Memorandum by New Towns Group (NT 14)
1.1 The New Towns Group warmly welcomes
the Committee's inquiry into New Towns and the opportunity to
present evidence to the Committee. The New Town Group believes
that the Select Committee should note the following recommendations:
New Towns should be "normalised"
wherever possiblethat is to have similar, or enhanced powers
over planning and development issues to other local authorities.
New Towns are sub-regional growth
centres, often with strong economies. In order for them to continue
to thrive, the Government needs to have policies to support them.
New Towns have significant levels
of deprivation and need specific funding to meet their needs.
The responsible local authorities
are the best placed organisations to lead and regenerate New Towns.
Local authorities responsible for
New Towns lack the ownership of assets and access to finance required
to sustain population growth, maintain infrastructure and tackle
regeneration. The Government therefore needs to make additional
finance available to tackle these problems through changes to
the Revenue Support Grant formula.
English Partnerships assets held
in New Towns should be transferred to local authorities. Any remaining
broader remit should be handled within each region by the Regional
Development Agency, and have regard to the RDA's obligations concerning
Local authorities should have full
planning powers in New Town areas.
2.1 The New Towns Group represents 10 of
the local authorities in The New Towns Special Interest Group
(SIG). These are:
4. Milton Keynes
7. Telford and Wrekin
10. West Lancashire
2.2 The organisation includes representatives
from each local authority at both an officer and member level.
It has at all times tried to engage in constructive dialogue with
Government to ensure that New Towns interests are properly represented
and that moves are made towards their normalisationthat
is to have similar, or enhanced powers over planning and development
2.3 In providing evidence to the Committee,
the Group has attempted to answer each of the Committee's concerns
in turn and, where possible, provide examples.
3.1 The New Towns were created by post-war
Governments on greenfield and brownfield land and many of the
them are now over 50 years old. That seed-corn investment by the
Treasury has now reached a high level of maturity. Most of the
New Towns are economically dynamic areas, which have levered in
significant business investment. They have also fulfilled an important
social function, providing housing for many from blighted inner-city
areas, generated jobs and provided recreational amenities. They
are, in most cases, successful sub-regional growth centres.
3.2 There is a wide variety of New Towns,
but they all share common characteristics. While most of the New
Towns were built on sound principles at the time, they have not
stood well against the tests of time. There is overwhelming evidence
that they are no longer sustainable communities and are in urgent
need of regeneration. In particular, the Committee should note
that there are concerns about:
Overall infrastructure decay.
Urban deprivation is reaching acute
levels, but Government regeneration schemes are not reaching the
most deprived wards.
Housing in need of regeneration.
Poor urban design and housing design
for today's needs.
Unsustainable growth levels in many
Over-reliance on the motor car and
a lack of public transport.
Lack of assets available to local
Lack of overall planning control
by the local authorities.
Limited local facilities and limited
levels of public realm.
3.3 The New Towns Group recognises that
the Government made significant investments in the past to establish
these towns, but the Government must now remain committed to their
future and refocus their attention on the needs of the towns.
3.4 New Towns are artificial constructs.
As such, they do not have normal patterns of growth and have different
demographic make-ups. Many communities are cut-off through poor
urban design and lack of public transport. Crime is also an important
issue, for example, Peterborough has the highest rate of crime
per 1,000 people in Cambridgeshire. In some cases, these towns
have not been built along good principles of sustainable development
(eg because of low density, car-dependent lay-outs and segregated
uses which lead to isolation and limited access to jobs and facilities),
which is a cause of major problems of social exclusion. In other
cases towns have attempted to provide elaborate public transport
infrastructure but failed to deliver as expected (eg the Runcorn
Busway). Town centres have been built along the lines of out of
town shopping malls and therefore provide little scope for social
interaction, public realm, enjoyment, mixed areas or evening economy.
3.5 The costs of maintaining these communities
are disproportionately high. Many of the New Towns are now requiring
significant levels of investment to help regenerate early housing
estates (and in some cases completely or selectively demolish)
and local shopping centres. In many cases these estates do not
qualify for urban regeneration funding, but their needs are every
bit as great as other recognised urban areas. In addition, the
local authorities have to meet the significant costs of maintaining
expansive parks, road schemes art works and facilities, beyond
the norm found in traditional towns and cities.
3.6 The land upon which New Towns were originally
built was owned by the Development Corporations. Once the New
Towns were wound up, local authorities inherited much of the infrastructure
and housing stock, while residual development land was handed
over to the Commission for New Towns and finally integrated with
English Partnerships. In some instances, well-founded fears over
future housing maintenance liabilities led the local authority
to decide not to take on the New Town housing stock, it being
transferred to housing associations instead. In these cases, the
Housing Corporation as well as EP exert considerable influence
on future developments. The ownership of the residual development
land by CNT and latterly English Partnerships has caused significant
problems for the local authorities representing New Towns.
3.7 Sally Keeble MP made the point in a
recent debate, where she said; "it is important that the
new towns are part of the Government's agenda for the urban renaissance."
If the Government is to take forward its
urban revival agenda, it must find a solution to the problems
of the New Towns as a matter of priority.
4. THE ROLE
4.1 New Towns were built to provide a better
quality of life for Britain's over-crowded inner-city populations.
They have been engines of growth and development for the past
50 years and continue to grow. Many of them, now having reached
a stage of maturity, are major regional and sub-regional centres
of growth, industry and commerce in their own right, but often
do not have the full range of facilities (eg theatres, cinemas
etc.) to cope with their role.
4.2 Many of the New Towns are sub-regional
retail centres. Their physical form and design means they are
ill equipped to fulfil this role, lacking as they do in a truly
diverse mix of uses, a quality public ream and good transport
4.3 New Towns are the focus of much of the
country's manufacturing and industrial base and many of the New
Towns have very clear visions for future growth. Telford and Harlow
for example are trying to build on hi-tech corridors and Milton
Keynes and Northampton have strong economies. They are often regional
employment centres and have the potential for yet further growth.
Inadequate public transport systems and the segregation from housing
areas may curtail that growth. In addition, lack of investment
in infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, could undermine
the future of the New Towns. With demographic change, the number
of older people in New Towns are growing as the initial population
retires and there will be a need for greater investment in years
5.1 The Government's policy towards New
Towns has been ambivalent. Nevertheless, the Government has recently
accepted that this has been the case and has indicted that it
is prepared to look at the issue. As the Parliamentary Under Secretary
of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Sally
Keeble MP, said "We must recognise that the creation of
the new towns was one of the great achievements of the post-war
Labour Government. They provided new residential areas and areas
of economic growth for people to live and work in, and transformed
the lives of people who made the journey from overcrowded inner
cities. We should recognise the pressures on housing, infrastructure
and communities in the new towns. . . What was a great vision
of the Attlee Government is starting to show its age, and it is
time to look at what is going on."
5.2 Much of the Government's focus has understandably
been on the regeneration of the cities, and to a lesser extent
some regeneration of market towns. New Towns however have many
of the same characteristics of outer city housing estates, including
deprivation, poor public transport links, poor local facilities
and urban design to name but a few. The Government should therefore
look at the best practice being implemented to rejuvenate the
nation's cities and provide the funds and access to expertise
to the New Towns.
6. THE ROLE
6.1 New Towns have been at the mercy of
a number of Government agencies, starting with the New Town Corporations,
then the Commission for New Towns and finally, English Partnerships.
CNT and English Partnerships have not served the New Towns well
and have not invested the necessary interest, nor finance. English
Partnerships also operates in Cwmbran in Wales. Given the existence
of the National Assembly for Wales, this anomaly should be amended
and the powers and assets held by English Partnerships in Cwmbran
should be transferred to Torfaen Council. English Partnerships
also operates in different ways in different areas. For example,
English Partnerships operates in the District of Easington as
both a regenerator of the coalfields area, where money is recycled
from asset sales into further coalfield regeneration, and as an
owner of former CNT land. In cases where EP is acting as the inheritor
of CNT land, it is stripping land assets for the benefit of the
Treasury and is contributing few resources towards local regeneration
6.2 The Government has set up a new raft
of structures which deserve attention. Local Strategic Partnerships
could have a key role to play in the future development of the
New Towns. They should have a key stake in how regeneration funds
are spent in New Towns and should influence the management of
assets. We believe that LSPs would be best placed as having a
strong supportive role or "critical friend" of local
authorities. Though it is still very early days in the evolution
of LSPs, and their potential role needs further thought, they
could play a key role in the future.
6.3 Regional Development Agencies currently
have regeneration powers, a duty to promote the economic well-being
of their region and develop a number of strategies to do so. We
believe they will always be focussed on the areas of greatest
deprivation and meeting the needs of local cities. New Towns have
specific problems and are usually important within sub-regions,
rather than having a high status regionally. Therefore RDAs are
not the appropriate vehicle for regenerating New Townsany
potential role in New Towns should be to support the prime effort
from local authorities.
6.4 Local authorities already have a track
record of running New Towns. Many of the New Towns have either
unitary authority status or are large District Councils (such
as Northampton). District authorities have the powers to cover
planning and economic development issues, but counties have a
role in social service and education provision etc. Any transfer
of powers from Government bodies to districts would have to take
into account the capacity and remit of the local authority. We
believe that unitary and district authorities certainly do have
the capacity to deal with regeneration and planning issues. Local
authorities have however been hindered in assisting the development
of New Towns by a lack of:
Consistent partnership with English
Assets, which in many cases are controlled
by English Partnerships primarily for the benefit of external
finance limits set by HM Treasury.
Funds from central government, in
recognition of the high costs associated with growing populations.
Planning powers to cover the whole
of the community they serve.
Lack of access to specific regeneration
The provision of infrastructure through
new developments via Section 106 agreements.
Given that local authorities are the most responsive
organisations to people's needs and the communities they serve,
local authorities overseeing New Towns should be empowered with
the funds and powers you would expect to find in any other local
7. THE GOVERNMENT'S
7.1 The Government's regeneration strategy
is focussed primarily on the 88 Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF)
priority areas, targeted at the country's most deprived wards.
Some of the New Town's local authorities are recipients of funding
through the NRF, as well as SRB and European structural funding.
However, a significant number of the New Towns do not qualify
for any funding, despite significant levels of deprivation. Many
of the deprived wards in New Towns are all the more striking because
they are so visible in the context of a modern, built environment.
They therefore have a distinctive nature, contrasting with the
overall prosperity of many of the New Towns.
7.2 One of the issues the Committee should
consider is whether the current regeneration schemes are sensitive
enough to be able to recognise that deprivation levels can be
spread either across several wards or can have acute problems
relating to one indicatorsuch as health or education. Many
of the most deprived wards in New Towns have the highest levels
of deprivation on a sub-regional or regional basis. If the Government
is to avert higher regeneration costs in the future, it needs
to act now.
Runcorn New Town is a large component of Halton.
In the national Index of Multiple Deprivation 2000, all the New
Town wards fall within the top 10 per cent most deprived wards
in Englandand four of these are in the top 5 per cent.
7.3 The situation is exacerbated by the
fact that the local authorities do not have access to the financial
resources normally available to local authorities. English Partnerships
operates in the New Towns as an asset manager, but not as a regeneration
agency. As a result, English Partnerships is selling assets, without
any benefits being realised by the local community. The New Towns
Group believes that this issue needs to be urgently addressed
to ensure that local authorities can manage the assets and ensure
that finances accruing from sales are recycled into the regeneration
of the most deprived wards in the area.
7. 4 Taking the Government's data on rank
by levels of deprivation, the only New Towns which qualify for
Neighbourhood Renewal Funding are
Sunderland (though the wards affected
are not in Washington New Town)
If the rank of local authorities was to be expanded
beyond the current NRF qualifying local authorities to include
the top 150, the number of New Town local authorities qualifying
would include a further nine New Towns in England. In Annex 1
we have also indicated the nature of the deprivation and whether
there are specific deprived wards, demonstrating where each one
has a ward within the top 1,000 most deprived wards in any one
of the Government's deprivation indices.
7.5 There is clear evidence that there are
significant levels of deprivation in many of the New Towns and
many of them lie just outside the NRF qualifying levels of deprivation.
The Government needs to target resources at New Town deprivation.
8. ENGLISH PARTNERSHIPS
8.1 New Towns are both the engines of growth
for the nation's economy and also areas of need of regeneration.
The best organisation to meet these needs are the local authorities,
in partnership with key stakeholders.
8.2 There is considerable concern by the
New Town local authorities over the operation of English Partnerships,
to the extent that we can see no specific role for the organisation
within the New Towns. At present, English Partnerships owns a
total of 5,700 hectares of land in England, most of which is based
in the New Towns.
8.3 As presently constituted, English Partnerships
has a variable record of partnership with local communities, has
no regeneration remit in the New Towns and is focussed on selling
off assets for the benefit of HM Treasury, not the local community.
It is self-evident that New Towns have paid off any "debt"
they may have owed HM Treasury and yet they are being used as
a cash cow and local authorities are expected to handle the liabilities
they have inherited from the Government in the way of deprived
8.4 The New Towns Group therefore believes
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 reinvest
the money back into the regeneration of local communities.
English Partnerships assets in Wales,
principally with Cwmbran, should be transferred to Torfaen County
Covenants and claw backs are a major
hindrance on the development and redevelopment of many sites in
New Towns and are 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 today's communities. Even by 2012, claw backs established
in 1987, reduced by 2 per cent per annum, will still be worth
50 per cent of the receipt. Covenants exist in most New Towns
on land formerly in the ownership of CNT. Development of this
land requires EP to lift the covenant, which often is problematical.
The preferred position would be for all such covenants to be either
extinguished or gifted to the local authorities.
English Partnerships' control of
sub-soils and ransom strips 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.
Any broader residual role of English
Partnerships could be handled by the respective RDA with whom
the individual local authority already has a constructive and
Local authorities cannot borrow against
assets held by English Partnerships.
8.5 The overall benefits of transferring
the assets and powers held by English Partnerships to the local
authorities would include:
A more responsive and democratic
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.
9.1 New Towns continue to be a success,
in many cases acting as growth centres within regions. For this
success to be maintained, the Government must address the underlying
problems afflicting the New Towns. New Towns have deteriorating
infrastructure and a desperate need for regeneration. Many New
Towns do not qualify for Neighbourhood Renewal grants, yet have
deprivation levels as acute as that found on outer-city housing
estates. Local authorities are unable to resolve these problems
due to a lack of assets and claw backs and covenants held by English
Partnerships and lack of control over significant development
areas. Therefore the Government should be advised to "normalise"
New Town local authorities as soon as possible, restoring planning
rights and providing them with an asset base as found in any other
normal local authority. For too long New Towns have had their
problems ignored on the basis that they were "new",
now the Government should act to ensure they can continue to successfully
4 Commons Hansard, 19 January 2002, Col 40 WH. Back
Commons Hansard, 19 January 2002, Col 40 WH. Back
Ev not printed. Back