Memorandum by North Ayrshire Council (NT
This memorandum is our response to your invitation
to comment on whether the problems and issues raised by English
authorities with New Towns were reflected elsewhere in Britain.
North Ayrshire Council is a unitary authority
situated on the west coast of Scotland some 40 kilometres south
of Glasgow and with an area extending to 450 square kilometres.
Irvine is the main administrative centre of the authority. Irvine
New Town (1966-97) incorporating the ancient burghs of Irvine
and Kilwinning is located within North Ayrshire. On designation,
the combined populations of Irvine and Kilwinning was 34,000.
The press notice announcing the inquiry states
that the Sub-Committee will wish to examine five issues and this
memorandum is limited to these areas of investigation.
"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
Irvine was unique amongst British new towns
in that it is located on the coast. A further feature is the system
of river valleys that runs through the New Town area. These valleys
containing extensive flood plains of unbuildable land provided
the opportunity to develop a town-wide framework of linked open
spaces. To that framework were added other areas which also were
incapable of development, mainly for reasons of undermining. The
most notable of these latter is Eglinton Country Park which is
500 hectares in extent although much of that land is actively
farmed. Open space available for recreation within the New Town
area amounts to 900 hectares.
In time and with proper care and maintenance
the open space network has a good chance of attaining Ebenezer
Howard's ideal of a green and leafy place. However, it is difficult
to move towards this ideal using existing financial allocations.
An important element in the transfer of assets from the Development
Corporation to the local authority was agreement to a balancing
package. This is causing difficulties that will be commented on
in a later section of this memorandum.
The essential point is that if sufficient financial
resources are made available the designed open space and landscape
network of the New Town is fully sustainable.
Car dependence is not an issue in the New Town.
Ownership rates are below the national average, areas of existing
and potential congestion were tackled early on in the New Town's
life and the road hierarchy and structure is capable of accommodating
predictable increases in car ownership. It is also believed that
the road network is capable of being modified or even radically
changed in response to changing circumstances which might arise
following shifts in urban management philosophies.
Regeneration of older parts of the town is a
problem for the authority because all properties inherited from
the Development Corporation were built within a relatively short
timescale. Unfortunately, the period of greatest construction
activity was the late 60's and all of the 70's, historically not
a period admired for robust construction. Accordingly, a disproportionate
amount of the Council's budget is directed at addressing problems
of repair and maintenance of inherited housing stock. This is
not to argue that the New Town built to standards that were lower
than those current at the time. Indeed there are many instances
of housing in particular being built to standards that are much
higher than was the norm. The fact remains, however, that after
30 years houses tend to require new windows, new doors, new central
heating systems and new kitchens. Offices built in the same era
tend to require refurbishment to bring them up to a standard acceptable
While it is reasonable to expect an authority
to find ways of coping with issues of planned maintenance, there
ought to be a recognition that in the case of this authority (and
we suspect in most authorities with New Towns) additional financial
burdens are being carried because so much of the stock requires
high levels of remedial investment at or about the same time.
"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."
Social exclusion is less of a problem in former
Corporation housing areas than in many other Council housing areas
within the New Town. In general terms this should not come as
a surprise because the household mix was matched to the population
structure of the time and all housing/contract areas formed part
of planned neighbourhood communities.
There are, however, several areas of former
Development Corporation Housing with high levels of social deprivation
and social dysfunction, which suffer the attendant problems of
litter, fly-tipping and vandalism. In some of these areas the
original design (the short-life detailing of a local centre for
example) positively encourages anti-social behaviour. In these
situations localised redevelopment may be necessary. Comprehensive
redevelopment is properly a matter for the local authority. However,
at the time of the transfer of assets it was not predicted that
the physical and social fabric of these localised areas would
prove so fragile as to require their imminent redevelopment and
consequently the costs of replacement were not considered.
"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.
The role of local authorities,
residuary bodies and non-Departmental Public Bodies in promoting
sustainable regeneration in the New Towns."
In the periods leading up to the wind-up of
the five Scottish New Towns, the Scottish Office was insistent
that there would be no residual body and therefore Scotland has
escaped the tensions and difficulties associated with the Commission
for New Towns (CNT) and English Partnerships. However, there is
one underlying issue of relevance on both sides of the Border.
CNT was established to oversee the transfer of assets between
New Towns, local authorities and others. Originally it operated
as a form of transitional guardian. However, in the last three
decades the Government view changed. In the case of Irvine, the
Corporation was instructed to sell off most of its assets to the
highest bidder with the revenue generated being retained by the
Governmentthe argument being that since Government money
had been used to create the assets, the revenue rightly belonged
to Government. This ignores the view that the wealth had been
created by the community and should have been (at least in part)
retained within the community.
"The role of the New Towns in their
regional economies, in both the industrial/commercial and housing
markets and their effect on surrounding conurbations."
Irvine was designated as a New Town with the
specific purpose of creating an economic growth point in North
Ayrshire. While it is true that much of the incoming population
came from overcrowded city areas, it was decreed that population
movement had to follow job creation. Early New Town economic development
successes followed on from Irvine Burgh's conspicuous success
in attracting manufacturing industries to the burgh. Throughout
the life of the New Town the emphasis changed in response to changing
circumstances. Latterly, with the establishment of Riverside Businesses
Park, the New Town secured a strong presence in high-tech and
communication industries. The Business Park offers in a campus
setting well-designed buildings with room to expand. It can offer
either ready built units or individually commissioned new units.
While the much-lauded "single door" approach has gone
now, the opportunity to build on the success of the Business Park
and the success of other employment areas remains.
The New Town has been fortunate in being able
to accommodate retail development within or adjacent to the historic
centre of Irvine. While the early decision to create a shopping
mall spanning the River Irvine from the old High Street was controversial,
there is no doubt that it created the opportunity for further
retail expansion to take place as a natural continuation of the
first developments. Thus the trend towards large units selling
food, household goods, DIY and gardening products etc has been
accommodated at a maximum distance of 800 metres from the traditional
High Street. In this respect, while there are problems, especially
with the offices associated with early retail development, the
problems are shared with similar structures built in the same
era by other authorities and are not unique to New Towns.
Private housing which represented only 28 per
cent of the total housing stock in 1967 has been successfully
encouraged in the New Town area partly because the Corporation
offered sites that were well planned, well landscaped and in which
services were brought up to the edge of each site prior to disposal.
Currently, approximatly 60 per cent of the stock is in private
ownership. Of course not all of this increase is as a result of
private development as such, since during the same period considerable
financial encouragement was given to those who wished to purchase
their own publicly rented house.
Today the private housing market is especially
buoyant in the middle range of the market. The upper range has
continued to operate at a fairly sluggish rate.
"Whether the Government should change
its policy in respect of design, regeneration and social inclusion
in the New Towns."
We are not aware of any government policy that
relates specifically to New Towns. However, as we have attempted
to outline in this memorandum, there are several problems that
are unique to authorities with New Towns. Central Government and
the Scottish Executive should consider how best they might amend
existing policies and financial allocations to take account of
Specifically, while the real wealth of our community
is the population who live here, the financial wealth of the New
Townits employment and commercial developmentshas
been taken from it. As early as 1989 with the publication of "The
Scottish New Towns: The Way Ahead", government was clear
that transferring assets to the local authority was "unlikely
to be an effective option". Many of our difficulties could
be resolved locally had the wealth been retained.
That did not happen and therefore there ought
to be a recognition that the extensive open space network requires
additional resources if it is to become fully sustainable, that
extensive modernisation and upgrading of former New Town housing
and commercial stock is required within a very short space of
time and that there are pockets of physical and social deprivation
and dysfunction which do not necessarily show up in statistical
analyses which nevertheless require urgent and inevitably costly
Despite the issues that have been raised in
this memorandum, the New Town experience overall has been a success
for North Ayrshire in which (especially in the later years of
the Corporation's life) the local authority and the New Town Corporation
worked closely together for the greater good of Irvine and the
whole of North Ayrshire.