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

Memorandum by North Ayrshire Council (NT 45)


  This memorandum is our response to your invitation to comment on whether the problems and issues raised by English authorities with New Towns were reflected elsewhere in Britain.

  North Ayrshire Council is a unitary authority situated on the west coast of Scotland some 40 kilometres south of Glasgow and with an area extending to 450 square kilometres. Irvine is the main administrative centre of the authority. Irvine New Town (1966-97) incorporating the ancient burghs of Irvine and Kilwinning is located within North Ayrshire. On designation, the combined populations of Irvine and Kilwinning was 34,000.

  The press notice announcing the inquiry states that the Sub-Committee will wish to examine five issues and this memorandum is limited to these areas of investigation.


  "The extent to which the original design of the New Towns is leading to concerns about their long term sustainability, in particular the effect of their design on urban management, how car dependence might be reduced and the balance between new development and the regeneration of older parts of the towns."

  Irvine was unique amongst British new towns in that it is located on the coast. A further feature is the system of river valleys that runs through the New Town area. These valleys containing extensive flood plains of unbuildable land provided the opportunity to develop a town-wide framework of linked open spaces. To that framework were added other areas which also were incapable of development, mainly for reasons of undermining. The most notable of these latter is Eglinton Country Park which is 500 hectares in extent although much of that land is actively farmed. Open space available for recreation within the New Town area amounts to 900 hectares.

  In time and with proper care and maintenance the open space network has a good chance of attaining Ebenezer Howard's ideal of a green and leafy place. However, it is difficult to move towards this ideal using existing financial allocations. An important element in the transfer of assets from the Development Corporation to the local authority was agreement to a balancing package. This is causing difficulties that will be commented on in a later section of this memorandum.

  The essential point is that if sufficient financial resources are made available the designed open space and landscape network of the New Town is fully sustainable.

  Car dependence is not an issue in the New Town. Ownership rates are below the national average, areas of existing and potential congestion were tackled early on in the New Town's life and the road hierarchy and structure is capable of accommodating predictable increases in car ownership. It is also believed that the road network is capable of being modified or even radically changed in response to changing circumstances which might arise following shifts in urban management philosophies.

  Regeneration of older parts of the town is a problem for the authority because all properties inherited from the Development Corporation were built within a relatively short timescale. Unfortunately, the period of greatest construction activity was the late 60's and all of the 70's, historically not a period admired for robust construction. Accordingly, a disproportionate amount of the Council's budget is directed at addressing problems of repair and maintenance of inherited housing stock. This is not to argue that the New Town built to standards that were lower than those current at the time. Indeed there are many instances of housing in particular being built to standards that are much higher than was the norm. The fact remains, however, that after 30 years houses tend to require new windows, new doors, new central heating systems and new kitchens. Offices built in the same era tend to require refurbishment to bring them up to a standard acceptable in 2002.

  While it is reasonable to expect an authority to find ways of coping with issues of planned maintenance, there ought to be a recognition that in the case of this authority (and we suspect in most authorities with New Towns) additional financial burdens are being carried because so much of the stock requires high levels of remedial investment at or about the same time.


  "Whether social exclusion in the New Towns is being exacerbated by the current Government approach to regeneration and neighbourhood renewal, in particular in relation to small pockets of deprivation."

  Social exclusion is less of a problem in former Corporation housing areas than in many other Council housing areas within the New Town. In general terms this should not come as a surprise because the household mix was matched to the population structure of the time and all housing/contract areas formed part of planned neighbourhood communities.

  There are, however, several areas of former Development Corporation Housing with high levels of social deprivation and social dysfunction, which suffer the attendant problems of litter, fly-tipping and vandalism. In some of these areas the original design (the short-life detailing of a local centre for example) positively encourages anti-social behaviour. In these situations localised redevelopment may be necessary. Comprehensive redevelopment is properly a matter for the local authority. However, at the time of the transfer of assets it was not predicted that the physical and social fabric of these localised areas would prove so fragile as to require their imminent redevelopment and consequently the costs of replacement were not considered.


  "Issues relating to the organisations and regulations operating in the New Towns, in particular:

    —  The consequences of English Partnerships' control of the land supply and its role in the planning system.

    —  The effect of the transfer of assets and liabilities to local authorities.

    —  The role of local authorities, residuary bodies and non-Departmental Public Bodies in promoting sustainable regeneration in the New Towns."

  In the periods leading up to the wind-up of the five Scottish New Towns, the Scottish Office was insistent that there would be no residual body and therefore Scotland has escaped the tensions and difficulties associated with the Commission for New Towns (CNT) and English Partnerships. However, there is one underlying issue of relevance on both sides of the Border. CNT was established to oversee the transfer of assets between New Towns, local authorities and others. Originally it operated as a form of transitional guardian. However, in the last three decades the Government view changed. In the case of Irvine, the Corporation was instructed to sell off most of its assets to the highest bidder with the revenue generated being retained by the Government—the argument being that since Government money had been used to create the assets, the revenue rightly belonged to Government. This ignores the view that the wealth had been created by the community and should have been (at least in part) retained within the community.


  "The role of the New Towns in their regional economies, in both the industrial/commercial and housing markets and their effect on surrounding conurbations."

  Irvine was designated as a New Town with the specific purpose of creating an economic growth point in North Ayrshire. While it is true that much of the incoming population came from overcrowded city areas, it was decreed that population movement had to follow job creation. Early New Town economic development successes followed on from Irvine Burgh's conspicuous success in attracting manufacturing industries to the burgh. Throughout the life of the New Town the emphasis changed in response to changing circumstances. Latterly, with the establishment of Riverside Businesses Park, the New Town secured a strong presence in high-tech and communication industries. The Business Park offers in a campus setting well-designed buildings with room to expand. It can offer either ready built units or individually commissioned new units. While the much-lauded "single door" approach has gone now, the opportunity to build on the success of the Business Park and the success of other employment areas remains.

  The New Town has been fortunate in being able to accommodate retail development within or adjacent to the historic centre of Irvine. While the early decision to create a shopping mall spanning the River Irvine from the old High Street was controversial, there is no doubt that it created the opportunity for further retail expansion to take place as a natural continuation of the first developments. Thus the trend towards large units selling food, household goods, DIY and gardening products etc has been accommodated at a maximum distance of 800 metres from the traditional High Street. In this respect, while there are problems, especially with the offices associated with early retail development, the problems are shared with similar structures built in the same era by other authorities and are not unique to New Towns.

  Private housing which represented only 28 per cent of the total housing stock in 1967 has been successfully encouraged in the New Town area partly because the Corporation offered sites that were well planned, well landscaped and in which services were brought up to the edge of each site prior to disposal. Currently, approximatly 60 per cent of the stock is in private ownership. Of course not all of this increase is as a result of private development as such, since during the same period considerable financial encouragement was given to those who wished to purchase their own publicly rented house.

  Today the private housing market is especially buoyant in the middle range of the market. The upper range has continued to operate at a fairly sluggish rate.


  "Whether the Government should change its policy in respect of design, regeneration and social inclusion in the New Towns."

  We are not aware of any government policy that relates specifically to New Towns. However, as we have attempted to outline in this memorandum, there are several problems that are unique to authorities with New Towns. Central Government and the Scottish Executive should consider how best they might amend existing policies and financial allocations to take account of these problems.

  Specifically, while the real wealth of our community is the population who live here, the financial wealth of the New Town—its employment and commercial developments—has been taken from it. As early as 1989 with the publication of "The Scottish New Towns: The Way Ahead", government was clear that transferring assets to the local authority was "unlikely to be an effective option". Many of our difficulties could be resolved locally had the wealth been retained.

  That did not happen and therefore there ought to be a recognition that the extensive open space network requires additional resources if it is to become fully sustainable, that extensive modernisation and upgrading of former New Town housing and commercial stock is required within a very short space of time and that there are pockets of physical and social deprivation and dysfunction which do not necessarily show up in statistical analyses which nevertheless require urgent and inevitably costly intervention.

  Despite the issues that have been raised in this memorandum, the New Town experience overall has been a success for North Ayrshire in which (especially in the later years of the Corporation's life) the local authority and the New Town Corporation worked closely together for the greater good of Irvine and the whole of North Ayrshire.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 August 2002