Visit to Telford, Corby and Harlow
17 and 18 June 2002
Members, Staff and Advisers Participating During the Visit
Andrew Bennett, MP
Mr Clive Betts, MP
Mr John Cummings, MP
Mr Brian H Donohoe, MP
Mrs Louise Ellman, MP
Ms Oona King, MP
Christine Russell, MP
Dr David Harrison - Clerk
Claire O'Shaughnessy - Committee Specialist
Emma Sawyer - Committee Assistant
Brendan Nevin - Specialist Adviser
Designated in as a New Town in 1968
Cllr Phil Davis (Leader), Cllr Pauline Picken (Deputy Leader), Cllr Charles Smith (Cabinet Member), Michael Frater (Chief Executive), Steve Wellings (Corporate Director, Resources), Meredith Evans (Corporate Director, Environment), Michael Barker (Head of Planning), Mark Donovan (Economic Development Manager), Richard Bifield (Tourism Manager), Cllr Ian Baker, Cllr Derek White, Melvyn Biddulph, Chair of Woodside Residents Group, Cllr Dave Morgan, Cllr Jim Hicks (local ward members), Kevin Kane-Brookes (Community Liaison officer), Pete Jones (local beat manager)
Telford and Wrekin Council members and officers gave a presentation highlighting the large number of issues facing the borough as a result of what they describe as its "former new town status:"
- Telford was built on a brownfield site which has meant more remediation issues than other new towns;
- the town accommodated an overspill population from the black country - "you don't remove the cycle of deprivation simply by putting people into a better environment;"
- the planning assumptions which underpinned the design of the town were idealistic at the time and are now out of date. A population of over 200,000 and 100% car ownership were originally assumed;
- housing estates are surrounded by green areas - leading to a sense of isolation,
- zoning has separated uses - making it hard to get to work without a car;
- the town centre is a privately owned shopping mall, surrounded by car parks, roads and trees - there is no nightlife in the town centre;
- commercially Telford has been very successful - although many of the companies which have located there have their headquarters on the other side of the world -leaving Telford particularly vulnerable to changes in the global economy;
- a 'fire sale' policy of housing by the Development Corporation just before it was wound up has in the long term resulted in many of those homes ending up in the private rented sector;
- the council presented its regeneration needs to the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, which had not realised that there were any issues in this new town - despite areas of significant deprivation, the borough falls outside the criteria used for the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund;
- 'shrewd' investment is needed now to prevent further to decline and greater regeneration needs in future;
- the council has very limited assets of its own.
English Partnerships (EP) owns 820 ha of land in Telford - an area exceeded only in Milton Keynes (NT25). 819 ha of land are covered by clawback arrangements. (NT25(a))
EP has for all intents and purposes been the planning authority for the town. It has worked to the agenda it was given - ie income maximisation as a higher priority than promoting well-being.
EP has tended to focus on the larger sites - there are small pockets of housing and commercial land that receive very little attention.
The design of the town has led to a series of small communities each surrounded by green space. This has made it difficult to develop viable bus routes.
This has been compounded by the zonal approach to the development of the town, with employment areas separated from housing areas.
It was assumed that there would be 100% car ownership so there are few footpaths and those that there are, are away from the roads and people feel unsafe using them.
Extensive areas of the town have been transferred to the council by the Development Corporation and its successors. Clawback means that the council must repay (currently) approximately 80% of the receipt to EP (and the Treasury). This is different to 'normal' councils which would be able to keep the receipts. This use of capital receipts to fund regeneration activity is a common feature of regeneration programmes.
Clawback means that Right to Buy actually costs the council money (rather than being a receipt). Each time a house is sold, the council has to make a payment to English Partnership, which is greater than the value of the receipt that it receives.
Assets and liabilities
The council recommends that a profit and loss account approach should be developed for the entire town - with assets used to cover the cost of regeneration liabilities.
The council also argues strongly that investment is needed now to stop future decline.
Woodside is a poorly designed housing estate, south of Telford. Many of the houses are in the Radburn layout. Radburn design assumes that cars should be separated from housing. The front of the houses are accessible only by footpaths. There are garages to the rear. The design reduces the physical secutiry of the houses and flats and creates footpaths which attract crime. The buildings were constructed for a short life - which they are now nearing the end. The estate needs to be remodelled and replanned.
The estate is surrounded by roads and green space - making residents feel isolated.
We visited the Courts - a series of deck access flats - many abandoned and in very poor physical condition. There have been significant problems with arson and many of the flats which remain occupied are owned by private landlords. Housing association rents in the area are approximately £45 per week but housing benefit pays £80 per week to private landlords (based on average rents across the town as a whole). Vacant privately owned flats are also more problematic as the council has no information about them and cannot secure them.
The council proposes to demolish the deck access flats, sell the site and reinvest the receipt, along with Housing Corporation funding in a new development.
The council originally approached EP, wanting to demolish the flats but was told "it is not part of our remit." EP has more recently agreed to the principle of its involvement. Currently EP's position is that its involvement needs to be on the basis of a long term regeneration strategy for Woodside. Such a strategy needs to be in place before EP will commit to the demolition of the Courts. The site is also subject to clawback, meaning that a percentage of any receipt will go to the Treasury, rather than being invested locally in a housing regeneration scheme. The housing trust and council have successfully bid to the Housing Corporation for a 'national pathfinder scheme' to acquire private interests in the Courts.
The local shopping centre at Woodside was transferred to the council as part of the balancing package when the development corporation was wound up. Income has declined and maintenance costs have increased - turning it from an asset to a liability.
Madeley and Sutton Hill
Madeley is an older area and is the district shopping centre. The green spaces between communities make it hard to get to Madeley from Woodside and the road has been blocked off.
Sutton Hill is an area of timber framed housing which is now 30 years old and much of which is at the end of its natural life. The housing trust is investing £10,000 in each of its properties to sustain them. Owner occupiers cannot increase the value of their home by £10,000 if they invest that much in its upkeep - the council has no access to capital receipts which might be used to fund grants for owner occupiers.
The Brookside housing estate was also built according to the Radburn principle and the housing is only accessible down narrow footpaths, many of which (such as the "Drug Alley" we visited) are dark and have significant crime problems.
The local shopping centre is in very poor condition and again is a magnet for crime.
We heard that EP does not see itself as having a role in the joint regeneration of the town centre, district and local shopping centres.
Lawley Vale is a large housing development. It covers 241 ha (including green space - 110 ha will be developed for housing) and 3,100 houses will be constructed on the site, providing 25% of the housing supply to Telford over the next 5 years.
The site has a Section 7(1) planning consent and was originally planned around car use and at low densities. The council has no planning powers over the site but has been seeking to negotiate increased densities with EP, increasing the number of houses on the site from 1,900 to 3,100. The housing trust told us that there were no affordable houses planned for the site.
Designated in as a New Town in 1950
Phil Hope, MP, Rob Hearne (Leader of Corby Borough Council), Willie Smith (Deputy Leader), Nigel Rudd (Chief Executive), Lynne Aisbett (Deputy Chief Executive), Jon Whowell (Communications Officer), Clare Pavitt (Assistant Communications Officer), John Hill (Chief Executive, Catalyst Corby), Alf Butler (Catalyst Corby), Keith Redshaw (Catalyst Corby), Duncan Mills (Education Action Zone), David Watson (Corby Business Group), Mike Jackson (Government Office East Midlands), Sue Wilson (NHS), Peter Gould (Chief Executive, Northamptonshire County Council), Peter Nelson (Cofton Ltd), Lynn Johnson (FORTAC), David Grace (Chief Executive, Rockingham Speedway)
We visited the town centre. Corby did not achieve the size originally planned (its population is approximately 60,000 compared to an original target of 125,000) and we were told that as a result, demand for the shopping centre in the centre of the town was low. The centre is privately owned. Its regeneration is seen as a key to the regeneration of Corby as a whole in all the public sector consultation exercises that have been carried out. Currently its physical condition is poor and outdated and we heard that local residents choose to shop elsewhere - 73% of disposable income leaves the town. The shopping centre owners hope that the town's population will grow to at least 80,000 to attract a new range of stores.
Urban Regeneration Company
Catalyst Corby - the Urban Regeneration Company - identified some of the key challenges facing Corby in its regeneration:
Although car ownership in Corby is low, current public transport provision is poor. We heard about the Urban Regeneration Company's plans to bring a passenger station to Corby to improve its attractiveness as a place to live. Corby is the largest town in the country with no railway station.
We also heard that poor bus services were leading to increased car usage. Poor layout was seen as one of the contributing factors to poor bus services.
We heard about the pride and resilience of local residents, particularly in the period following the closure of the steelworks. 18,000 jobs have since been created in Corby but these have been predominantly in low value sectors.
We heard that there are pockets of deprivation, in part reflecting the lack of housing choice within the town. In addition, the development of Corby as a new town meant that a large population was 'dropped into the middle of Northamptonshire' all at once. There remain some diet and health issues.
There are also problems with low levels of staying on at school and generally low aspirations amongst young people although we heard that in one school, excellent results had been achieved.
The Urban Regeneration Company is looking at models to increase the population to up to 100,000, potentially bringing about the construction of 20,000 new homes. The town has not seen the growth in housebuilding found elsewhere in Northamptonshire and hopes in future to be identified in the County structure plan as a key housing growth location.
The aim is to increase the choice of housing on offer to include more houses in higher council tax bands.
The general layout of existing housing is good - but the quality of build and materials is poor.
EP has a very limited presence in Corby as a landowner. Its main role is now as a member of the Urban Regeneration Company. English Partnerships owns 29 ha of land (NT25) and 8 ha are covered by clawback arrangements (NT25(a)).
Oakley Vale is a large brownfield (former ironstone quarry) site. It covers 436 acres and it is anticipated that approximately 3,000 new homes will be built on the site. This site is being used to develop more up market houses. The majority of homes marketed so far are being sold to Corby residents 'trading up' and staying in the town.
Kingswood and Lincoln Estates
These estates contain poor quality housing with a mixture of tenures and pockets of anti-social behaviour problems.
Rockingham Speedway is a new development on the outskirts of the town. It is seen as important to the town's regeneration as it has an important impact on perceptions of the town amongst residents and visitors end is intended to generate significant expenditure in the local economy.
Designated as a New Town in 1947
Bill Rammell, MP, Cllr Andrew Johnson, Cllr Laura Spenceley (Leaders of Harlow Council), Cllr Nicolas Churchill (Chair, Regeneration), David Ellerby (Chair of Harlow 2020 Partnership), Pam Court (Vice Chair Harlow 2020 Partnership), Doug Patterson (Chief Executive, Harlow Council), Claudette Forbes (Executive Director, Regeneration), Anne Bonsor (Regeneration Manager), Ruth Osborn (Communications Consultant, Harlow 2020 Partnership), Kevin Madden (Executive Director, Environment), Clive Crake, Head of Planning), Keith Andrews (Partnerships Manager for Housing), John McCue (Manager Building DLO)
The Local Strategic Partnership outlined some of the main issues facing Harlow in its regeneration:
Housing and assets
1950s and 1960s infrastructure is aging simultaneously.
20,000 houses were built 50 years ago - £47 million is needed to bring council stock up to a decent standard and £36 million in the private sector.
There is a problem with the lack of affordable housing. The town is, however, seen to have the potential to grow to provide more housing and affordable housing. A study is currently being undertaken along the London / Stansted / Cambridge corridor and one scenario suggests doubling the town's population. This raises issues both about the green belt around Harlow and the green spaces within it.
The community provision (theatres, sports facilities etc) is aging. Such provision was designed to meet the needs of the sub-region but the district authority bears the costs.
25% of the town is green space and the cost of maintaining green spaces (£2.1 million pa is not adequately reflected in the Standard Spending Assessment).
The original design of the town encouraged evenly spread development of social and professional housing, to promote mixed communities. This has led to deprivation problems being spread rather than concentrated and the council argues that this lack of concentration counts against it when bidding for regeneration funding.
Educational achievement is low - six wards in the town are in the bottom 5% in educational achievement nationally and GCSE points are lower than all but one London borough.
The population is aging - the number of over 75s is anticipated to increase by one third in the next decade.
When the town was planned in the 1950s one in two households had a car, now there are many two car households.
Pathways are separate from car routes - this encourages crime and radical redesign is needed.
There are high levels of in-commuting and problems with congestion.
The council is working to overcome any negative image associated with being a new town and to instill confidence amongst current and potential residents.
English Partnerships owns 77 ha of land in Harlow (NT25) and clawback arrangements apply to 16 ha (NT25(a)).
£4.8 million will go to the Treasury in clawback on the town centre south development.
There were two examples of slow decision-making by EP, which had delayed projects unnecessarily:
- the footbridge from Harlow College to the town centre; and
- the town centre south redevelopment - it had taken over 1 year to agree the marketing strategy.
The town centre is a pedestrianised mall with loading access to the shops around the exterior. The council argues that it needs to be 'turned around' so that many of the shops look outwards.
The town centre south development is intended to bring in evening uses to the town centre.
The foyer project in the town centre is intended to address some of the issues facing the town's young people.
Generally, later Development Corporation housing projects in the town were built to lower standards than earlier constructions. Poor design / materials have led to higher heating and maintenance costs. The design has also led to crime problems.
In the Briars housing estate, non-traditionally built flats have now been demolished as it has not been possible to refurbish them. It is hard to get a mortgage on the remaining bungalows, given the materials and construction methods used.
Harlow as a debt free council, is concerned about the effect of the new prudential regime proposed under the Local Government White Paper - Strong Local Leadership: Quality Public Services.
The Gibson Court flats were built in 1964/65 and won a design award in 1969. Their design, with walkways and garages, is poor and the council has now demolished one side of the court.
The problems caused by poor quality buildings on this housing estate have had to be addressed in a piecemeal way and as a result, several attempts have had to be made to regenerate the area.
Harlow Civic Society
Stan Newens (Chair), John Deards (Secretary)
The Civic Society stressed the role of Harlow in creating new communities for people moving out of the east end of London - but 50 years on there is some need for regeneration. There is a shortage of homes for the second and third generations of new town residents. The diminishing manufacturing sector in the town means that employers are now looking for different skills.
We were told that the plan for Harlow was based upon mixing together tenants and homeowners of different social groups and that this mix should not be lost in any plan for expansion since it has largely prevented the growth of deprived areas. We heard that plans for any additional homes need to be based on preserving the green belt and the 'green wedges' within Harlow. The Society considers that planned enlargements are possible but the doubling the population would unbalance the town. The new towns were planned developments and the benefits of this planned approach needs to be carried forward.
Particular issues mentioned include the ongoing ownership by EP of small pockets of land, the transfer of housing from the Development Corporation to the local authority, which has led to significant maintenance liabilities and the fact that deprivation is not concentrated (and hence the town is not eligible for regeneration funding). We heard that the assets still owned by EP should be transferred to the local authority without clawback and more funding is required for housing repairs and landscape maintenance.
57 Land transferred to the council at the time of the wind up of the Development Corporation is subject to clawback for 50 years from the time of transfer. At the date of transfer, any increase in the value of land was all clawed back by CNT . This figure reduces by 2% a year. Back
58 Since our visit we have been advised by the council that as planning authority, it is expecting affordable housing to be provided at Lawley and is in negotiation with EP on this and other provisions Back