Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

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 Towns—their problems and future.

  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 were provided.

    —  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 provided—rail 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 Electrics network.

  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 centre.

  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 bus deregulation.

  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 and Washington.

    —  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 Street.

  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 located stations.

  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 (NBC) subsidiary.

  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 line.

  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 and Horden.

  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 to jobs.


  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 transport.

  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 cost.

  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 networks.

  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 midnight.

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