Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda



  1.  The origins of the new towns movement lie in the nineteenth century work and activities of Ebenezer Howard, and his famous publication Garden Cities of Tomorrow. Howard envisaged new towns to be self-sustaining, and oversaw the construction of two garden cities (Letchworth and Welwyn) located to the north of London. There are now 32 new or expanded towns in the UK, with a total population of approximately 2.5 million people. Each new town was established by the UK Government for a specific purpose, or purposes, and represents one of the UK's most significant planning achievements.

  2.  The major drive for New Towns was immediately after the Second World War, within the framework of urban development policies. A Royal Commission chaired by Lord Reith was convened in 1945-46, with a remit largely to find solutions to the immense problems of urban congestion and housing shortage caused by the war. The Reith Commission recommendations, a number of which are set out in Annex B, closely reflected the principles espoused by Ebenezer Howard. These recommendations inspired the New Town Act of 1946 which created the administrative and financial framework for the development of Britain's new towns. At the heart of this Act were the development corporations, Government sponsored bodies set up for each new town, with special powers to discharge its remit of securing the laying out and development of the new town. Each development corporation was to be wound up once it had fulfilled its remit, and the assets and liabilities of the new town were to be transferred to the local authority.

  3.  New Towns were created in a number of phases. The first generation, between 1946-51, concentrated on the relieving the housing, employment and other social pressures of major cities, especially London. Of the first 11 new towns designated by Government during this period, eight were satellites around London[8]. However, a number of new towns had a wider remit. For example, Dawley (later renamed Telford) aimed to attract new manufacturing and service firms from the rest of Britain and from the rest of the world, not simply from their nearby "parent cities". The 1960s new towns, including Milton Keynes, were also set up to deal with rapid population growth and meet anticipated housing need and housing demand forecast for all the country's major urban regions—and most especially for the South East region, centres on London. At this time, new towns took a significant new approach as three large, long-established towns—Peterborough, Northampton and Warrington—were also designated for large-scale and rapid expansion under the New Towns Act.

  4.  Under the New Towns Act 1946 Development Corporations were set up to undertake the task of developing the New Towns. In 1961 (by which time development was well advanced) the Government created the Commission for New Towns. As the development and construction of the Towns came to a close the Development Corporations handed over local assets to the Commission. The original funding for New Town development came from central funds, and was intended to be repaid as a loan. CNT was therefore given the job of disposing of state owned assets in order to continue to fund development across the whole country. New Town Local Authorities did not therefore benefit directly from local success.

  5.  However, the disposal process was slow and the CNT estate value was increasing. Until 1979 demands were still being made on the exchequer to find funds for future development. The Government considered this to be unnecessary, and the Commission was given asset disposal targets to speed up the process. Housing stock was also disposed of, however tenants had to be consulted and most chose local authorities over the government-preferred option of Housing Associations.

8   Basildon, Bracknell, Crawley, Harlow, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City. Back

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Prepared 16 April 2002