Afternoons in utopia
What do you think of when you think of a New Town?
A concrete jungle? A slightly chaotic but brave new refuge from bomb sites? A candy-coloured Scandified utopia that gradually fades to grey?
A popular image is that they started as the planner’s holy grail for post-war housing shortages and ended as a byword for grottiness. But don’t write them off yet. Because New Towns could be on the march again with an energetic consortium behind them – the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on New Towns, a cross-party group of MPs supported, promoted and advised by the TCPA, whose manifesto wants the Government to give new towns the limelight in the autumn Budget.
Between 1946 and 1970, initiated by the New Towns Act, 32 new towns were built across the UK, and according to the APPG, over 2.8 million people now live in them. That’s 4.3% of the country’s households. The New Towns programme was the biggest construction project Britain has ever seen. The scheme, committed to creating ‘balanced communities’, was administered by Development Corporations which had wide-ranging autonomy in financing, planning and land acquisition.
Born at similar times, these towns are ageing at similar rates: Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Telford, Warrington have hit their half century, and others including Harlow, Crawley, East Kilbride and Peterlee are now aged 70. New Towns are both some of Britain’s fastest-growing and most successful settlements - and also some of the most deprived.
Nevertheless, the APPG wants to celebrate how the UK’s New Towns have contributed to the nation, and look to the future, where they could help ease the housing crisis. They have written to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, with three key asks from his 2018 Autumn Budget:
· Inclusion in a Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government Minister’s list of key responsibilities, to unlock their potential and offer government focus.
· A Government-led New Towns Prospectus of how it will assist existing new towns to regenerate and offer tailored government support to local areas.
· A review of how local authorities can regenerate the town centres of New Towns, including shopping areas, to unlock their potential for growth and renewal.
The group acknowledge that though New Towns had many long-lasting features built in, such as comprehensive green space networks, landscape design, quality social housing and innovative architecture, plus modern heritage assets such as civic art, they were often built quickly with cheaper materials, which means that whole estates now need renewal.
Their call to action involves Parliamentary discussion forums about high-quality homes, health and innovation - bringing together planners, councils, developers, employers, architects, residents and creating a long-term New Towns infrastructure fund to regenerate housing and infrastructure.
As APPG Chair, Lucy Allan, MP for Telford explains: “We want to celebrate New Towns and take pride in their shared identity and ensure we are not overlooked, as today’s housing crisis is met with a whole new generation of new, new towns.”
This article was written by Elizabeth Thomas, Account Executive at MPC.