
the aim of which is to achieve high density and sustainability
while involving key local partners in the community. DTLR is fully
supportive of this approach. This results are becoming visible
in EPs town expansion plans in Northampton and Basildon, and the
potential benefits are such that other local authorities have
expressed an interest, Ashford for example
21. The Urban White PaperOur Towns
and our Cities the Futuresets out the Government's
vision for making our towns and cities places where people want
to live, work and invest. It recognises that the future of urban
areas and the concept of urban renaissance is vital to regeneration
and to creating sustainable patterns of development. The main
Getting the design and quality of
the urban fabric right
Enabling all towns and cities to
create and share prosperity
Providing good quality services people
Equipping people to participate in
developing their communities
22. Key mechanisms for delivering this policy
include Local Strategic Partnerships, a modernised planning system,
fiscal incentives, Urban Regeneration Companies, demonstration
projects like the Millennium Communities, Regional Development
Agencies, programmes to increase employability, improve training
and life-long learning and the £180 billion 10 Year Transport
23. These policies and mechanisms complement
those in the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal which
focuses on action to reduce the gap between the most deprived
areas and the rest.
24. The planning system has a vital part
to play in promoting more sustainable land-use patterns and use
of resources. The policy on sustainable development is supported
by a guide: Planning for sustainable development towards better
practice. The guide indicates that new urban areas, such as
new towns, can create sustainable patterns of development if they
are located in the right place, have a well-planned transport
infrastructure, are developed at right densities and provide a
range of local facilities.
25. Recent Government policy on planning
for housing (Planning Policy Guidance note 3 Housing) reinforces
this approach by advocating safe and sustainable developments.
To promote more sustainable patterns of development and making
better use of previously developed land, the focus for new housing
is on existing towns and cities. It is possible that in some New
Towns housing stock is likely to need redevelopment and regeneration
at the same time (where the original building was done over a
short period of time). The Housing Corporation is working with
local authorities, EP, Housing Associations and other stakeholders
on projects to address this, for example raising private finance
for regeneration when properties are transferred to Housing Associations.
26. Issues of urban management, and the
balance between new development and the regeneration of older
part of the towns, are covered by the government's urban, housing
and planning policies outlined above; the financial aspects are
set out below (paras 30-32). The Government is aware that certain
specific problems have been drawn to its attention by MPs and
New Towns authorities (eg on the life-expectancy of infrastructure
assets), and, in so far as this raises issues in relation to present
policies, the second phase of the EP Review (see below paras 39-39)
may offer an opportunity for them to be considered.
27. The dependence on cars varies between
town, depending partly on their stage in the evolution of New
Town theory, and the impact of planning on design. The towns'
size, layout and circumstances varied widely, with each generation
of new towns reflecting the economic and political mood of its
time. Subsequently, these new towns presented an opportunity for
experimental work, in terms of architectural innovation, urban
planning and development. The early new towns stuck quite closely
to the recommendations of the Reith report, with construction
based around the principle of neighbourhood development, generous
open spaces and using existing natural features. The later towns
adopted a slightly different approach to take account of emerging
factors such as the motor vehicle. Milton Keynes, for example,
was designed more on the basis of the USA grid system, with different
cells allocated for particular development.
28. Most new town master plans show an imaginative
approach being taken to public transport provision a dedicated
busway exists along the spine of Runcorn; Milton Keynes pioneered
the "dial-a-bus" scheme; and in Stevenage there is an
extensive cycle path network. In addition most of the new towns
have rail access, linking them with nearby major conurbations.
29. The Department's Local Transport Planning
(LTP) Guidance has addressed the importance of widening travel
choices, and developing an integrated approach. In response, as
part of their LTPs, both Milton Keynes and Peterborough are aiming
to increase choice and bring about a shift away from the car and
towards public transport, cycling & walking.
30. The present local government capital
finance system applies equally to all the main local authorities
in England, including New Town authorities. Central Government
support for capital investment by local authorities is provided
through permission to borrow, either in the form of Basic Credit
Approvals (BCAs), Supplementary Credit Approvals (SCAs), or through
31. New Towns are included in the annual
allocation process, the Single Capital Pot, which distributes
BCAs to authorities, which can be used for any capital expenditure.
BCAs are normally tailored so that authorities with more of their
own resources get less than needier authorities. For instance,
on this basis, Bracknell, Welwyn, Hatfield and Crawley have in
some years received zero BCA allocations. As with other local
authorities, New Towns may also benefit from service specific
allocations of grant or SCA, eg for education, according to departments'
32. The recent local government White Paper
announced the abolition of credit approvals, which are to be replaced
with a new local prudential regime. New Town authorities, like
all others, will be free to borrow for investment without Government
consent, provided they service the debt. The earliest the new
prudential system could be introduced is April 2004.
33. Current departmental policy aims to
reduce the problems and tensions associated with social exclusion.
New Towns are among those benefiting from the current approach
to both regeneration and neighbourhood renewal. For instance
Single Regeneration Budget. Almost all of the
New Towns have benefited from Single Regeneration Budget (SRB)
funding. A number of SRB partnerships have either been located
in New Towns or cover multi-districts which include them. (Specific
examples are Welwyn Hatfield Capacity Building, Improving Access
to Effective Services in Telford's Target Neighbourhoods, Vange
New Skills Project in Basildon.)
Urban Regeneration CompaniesA URC has
now been established in Corby, with Government approval, specifically
to assist the regeneration of the town.
Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. The National Strategy
for Neighbourhood Renewal focuses on narrowing the gap between
our most deprived areas and the rest. Funding is given to the
88 most deprived local authority areas in England. Of the 88 authorities,
5 are New Town areas. Some other local authorities, such as Basildon,
also benefit from other regeneration initiatives such as neighbourhood
management schemes and warden schemes.
34. With its holding of more than 5,000
ha of land in the former new towns, English Partnerships is in
a position to influence the way in which the towns continue to
develop. It also enjoys the benefits and responsibilities from
the long connection which it, and the CNT before it, had with
35. EP has the powers and resources to undertake
a direct capital investment programme, which helps provide infrastructure,
improvements to the environment and community facilities. It supports,
and in a number of cases is a member of, local economic development
partnerships. EP also helps finance and provides technical support
to local authorities on studies covering such issues as housing
need and urban capacity planning.
36. EP's primary focus, in accordance with
its statutory duty, is on the development and disposal of the
land that it owns. Although this approach has worked well in the
past, it is becoming increasingly clear that this may not always
accord with the local strategic priorities and so EP aims to work
more closely with the local authorities in the towns to identify
how their assets and plans for the area can be made to support
the essential needs of the areas. Such a "town strategy"
approach is one that can bring together all the interested parties
to ensure consistency of approach.
37. However the Local Government Association
New Towns Special Interest Group has argued that new towns were
discriminated against as a result of EP's presence as a major
landowner and that they are unable to negotiate Section 106 agreements
with developers to provide benefits to local communities. EP is
seen to be receipts-driven, rather than concerned with the individual
town. New town authorities have made a case for "normality,"
arguing that they wanted to be treated like any other local authority.
38. Ministers announced to both Houses of
Parliament on 16 October 2001 that DTLR would be undertaking a
quinquennial review of English Partnerships. This review is looking
specifically at some of the main areas of concern that New Towns'
residents, local authorities and Members of Parliament have expressed.
Its Terms of Reference are
"To review the role of English Partnerships
in delivering the Governments' policies; to consider the future
ownership of CNT assets and liabilities, and recommend such changes
as might be necessary in the light of the review. To consider
English Partnerships' structure and processes to ensure effective
and efficient delivery of its remit"
39. The review is taking place in two stages.
Consultants employed for stage one of the review (KPMG) undertook
consultations with seven new town local authorities. In addition,
submissions were made to the review team from the LGA New Towns
Special Interest Group (SIG) and from individual New Town authorities.
The outcome of stage one of the review may or may not have been
announced at the time of publication of this memorandum.
40. New Towns have not been treated as a
special group since 1992, and the Government has not commissioned
any specific studies which can inform on the role of New Towns
in their local economies. In general terms the economic influence
of New Towns varies with their size, characteristics and location.
It tends to be larger core cities and city-regions which have
significant influence on their regional economies due, Milton
Keynes for example. There is also an effect where the New Town
is growing relatively to a declining region. Examples are Warrington,
whose economic influence is in marked contrast to neighbouring
Skelmersdale and Runcorn, and Peterlee, which acts as a major
economic centre Easington.