Memorandum by Harlow Civic Society (NT
The extent to which the original design of the
New Towns is leading to concerns about their long term sustainability
1.1 THE EFFECT
Harlow New Town was established under the 1946
New Towns Act and provided homes, with all modern conveniences,
employment opportunities and a garden city environment for large
numbers of people from overcrowded, rundown and often inferior
properties situated principally in North London.
New assets were created in the form of new homes
and amenities, community facilities, industrial and commercial
properties carefully landscaped on the basis of a town plan.
The basic design of the town, with green wedges
separating its constituent localities and the principle of keeping
the main industrial areas apart from residential accommodation
was highly successful and should at all costs be preserved. The
model is fully sustainable in Harlow as elsewhere if appropriate
policies are pursued today.
Unfortunately, partly due to fundamental changes
in the structures of industry in Britain it has not been possible
to maintain the original aim of providing jobs for most residents
locally. It was originally hoped that most people would walk or
cycle to work and a pattern of cycle tracks was provided. There
has, however, been a vast increase in the use of cars, not merely
to get to work within the town but also to travel in from outside
locations and out to work elsewhere. In addition there has been
a great increase in the number of heavy goods vehicles using the
roads, escalated in particular by the redevelopment of the industrial
areas to site a large number of warehouses and retail outlets.
When Harlow New Town was conceived, the intention
was to provide the principal north-south trunk road (now designated
the M11) to the west of the town. The M11 was, however, built
to the east of the town, in conflict with the original town plan.
One consequence is that the A414 runs through the town, adding
still more to the pressures on local traffic routes. Ideally,
the A414 should bypass the town, to the North.
What has occurred in Harlow illustrates the
importance of keeping the original town design in view when further
development and redevelopment takes place. Future plans should
not be implemented without ensuring that the additional traffic
generated can be accommodated.
New towns in general, and Harlow in particular,
have more open spaces to maintain than the average town. These
are great assets, which need to be preserved and enhanced. It
is, however, only recently that the additional financial burden
of maintaining this space has been recognised as an element in
determining the standard spending assessment. Meanwhile, pressure
to reduce costs continues and is leading to a reduction in the
quality of the landscaping. If standards are not to fall further
with adverse effects on the environment in new towns, it is of
paramount importance to take steps to reduce this trend.
Development of the large retail units common
today has not been generally possible in the original town centre
and shopping areas. This has resulted in the movement of retailing
facilities to out-of-town centre locations, with a consequent
negative effect on trade in the existing town centre and neighbourhood
shopping areas. Parts of the industrial area have now become retail
orientated. Thus, the original plans have been breached, posing
the problem of town centre redevelopment.
1.2 CAR DEPENDENCE
In theory this may be reduced by encouraging
people to make local journeys on public transport, by cycle, or
on foot. Encouraging children to walk to and from school where
possible could theoretically reduce the number of car journeys
at peak times. However, it is not realistic to expect a significant
response to such appeals.
There is undoubtedly a great need for proper
traffic regulations which are fully enforced, and for adequate
public transport services providing also for people who wish to
use them at relatively unsocial hours and those living away from
the main routes.
It is, however, vital in new developments
or redevelopment to bear in mind the point made earlier that plans
to accommodate the traffic generated must be included. If this
cannot be done, the development must be modified or dropped.
1.3 THE BALANCE
There is a need for new developments to be designed
from the outset as integral parts of the town. In the case of
building Church Langley in Harlow, the ethos was quite different,
suggesting it was a separate entitya new village developmentwhich
has left a permanent impression on the minds of many residents
that they are somehow separate from Harlow. This was a mistake
to be avoided in further redevelopment or expansion of the town,
which must surely apply in all other new towns.
Retail facilities as developed and planned should
be sufficient to meet the needs of the population, even if it
There is a need to regenerate sports and cultural
facilities which will, of course, require funding. Some schemes
for redevelopment, however, fail to respect the principles of
the town plan. One proposal in Harlow (now dropped) was for siting
a new sports centre in the Town Park, which would have detracted
from this amenity. This generated much opposition. Other proposalsparticularly
in view of the need today to raise the necessary fundsinvolve
sales of public land to developers and/or the granting of planning
permission for developments totally out of accord with the original
town plan. These should be resisted.
Regeneration of sports and cultural facilities
should not be allowed to override the original design of the town.
Lack of Housing for Succeeding Generations
One major failure in providing for sustainability
of the New Town is in the paucity of accommodation for succeeding
generations on low or moderate incomes.
The provision of more accommodation at rents
or prices that such people can afford is necessary. This could
be helped by increasing the number of attractive smaller properties
into which older people may move, if they wish, when their families
have grown up and left home. More under-occupied houses would
thus become available for the use of those in need of more space.
Whether social exclusion in New Towns is being
exacerbated by the current Government approach to regeneration
and neighbourhood renewal, in particular in relation to small
pockets of deprivation
In Harlow, there has been a considerable increase
in the number of single-parent families and socially deprived
groups but, on the whole, excessive concentration in particular
areas has been avoided. Most areas have had a mixture of dwellings
from the beginning and wherever particular estates or neighbourhoods
have tended to be in need of renewal or in danger of becoming
rundown, regeneration schemes have been put in hand by the local
authority. Thus it has been possible to avoid a situation in which
all those able to do so move out of a particular locality, leaving
it to degenerate further.
Social exclusion can, therefore, be prevented
by good maintenance, regeneration and renewalprovided the
mixture of dwellings is maintained. It is not automatically exacerbated.
Issues relating to organisations and regulations
operating in New Towns
3.1 The Consequences of English Partnerships'
Control of the Land Supply and its rôle in the Planning
English Partnerships' principal motive has been
to maximise income from rents and the sale of property. It was
not charged with the responsibility of maintaining the original
designs of the New Towns. In fact, English Partnerships' predecessor,
the New Towns Commission, added to the pressures on Harlow industrialists
and other business people by raising rents and disposing of properties
to organisations concerned to maximise the return on their investments.
This was originally a factorthough not the only oneleading
to a loss of industrial employment and redevelopment of much of
the industrial area for retail and warehouse purposes.
In other areas, problems have been created by
English Partnerships' insensitive management of some of its interests
in Harlow. For example, part of the open space in front of Moot
House Community Centre was needlessly fenced off; a social housing
project was held up by the fee originally demanded. There are
also small pieces of land owned by English Partnerships, which
cannot be properly managed.
The continued ownership of open land not
for development by English Partnerships is unnecessary and illogical.
All such land, whether small unmanageable pieces or large open
areas, should be transferred to the ownership of the local authority.
3.2 The Effect of the Transfer of Assets
and Liabilities to Local Authorities
The spirit of the 1946 New Towns Act was that
assets would eventually be
transferred to the local authority. Although some
were, Harlow and other New Towns were deprived of the advantages
of Letchworth, a prototype of the New Towns, as a result of transferring
so much to the New Towns Commissionnow English Partnerships.
Housing was, however, transferredat existing
debt with no adequate provisions for meeting the costs of maintenance,
outstanding repairs and renewal. As a result, the local authority
has been faced with daunting financial problems in seeking to
regenerate areas which were in danger of becoming rundown and
in keeping abreast of repairs.
Grants, at the very least equal to those
available to private organisations which take over local authority
housing, should be made available to New Town local authorities
to assist them in catching up with the backlog of repairs.
In Harlow, the total cost is now estimated at £47 million.
Industrial, commercial and retail freeholds,
for the most part, were not transferred to the New Town local
authorities and may have been sold several times over since they
were first vested in the New Towns Commission. This places the
local authority at a disadvantage in projects for renewal and
redevelopment. In Harlow, the local authority has succeeded in
securing agreement to a plan for the redevelopment of the Town
Centre South by negotiation with developers and freeholders. Its
position on redevelopment and renewal throughout the town, however,
would have been much stronger had the assets transferred to English
Partnerships been vested in it.
3.3 The rôle of Local Authorities,
Residual Bodies and non-Departmental Public Bodies in Promoting
Sustainable Regeneration in New Towns
The rôle of the local authority, as the
democratic authority elected by and reflecting the interests of
those who live in the town, must surely be that of the prime mover
in promoting sustainable regeneration. Today, however, the problems
of securing the finance necessary from outside developers may
put the local council in the position of being forced to give
way on basic features of the original design to enable regeneration
to take place. Some desirable schemes may be totally inhibited.
It is important that full support be accorded to local authorities
seeking to maintain the basic features of their town design plan.
The architects and designers should be responsible to them rather
than the developers. Alternative sources of finance are required
to avoid total dependence on private developers.
Other non-departmental public bodies are in
one way or another involved in redevelopment in Harloweg
Harlow Health Centres Trust, Harlow Sports Trust, the Primary
Care Trust, and the 2020 Partnership. It is desirable that
such bodies work closely with the local authority and that their
plans are compatible with over all planning objectives.
The role of New Towns in their regional economies
in both the industrial/commercial and housing markets and their
effect on surrounding conurbations
Harlow serves as a regional focal point for
shopping needs, commercial services and employment, not only for
its own residents but also for many that live in surrounding areas.
Many young people who attend Harlow schools and the tertiary college
come from outside the town, as do many patients treated at Princess
Within limits, this is entirely reasonable and
desirable, but it should not be the objective to provide within
the New Town all the facilities which could be provided, or are
already provided, in nearby communities.
The need to ensure that a New Town remains
a desirable place to live must never be forgotten. Furthermore,
some facilities should be within easy reach of where people live
outside the town.
Whether the Government should change its policy
in respect of design, regeneration and social inclusion in the
The basic success of the New Towns should
be fully recognised. The advantage of planning has been vindicated.
Although the model did not meet with universal approval when it
was launched at the end of the Second World War, the investment
of public funds generated new communities, new employment opportunities,
new businesses and a good quality of life for most of the residents.
The Government should accordingly recognise
the need for the basic designs of New Towns to be respected. Regeneration
and renewal is, of course, necessary, but the aim should be to
preserve and enhance all the positive aspects of what has been
achieved. If the area devoted to housing, industrial, commercial,
or sports purposes is to be substantially expanded, an extension
of the town boundaries should be considered. It is totally unacceptable
for large-scale new development to be sited on green wedges or
It is, furthermore, important to ensure that
New Town local authorities receive sufficient financial support
to enable them to maintain the standards originally set, which
is not the position at the present time. Greater financial resources
should be made available.
The New Town model, which grew out of the
idea of the garden city, is still valid today. The aim should
be to maintain and enhance the New Towns and to recognise that
the concepts on which they are based apply at the present time
as much as they did half a century ago.