Memorandum by Railfuture (NT 43)
Railfuture, the Railway Development Society,
is pleased to submit evidence in response to the Urban Affairs
Sub-committee request for evidence on New Townstheir problems
Our memorandum deals principally with rail and
related public transport access to and within the New Towns, and
certain edge of conurbation developments that have similar characteristics
to New Towns which may have had some connections with English
Partnerships through regeneration packages.
The Committee asks to what extent the original
design of the New Towns has led to concerns about long term sustainability.
Many planners now accept that the layout of the new towns with
low-density housing developments actively encouraged the car dependency
culture, even though some estate layouts attempted to separate
pedestrian from vehicle movement. Car dependency has steadily
increased over the last four decades and exacerbated social exclusion
within these communities, particularly as regeneration and neighbourhood
renewal are still generally focused on car based development and
a reduced provision of social housing.
One problem Railfuture has identified in relation
to "small pockets of deprivation" is the inadequacy
of public transport services in some districts. Invariably only
deregulated buses serve these marginalized communities and the
level of demand justified neither funding for new infrastructure
nor subsidy from local authorities' (LAs) limited budgets.
Railfuture argued in its evidence to the Transport
Sub-Committee on the 10 Year Plan that subsidy for bus services
was not quantified as a separate element in the Plan, and should
be, so that LAs can allocate funding for service contracts to
maintain consistent service standards and minimise social exclusion
through a lack of access to public transport. This is particularly
relevant to New Towns and maintaining links with rail services.
This evidence primarily examines the role of
rail in serving new towns, the lack of access to rail services,
and problems caused by the inadequacy of some services where these
The earlier new towns were rail connected
but longer distance commuting to London (or the nearest major
conurbation or centre) was not encouraged or promoted.
Certain strategic planning policies
actively discouraged commuting and promoted both movement of people
and work out of traditional centres, through bodies such as the
Location of Offices Bureau.
Rail access to many New Towns and
similar developments was not recognised as an essential element
of urban planning in the 1960's, when most of these communities
were first planned.
In practice some New Town central
area development plans simply did not include a station; they
were designed to discourage and even prevent people commuting
by train while supporting car use locally.
Similarly smaller edge of conurbation
developments were not served by rail, even though rail services
could have been providedrail services or stations were
often abandoned as new developments started.
Local transport developments invariably
depended upon initiatives taken by the regional New Towns Development
Corporation office or the local authority.
Local public transport was based
on buses, and standards varied in different centres. This depended
upon the extent to which subsidy was available or the level of
interest taken by the local bus operator. Good practice in delivering
bus services was limited and generally worsened after 1986.
The emergent English Partnerships
often focused development on road based activity and other EP
led development projects outside of the New Towns reinforce this
perspective of their approach.
Rail service provision to new towns was patchy
and could thus roughly be divided into those New Towns with stations,
those without, those without but had a facility added later and
those still without a rail link. There are no identifiable cases
where rail performs any significant level of a truly local function
within the township itself. We have however identified several
examples where a second station has been built within a town such
as Cumbernauld and Bracknell, or an existing secondary service
has been maintained such as Milton Keynes.
It is interesting to compare and contrast the
first and second generation New Towns, with the 1930s inter-war
development of lower cost mass urban housing and other peripheral
urban developments in the 1950s and 60s. the LCC's inter-war Cottage
Estates were developed with much higher population densities,
even though these applied the sound Garden City movement principles
promoted by such visionaries as Ebenezer Howard and Edward Lutyens.
Where practical and possible public transport links were provided
to these estates, such as the Northern Line to Burnt Oak for the
emerging Watling Estate circa 1930. Special halts were often developed
on minor local rail lines, such as Castle Bar Park serving the
LCC's Cuckoo Estate in Hanwell, West London, or in time quite
substantial stations such as St. Helier in Sutton, South London.
In regional cities where rail had any foothold
in an area, development tended to be well established, but new
inter-war estates in provincial cities were often only served
by municipal buses or trams; generally they were not well connected
to rail services and some stations were closed such as Hazelwell
in South Birmingham.
The early (pre-war) new towns did include railway
stations even though they were planned as self sufficient local
economic units; Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City are good examples.
These centres were not intended to provide homes for commuters,
but inevitably their close proximity to London turned them into
dormitory commuter towns. These principles also applied to smaller
centres, like Port Sunlight, which had a rail link, to both Birkenhead
and London, and retains it but as part of the local Merseyrail
Welwyn Garden City was served by hourly semi-fast
and stopping trains to and from London by the mid 1960s and additionally
by stops on Cambridge expresses, normally about every two hours.
Even at this stage however there was considerable peak commuting
to London which continues from both Welwyn Garden City station
with six trains per hour to London and the older Welwyn North
with two to four trains per hour.
Letchworth had a lower service level, about
hourly in the 1960s, but that also included some of the Cambridge
trains. Today Letchworth has three trains per hour to London but
there is also a regular commuting pattern between the three New
Towns in this corridor, ie between Letchworth, Stevenage and Welwyn.
While inter-war towns like Welwyn and Letchworth
had rail links, many 1960s New Towns were built without convenient
access to rail services. Some argue this was actively pursued
to prevent people commuting to London or the relevant major business
In most cases the lack of rail facilities was
based on an assumption that road transport, and primarily the
private car would prevail and become everyone's ideal, and the
preferred mode. Development was planned accordingly and so many
New Towns emerged without a dedicated main station. In some cases
planners did not include a railway station even where a major
town centre was developed relatively close to rail routes. At
others stations were built, but not at the most convenient locations.
Some new towns still have no convenient access to rail services.
However even worse examples were demonstrated where the local
railway line or station was either closed or proposed for closure.
Often new town developments were accompanied
by substantial road links such as the M54 to Telford, the subject
of vocal lobbying locally, while the parallel rail service declined.
New roads have not contributed to economic regeneration as expected,
and development has been patchy, particularly in the North.
In retrospect, experience has shown that discouraging
the use of the railway at the early stage of these new urban centres
was demonstrably bad practice, in planning, environmental and
now social inclusion terms. There has been some attempt to redress
this imbalance but the damage was done by planning communities
with low housing densities and widely dispersed population. Where
eventually a more imaginative approach to rail emerged, worthwhile
and well-used services were re-established at Redditch, or expanded
at Cumbernauld. Cars as the dominant mode is increasingly becoming
a problem as local populations age and cannot drive.
Within New Towns planners often sought to separate
pedestrian movement from vehicle movement, using techniques such
as the Radburn principle, specifically tried in Letchworth. Experience
showed that certain estate layouts led to serious social and alienation
problems, often exacerbated by a lack of access to good public
transport; a problem that has become more acute since 1986 and
It is pleasing that where a good rail connection
and a frequent service has been provided, use has increased demonstrating
the "spiral of growth", reversing the spiral of decline
that had affected many other locations with inadequate rail services.
This principle should now urgently be applied to the remaining
major New Towns without rail services: Corby, Peterlee, Skelmersdale
Some individual cases are set out,
commenting not only on the level of access to the local rail service,
but also, where relevant, other particular transport related issues
that have come to our attention.
Some towns designated in the 1960s had established
rail links at existing stations.
Crawley has enjoyed a consistent service to
London but orbital rail links to other local and regional town
centres are relatively limited. Crawley is seeking funds through
its LTP to develop the Fastway bus network, to feed in particular
to major employment centres such as Gatwick airport, but limited
funding allocation from Government and the instability of Arriva
Surrey's bus operations have hindered this development.
Bracknell's rail services have improved with
a general route upgrade offering frequent trains to London and
Reading, serving most main centres en route. Access to rail was
further improved with the opening of Martins Heron station on
the east side of this relatively prosperous new town.
Irvine has enjoyed regular trains on the Ayr
line, now a half-hourly electric service to Glasgow Central, Paisley
and Ayr. Interestingly redevelopment of the town centre is moving
closer to the railway station.
Cumbernauld's link was initially a compromise
arrangement, following route and station closures around Glasgow,
where a half hourly diesel shuttle connected with the Blue Train
Electrics service at Springburn. This operated for nearly 30 years
until a new link at Cowlairs permitted a direct service into Queen
Cumbernauld has benefited not only from a direct
Glasgow service, but trains also serve additional stations, in
particular at Greenfaulds, opened 15 May 1989, giving better access
to the town itself. Trains now continue to Falkirk, a welcome
initiative taken by the privatised operator, Scotrail. Combined
with a new service to Motherwell, a variety of journey opportunities
for both work and optional travel are now available.
Some New Towns developed with inconveniently
Hemel Hempstead on the West Coast main line
with in the London commuter network before services were electrified
in 1966. Hemel Hempstead station, at Boxmoor, is very inconveniently
located. The presence of the new A41 route alongside the railway
(once planned as a motorway) has not enhanced access to the station
or encouraged use of rail. Two services per hour have now increased
to three or four, but this is also due to traffic growth from
Milton Keynes and Northampton. Some passenger traffic also uses
nearly Apsley, where BT has relocated some offices from London.
East Kilbride benefited from a rail service
from the outset, at the end of a suburban branch line from Glasgow.
There has long been a plan to extend the line about half a mile
eastwards to improve access to the town centre but this has not
received support or funding from Government, perceiving other
priorities. East Kilbride should enjoy a more frequent service,
ideally about every 15 minutes, along with most other Strathclyde
region urban and suburban centres to promote greater use of rail
for access to work and other activities.
Some New Towns had new main stations built or
relocated closer to new centres at an early stage.
Harlow Town station was completed in time for
the introduction of electric services in November 1961, and the
half hourly trains quickly became popular with both commuting
and occasional travellers as a viable alternative to the congested
A10 and A11 routes. Some bus links are reasonable but better integration
is required since even the new Harlow Town station is not particularly
close to the town centre.
Stevenage station, relocated from 23 July 1973
to service the new centre, enjoyed similar service levels to nearby
Letchworth, although road links were better as early dualling
of the A1 made car trips easier. Stevenage now has good services
both towards London and other regional centres. Proposed development
west of Stevenage will require a very positive approach to developing
bus-rail integration using service contracts and actively pursuing
planning and local transport policies to discourage car use.
It is interesting to compare the Stevenage and
Harlow experience with other New Towns which were developed without
dedicated stations but relied on stations at existing centres
away from the new centre. This was where adjacent communities
with existing stations were absorbed into the new agglomerations.
Basildon was particularly unsatisfactory, where
the relatively small station at Laindon, two miles to the west,
provided the principal rail access towards London, despite the
fact that the London, Tilbury and Southend Line passed close to
the new town centre. Pitsea station was an alternative, but this
station was two miles east of the town centre. Even when Basildon
station was eventually developed and opened on 25 November 1974,
it was only on the understanding that it was at no cost to the
then British Railways Board.
Milton Keynes was served by Bletchley and Wolverton
stations which benefited from the "new" electric services
to and from London Euston or Birmingham. Experience has shown
that travel patterns could have been influenced far more by a
cohesive local transport policy that integrated bus and rail.
The new station was not opened until 15 May 1982 but it is now
served by about half of the West Coast Main Line expresses, as
well as all of the local and semi-fast County services, about
six trains per hour to London and one or two to Birmingham. The
Bedford to Bletchley line retains an hourly service but it has
not been diverted to Milton Keynes Central, even though a consortium
of LAs has promoted this link as part of the East-West rail project.
The Wolverton to Newport Pagnell branch line alignment is now
in part a cycleway but is also partly built on.
Telford in Shropshire was served through Oakengates
until its dedicated station was opened on 12 May 1986. Wellington
(now suffixed Telford West) station also had a regular service,
including some express trains to London, but New Hadley station
nearby was abandoned. Initially relatively few trains operated
through to Birmingham. A skeleton service to London but this has
been discontinued as locomotive hauled trains are to be withdrawn
on the West Coast route. Telford now has a reasonable service
with three trains per hour to Wolverhampton; two fast trains to
Birmingham and one stopping service to Walsall. Trains run about
every half hour to Shrewsbury, but only every two hours to Chester
or Mid Wales over the Cambrian route.
The infrequency of trains calling at Oakengates,
now two-hourly, the demise of New Hadley along with relatively
poor services at peripheral locations such as Shifnal (hourly)
or Cosford (two hourly) shows little real interest in promoting
rail for local access journeys, which should increase if trains
operated half hourly. Telford and Wrekin Council, now a unitary
LA is taking steps to promote greater public transport use through
Bus Quality Partnerships. The ongoing land disposal by EPs is
generating some funding for public transport investment but there
is still a notable lack of integration with rail. (No attempt
was ever made to evaluate the possible use of the freight branch
to Buildwas and Ironbridge for any form of rail passenger service.)
Some towns had very poor services
initially but have now benefited from substantially improved services.
Redditch was a Beeching Report closure proposal,
which surprisingly was pursued after designation as a new town.
Closure notices were issued but the service survived only because
of a vigorous campaign by local commuters to retain it, pointing
out that future growth could again justify a better service. Closure
was not approved, but the train service was duly cut from hourly
with an extra peak service to three trains daily in 1966. British
Railways' local management showed little interest in developing
the service, being content to leave public transport to Midland
Red (now part of First Group), the local National Bus Company
This continued until the West Midlands PTE,
now Centro, worked closely with Worcestershire CC and the Redditch
Development Corporation to promote an improved rail service as
a "bolt on" to the invigorated Cross City Line from
Longbridge to Lichfield. The service now operates half-hourly
all day from 06.30 weekdays (09.30 Sunday) to 23.30; this is the
maximum physical capacity of the existing single-track branch
The opportunity to enhance rail access within
the new town area was lost with the total abandonment of the route
beyond Redditch station towards Studley. Reconstruction of about
one mile of abandoned route is technically feasible, to extend
the railway close to a major road intersection in the Smallwood
district and serve a wider catchment area, but the cost may be
prohibitive. An extension to Studley could be rather complex.
Several centres had stations provided
eventually, but in these cases stations were located away from
the new commercial centres, simply because town centres were planned
without fully considering a rail facility and away from the rail
route. Some have benefited from new or substantially improved
services, others have not.
Cwmbran station opened on 12 May 1986, providing
a link primarily to Newport and Cardiff with trains running about
every hour, but with some 90-minute service gaps. Cwmbran has
not enjoyed the more positive approach to investing in rail infrastructure
and subsidy of services taken by South Glamorgan CC.
Livingston benefited from two rail initiatives
in the mid 1980s, previously having no direct rail link to Edinburgh
or Glasgow. Livingston South station opened on 6 October 1984
but the more significant project was reopening the freight line
to Bathgate for passenger services, with new stations at Livingston
North and Uphall opening from 24 March 1986. This very successful
service has attracted significant traffic volumes to justify a
half hourly service and is now to be linked into the new Edinburgh
Crossrail service. This has been very successful in promoting
commuter and optional journeys away from car use.
Glenrothes and Thornton station was opened on
11 May 1992 to enable the town to benefit from the newly established
Fife Cycle service from Edinburgh. Thornton had also suffered
decline following the run-down of the relatively modern deep coalmine.
The town has also been served by Markinch station to the east
on the direct line to Dundee, with trains generally hourly, so
commuting to Edinburgh is now a viable option.
Newton Aycliffe, which falls within the Sedgefield
constituency, had a new station opened on 1 January 1978; the
lack of a station was highlighted during the 1975 Stockton &
Darlington Railway anniversary celebrations. An acceptable hourly
interval service has been cut to a two-hourly service. The rail
service throughout the corridor from Bishop Auckland to Saltburn
has suffered decline, from the excellent half-hourly frequency
provided in the 1960s, serving considerable numbers of steelworkers
at Middlesborough and Redcar to the present electric services
which vary from about half hourly at main centres to two-hourly
at Dinsdale and over the Bishop Auckland branch. This is an excellent
example of a local and regional rail link being marginalised by
train operators, planners and local and national politicians when
trains could access new job opportunities.
New towns without direct rail links
to the nearest major centre.
Rail service planning and operation bore little
relation to new town development in the 1960s as rail services
and stations, or the railway route serving some emerging new towns
were discontinued and closed, such as Corby and Washington, or
abandoned completely at Skelmersdale. However the northeast demonstrated
even worse practice, where Peterlee had a railway with a regular
service but no station, having previously had two.
Washington was designated a New Town as the
local railway line closed in 1962, apparently with no objections
to the withdrawal of the one train per week! Some attempt was
made to ameliorate the situation at Washington by integrating
bus services with both local rail and the Tyne & Wear Metro
services at Heworth or Gateshead. This very successful experiment
was almost killed off by the Transport Act 1985. Despite the unsatisfactory
deregulation regime, some integrated services remain. The town
is now experiencing a particular problem as older residents increasingly
have to give up their cars and services are not accessible.
We are concerned that no firm commitment has
been made for Rail Passenger Partnership funding for reopening
the Leamside Line from Ferryhill to Pelaw to provide a service
to Washington and wider access to employment opportunities, as
this reinstated section will also relieve the East Coast Main
Line. This is an interesting case as the Tyne & Wear PTE originally
planned for the Metro to reach Sunderland via Washington New Town,
partly using the Leamside Line, a new alignment and restoring
the complete route through South Hilton, which has been partly
reinstated from the Sunderland direction. The feasibility of this
alternative should be re-evaluated, and could still be considered
on the basis of an earlier consultant's study.
Peterlee has never had convenient rail services
to either Newcastle or Tees-side. Easington and Horden stations
closed leaving potential rail users with an awkward road journey
to the nearest stations; Durham (10m) or Seaham (7m). Railfuture
welcomes proposals for new stations serving Peterlee at Easington
Corby in Northamptonshire is an unusual case
where a new town developed around one major industry, steel, which
required a rail link, but without having a passenger train service.
It ceased when the alternative route from London to Nottingham
via Manton was abandoned! Despite an attempt under the "Speller"
Amendment provisions to run an experimental service, which started
on 13 April 1987, funding was withdrawn after three years from
this frankly half-hearted effort, and it was abandoned on 4 June
1990. Corby is an example where Government, the SRA, rail operators
and some local planners have consistently failed to identify the
need for a regular through rail service to Kettering and beyond
towards London, even as part of the refranchising programme. This
must be corrected if Corby is to achieve growth similar to Northampton
and other towns.
Skelmersdale similarly lost its rail links,
albeit only freight connections, but no attempt was made to re-establish
passenger rail service links to Liverpool or other centres. This
is very unsatisfactory because an inadequate hourly train service
only serves Upholland to the south-eastern periphery of the town.
There is no through service to Liverpool, passengers must first
use the infrequent connecting service to Kirkby. Railway and regional
planners have consistently avoided the issue of extending the
Merseyrail Electric service either over a new link into Skelmersdale
town centre, or to Upholland and Wigan, or both to improve access
Rail links often emerged as an afterthought,
although at a few locations rail was seen as an important element
at a relatively early stage in the development of some new towns.
Invariably little integration between bus and rail was achieved
although there were a few notable exceptions prior to 1986.
Prevailing land use planning policies led to
low density housing development that suited car travel. Local
bus routes were lengthy and circuitous to serve widespread communities.
Services were often relatively infrequent, and seen as inefficient,
inconvenient and slow. This further reinforced the planned "need"
to provide for the car as preferred mode, wrongly so as this reduced,
not increased choice for many new-town dwellers.
Some centres developed dedicated bus services,
and Milton Keynes was one of the first to plan a subsidised network,
promoted by MK Development Corporation. It was contracted to NBC
subsidiary United Counties. However such networks were exceptional
and performance was patchy. Since 1986 local "bus wars"
have destabilised MK's bus services. Current service patterns
are not entirely satisfactory and integration with local rail
is limited. Some regional rail-link coach services do operate
however from Milton Keynes Central station.
London Country Buses experimented with the Stevenage
Superbus concept. This brought urban operating principles of the
(then new) one person operated Red Arrow buses and the suburban
short hop flat fare routes to a new town. Single deck opo buses
ran at relatively high frequencies over core routes linking the
town and station with principal commercial districts. This early
experiment with integration was later abandoned when a more stringent
financial regime was imposed on London County Buses' operations
under NBC management.
Runcorn's dedicated busway was not hailed as
a success. Again the lack of integration with the relatively infrequent
rail services has not presented the image of an effective integrated
public transport network for the area, despite the opening of
a second station, Runcorn East, in October 1983. Runcorn could
benefit from investment in other local rail services and restored
links, in particular a regular service between Chester and Mersey
to Widnes, also poorly served by local rail services.
Redditch demonstrated the slow development of
good practice, building on a basic extant facility and developing
a much improved rail link. The railway station is close to bus
termini, and a new bus station should promote greater integration
between bus and rail. Some local bus services now run at urban
frequencies during the daytime, scope for more service and ticketing
integration and better evening and Sunday services could emerge
from a service contract arrangement to remove wasteful and unnecessary
competition from principal routes, and use resources to provide
a wider service network all day, every day.
The only significant undertaking to develop
a fully integrated network was the Tyne & Wear PTE. Bus services
from Washington New Town and other South Tyneside districts were
contracted by the PTE to NBC subsidiary Northern General (now
Go-Ahead Northern) to integrate with both local rail and Metro
services at Heworth or Gateshead. One particularly unsatisfactory
impact of the Transport Act 1985 and its deregulation policy was
to emasculate this very successful policy. The then Minister for
Transport, the late Lord Nicholas Ridley, refused a London-style
exemption to allow operation of a tendered network. This policy
has resulted in a dramatic fall of both bus and metro ridership
within the region. Although limited integrated ticketing continues,
without the full service integration regime under PTE control,
growth will be limited.
Railfuture argues that in Tyne & Wear, reverting
to a contractually based bus network could help reverse the dramatic
fall within the region of both bus and metro ridership over the
15 years from 1986. It could also influence the ongoing changes
to employment patterns and bring regeneration to centres with
a higher provision of, and dependence on, good integrated public
Lastly it is important to look briefly at English
Partnerships' involvement in "edge of centre" redevelopment
schemes aimed to promote regeneration. We cite just one example
of the woefully inadequate public transport provision, the Heartlands
area of East Birmingham. Two major housing developments were planned
in the 60s, Castle Vale (Birmingham) and Chelmsley Wood (Solihull).
The industrial base and employment patterns have changed within
the Heartlands Corridor, but EP's involvement has fostered road
based "regeneration" with scant regard for rail transport,
even though the sites of two abandoned stations remain extant
and could be reinstated with relative ease. The corridor is now
dominated by three dual carriageway routes, all of which are congested.
The benefits of local rail transport has often
been undervalued in regeneration over the last 40 years. During
the emergence of the New Towns, the role of rail links was often
at best marginalised, at worst ignored as demonstrated with two
New Towns in Durham. The fact that some rail links were closed
and abandoned is an unsatisfactory legacy that may be difficult
to correct, but certainly not impossible and at a relatively modest
In particular improvements to, or in four cases
reinstatement of, rail services are essential. Also bus to rail
integration facilities must be actively encouraged along with
better facilities for cyclists and park and ride where possible.
This should facilitate access to jobs in a wider area, providing
a real alternative to car travel.
Railfuture urges the Committee to press both
English Partnerships and the relevant Local Authorities to work
together to ensure land and funding is made available for public
transport investment, through S106 agreements wherever these are
appropriate. Bus services should be contracted to develop cohesive
It is important for the Committee to secure
evidence to demonstrate LAs are pursuing sustainable transport
policies that also make the best use of existing resources. One
example will be where town-centre bus facilities are some distance
away from the railway station, a requirement must be placed on
operators to link the two facilities and ensure buses on all core
routes within the township link with trains from 06.00 hours to