Supplementary memorandum by Halton Borough
Council (NT 07(b))
Response from Halton Borough Council to
the further questions raised by the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee
of the House of Commons Select Committee for Transport, Local
Government and the Regions
To be read in conjunction with Halton Borough
Council's initial memorandum of evidence.
1. What was the original objective of the
The prime purpose of the New Town was to provide
housing and employment for people from Liverpool and North Merseyside,
planned for an ultimate population of 100,000 (90-95,000 by the
year 2000, the existing population being around 27,000).
The Master Plan designer was Arthur Ling. His
introduction to the 1967 Master Plan described a number of subsidiary
To use the opportunity to advance
the art and science of town planning to create a new environment
and a new community for people moving in as well as those already
To foster an integrated community
in which all sections of society are anxious to play their part.
To achieve unity and balance between
all elements of the town: between population and employment, housing
and social services, urbanity and landscape, public and private
transport, utility and amenity.
To achieve a planned balance between
public and private transport to give good accessibility and a
genuine sense of belonging to a close-knit community.
To achieve unification between old
To take advantage of the unique physical
and landscape features of the site.
To accommodate changing methods of
industrial production and greater automation, new forms of housing
and shopping, increasing demand for recreational and cultural
facilities, and new developments in means of transport.
2. Which of those objectives do you think
have been met?
In total these objectives are ambitious, even
idealistic, so it is not surprising that we have seen varying
degrees of success in their achievement. Because of changing household
characteristics and a certain level of out-migration the target
population was never reached. The actual population of Runcorn
in year 2000 (62,730) was around two thirds of the target figure.
The New Town did indeed cater for new forms
of housing and shopping, but as has been described in our main
Memorandum, it was the more radical designs that in the end proved
the least appropriate to deal with changing circumstances.
Likewise, the New Town did attempt to cater
for new means of transportthe segregated Busway system
initially being devised for tram or monorail rather than for the
single-deck buses finally chosen. However, levels of public transport
usage never achieved the levels assumed by the designers. For
example, they assumed a 50:50 public/private transport split for
internal work journeys, whereas the recent actual figure is more
The objective of unification between old and
new was never fully achieved. By its very nature the New Town
concept was always going to be seen by existing residents as an
unwelcome intrusion, but in the event this was intensified by
the feeling that a very workable, traditional town centre had
been sacrificed in the cause of an over-ambitious Shopping City.
This never fulfilled its potential, with the end result that everyone
felt they had lost out.
Runcorn is centrally located in the "Mersey
Belt", between the Merseyside and Manchester conurbations.
In the terms of a study now being concluded by the North West
Development Agency, Runcorn is one of the meeting points of the
Mersey Belt's economically buoyant "Southern Crescent"
and the more problematic "Metropolitan Axis". It therefore
has a potentially key role to serve as one of the gateways between
these zones, with development potential that is complementary
to each. Its degree of success in this role will be crucially
dependent upon two factors:
Securing a second road crossing of
the Mersey at this point.
A recognition that, even with a strong
national and regional emphasis on brownfield sites, selective
greenfield developments have an important contributory role in
4. To what extent is the original masterplan
for the town still used as a guiding principle for development
The New Town scheme has provided the physical
framework that continues to act as a decisive influence on the
broad location and nature of future development. The main departure
from original intentions has been in East Runcorn, for three key
Earlier reservations for special
industrial use (new ICI installations) proved unnecessary and
made way for the general employment allocations now known as Manor
Successes at Manor Park coupled with
the emergence of the Business Park concept gave rise to the Daresbury
Park proposal immediately to the East of the NT Designated Area
and the exclusion of that area from the Green Belt. It is noteworthy
that Daresbury Park is now recognised by the North West Development
Agency as one of its Regional Strategic Sites.
The emerging UDP consolidates the
general buoyancy of East Runcorn by proposing further housing
and employment allocations, using greenfield land but specifically
designed as a "sustainable urban extension".
At Halton Lea (formerly Shopping City) there
have been significant departures from the original design concept
for two key reasons:
The over-elaborate access arrangements
ground-level car access (with multi-storey parking) and upper-level
bus and pedestrian accessnever worked well. The complications
militated against its becoming a user-friendly centre attracting
shoppers from further afield. The quality and range of shopping
and allied business services remained deficient. In planning policy
terms this led to a review of the balance of provision between
Shopping City and Runcorn "Old Town". The respective
centres now have equal status, whereas the Master Plan regarded
the Old Town as a district centre.
The access problems also led to the
abandonment of the earlier intention of extending Shopping City
at the same upper level, in favour of ground-level developments
in retail park-style.
5. How well have the old and new parts of
your town been integrated? If they have not been well integrated,what
form does this take in physical/spatial terms and what are the
implications of this for the growth of the town?
The different phases of the New Town have very
different characteristics. The earlier phases met the need for
rehousing from Merseyside through the large-scale provision of
social housing, including two areas of high density deck-access
flats. Later phases took the form of readying sites for private
development, much of this being medium-density detached housing
to meet the changing market demand. The different patterns of
development have led to very different planning and management
issues. The earlier stock has remained predominantly in public
ownership, being transferred from the Development Corporation
to a group of Housing Associations.
As explained more fully in the initial memorandum,
the Housing Associations have met a number of difficulties in
refurbishing or adapting their New Town stock. In the case of
two New Town neighbourhoods (Southgate and Castlefields) the high-density
deck access schemes have given rise to particularly acute problems.
The regeneration of these estates has entailed, or will entail,
significant demolitions followed by redevelopment along more conventional
6. Has/can the town achieve the population
that was originally planned?
At year 2000 the population of Runcorn was 62,370
compared to the New Town target of 90-95,000, and around 830 lower
than the 1995 figure. The lesser population figure is partly due
to the national phenomenon of reducing household size and partly
due to continuing trend of net out-migration experienced by both
Runcorn and Widnes. The Borough Council has a general aim, expressed
in the emerging Unitary Development Plan, of reversing this trend.
The provision of sites attractive to the private housing market
is a key part of the strategy, allied to continued efforts to
diversify the economy away from its previous heavy dependence
on the chemicals sectors. The former New Town sites in East Runcorn,
now owned by English Partnerships, are a very important component
of the overall stock of housing land.
7. How does the age profile of your population
relate to the national average? Is this related to your being
a New Town? How do local agencies and strategies respond to that?
Runcorn's peak New Town influx was 20-25 years
ago. The young families who moved in at that time have now grown
up. This has led to a differentie higherprofiling
for Halton in the current 40-54 age bands compared to the national
average. These persons would have been in their 20s when they
moved here. Their children are now aged 5-19, and Halton has a
higher proportion for all these ages than England and Wales. Halton's
profiling is dramatically different in the 20-24 age group, where
young people who leave home to study tend not to return to Halton.
This reflects a number of factors, including the local job market
which offers insufficient job opportunities for graduates. The
30-39 age group has a lower representation than elsewhere in England
and Wales, reflecting those young families who have moved outoften
those with more "get up and go". The lower proportions
of the older age groups in Halton completes the overall younger
age profile the New Town has brought Halton. The differences,
are however, smaller than previously as the "younger"
feel to the population grows up.
We are uncertain of the extent to which the
implications of the different profiles have been fully explored
in other agency strategies and programmes. However, the newer
arrangements for inter-agency collaboration through Local Strategic
Partnerships should help to ensure full use of common core data
such as population characteristics.
8. How strong is the demand for the existing
commercial land? Is there demand for further commercial development
in the town? What is the effect of commercial development in the
town on other towns in the sub-regional economy?
Runcorn certainly benefits from a good stock
of well-serviced and well-marketed employment sites resulting
from the New Town programme. Demand is strong in the newer areas
of East Runcorn, in particular for distribution uses at Manor
Park East, and business uses at the non-New Town zone at Daresbury
Park. Demand is weaker in the older employment area of Astmoor.
There is little demand for commercial office development in any
of the town centre areas.
One consequence of the New Town programme is
that the Runcorn portfolio of sites is much stronger than that
in Widnes, within the same Borough. There is an expectation among
Widnes residents and employers that this imbalance will be addressed
9. Can you describe the sub-regional planning
arrangements that are in place to regulate/facilitate development?
Can you describe the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach?
Halton Borough Council became a Unitary Authority
in 1998, since when a number of sub-regional arrangements have
changed, with the position still evolving. For certain matters
Halton is part of "Greater Merseyside", which includes
financial commitment to a number of joint advisory services within
the Merseyside Network. For other matters, in particular police
and fire services, and in dealings with the Environment Agency,
Halton retains a Cheshire focus.
For the purposes of sub-regional planning Halton
is definitely within the Merseyside fold, and meets regularly
with the NWRA's Regional Planning Team on this basis. The prime
strength of this relationship is that Halton shares many of the
characteristics of the other constituent authorities, leading
to considerable unity of purpose.
The prime weakness of the current approach is
that there is no statutory basis for the production of a definitive
sub-regional plan or strategy. Some preparatory work on a sub-regional
planning strategy was undertaken to feed into the review of Regional
Planning Guidance for the North West, but in the absence of a
clear statutory basis or remit it was inevitable that this work
had to make way for other, more immediate priorities.
10. What is the regional/sub-regional role
of the shopping centre in your town? What investment is proposed
in the town centre area in the next few years?
As hinted above, the New Town centre at Halton
Lea serves only a local role, and there are continuing concerns
as to the quality of the non-food retail offer. A study by retail
consultants of current conditions and prospects for the Borough's
three main centres is underway at presentfollowing up earlier
work conducted as background to the emerging Halton UDP. It is
not anticipated that this study will point to a need for additional
retail floorspace, but it may well contain recommendations that
require an update of the three Town Centre Strategies (published
11. Can you give some numerical examples
of the problems that have arisen with clawback and covenants in
housing, amenity space and other land uses?
No significant problems have arisen from clawback
payments, although such issues do complicate redevelopment proposals
and cause uncertainty. A good example is the Castlefields estate,
where the release of and the valuation of clawback sites are vital
components of the emerging regeneration strategy. Currently these
problems are minimised through Partnership working, but still
need particular effort and joint agreement to resolve.
12. The Committee has been made aware that
in some cases clawback has made Right to Buy marginal or even
negative, in terms of receipts to the local authority. Has this
been the case in your authority, if so can you give a financial
example? What are the implications of this?
This is not an issue for Halton Council as all
New Town public housing stock was transferred to RSL's.
13. Can you quantify the outstanding liabilities
facing your authority, firstly as a result of the package of assets
and liabilities transferred to the authority at the winding up
of the Development Corporation and secondly as a result of design
and other issues relating to the New Town?
The liabilities transferred from the Development
Corporation comprise around 68 small parcels of land (sites of
former dwelling houses) that now offer car parking facilities
in the old town and the supports / buffer zones to the bridge
approaches. The assets transferred comprise a community centre,
four aged town centre retail units, two pub freeholds, and two
14. How does the financial value of the liabilities
caused as a result of your town being a New Town, compare to the
financial value of the remaining assets held by English Partnerships
in the town?
The capitalised value of the liabilities transferred
under CRA is £10 million. We do not hold a list of assets
retained by English Partnerships so we are unable to compare this
£10 million with the value of EP assets.
15. To what extent has English Partnerships
participated in regeneration partnerships in your town?
EP has been a constant, active partner in numerous
regeneration initiatives, including various ad hoc programmes,
as well as the more systematic bids and programmes relating to
SRB, derelict land, and Neighbourhood Renewal. Previously, the
key partnership arrangement was the Halton Partnership, now enlarged
and subsumed into the Halton LSP.
16. Many of the submissions have referred
to the inadequacy of the existing SSA to reflect the needs of
the New Towns. Can you detail those weaknesses and set out any
suggestions about how any successor to the SSA could be improved?
EXISTING SSA ARRANGEMENTS:
The current SSA methodology has been frozen
for the previous four years. Within the EPCS block, SSA is allocated
based on a number of assumptions:
High density equals high costs.
High deprivation equals high costs.
High sparsity equals high costs.
The above assumptions are valid for the traditional
structure of most towns and cities but they ignore some of the
basic make-up of New Towns. New Towns have large open spaces and
footpaths interspersed with its housing. This disadvantages New
Towns on two fronts:
The high costs associated with grounds
maintenance and footpaths are not recognised within the SSA.
The structure of new towns prevents
overall high densities, which are rewarded within the current
Many New Towns, including Runcorn, were built
in the 1970s and now require high levels of structural maintenance
and refurbishment. These costs are not recognised within the SSA
For example, the New Town is serviced by 24
kilometres of busway. The Authority is responsible for carrying
out any repairs and maintenance. However, the busway is adopted
as part of the "unclassified" network, and because the
actual vehicle flows are comparatively low, the Council receives
only minimal funding through the SSA formula. The New Town also
has an extensive footpath network, deliberately planned to be
separate from the highway network. These footpaths are adopted,
but the associated maintenance costs and liabilities are not accounted
for in the SSA formula. The maintenance costs can be disproportionately
high due to the difficulties of machine access away from the roadside.
Other areas of disadvantage include the lack
of appreciation of the fixed costs of Local Authorities. Runcorn
has been experiencing a declining population, with many of the
second generation adults moving out of the borough leaving behind
the elderly and less well off.
The running costs of the council do not reduce
at the same rate as the falling SSA (which reduces due to the
falling population). Furthermore, the residual population tend
to have higher costs associated with them because of the reason
In general there are a number of areas in which
reform to the SSA mechanism would benefit new towns, as detailed
Full recognition of the current levels
Move away from using Census data towards data
that can be updated every year.
Make greater use of Index of Multiple Deprivation
Removal of the inequality of the
Area Cost Adjustment mechanism:
Base funding on the specific costs of providing
services in London.
Take realistic account of the problems
associated with the effects of falling population:
Costs do not reduce at the same rate as the falling
More needy population remains behind.
Move away from funding based regression
Take account of a realistic tax base,
the Council Tax revaluation needs to happen sooner rather than
17. Has the pattern of ownership and CNT/EP's
role had any implication in your ability to develop a housing
strategy for the area?
The pattern of ownership and CNT's role has
not caused any problems in developing an effective housing strategy
within the Borough. As mentioned earlier, the extent of EP ownership
in East Runcorn has had a significant influence on the spatial
planning policies, both of the adopted Halton Local Plan and the
emerging Halton UDP.
18. What is the balance between the original
design/materials used and lack of maintenance/resources for maintenance
in the causes of the poor housing conditions found in some of
the New Towns?
The socially rented housing within the New Town
was transferred to the RUNHAG group of Registered Social Landlords
(RSLs) some 12 years ago. Since then the RSLs have largely solved
the problems of ongoing maintenance/improvement of the housing
by investing the dowry they received for this purpose and by employing
their own resources to the task. This action has included the
demolition of the former Southgate estate and the improvement
of the bulk of the stock elsewhere.
However, due to the nature of the housing, serious
problems still remain due to design issues. In particular a significant
proportion of the stock consists of either concrete deck access
flats or properties built with non-traditional finishes. Another
contributory factor is the layout of the estates which are unsuited
to modern life eg Radburn layouts, and have significant areas
of public open space. Thus the vast bulk of housing problems relate
to the original design and not the maintenance of the individual
properties. This can be shown by the Council involvement within
the Castlefields redevelopment proposals which look to demolish
600 deck access flats and their replacement with 350 new RSL properties
within a wider context of Urban Regeneration, involving the development
of private housing and new shopping and community facilities.
19. Has your design led to problems with
crime? If so, have you looked at ways to design out crime? Are
there any funding streams currently available to address this
particular problem and if so how successful have you been at bidding
for such funding?
Has your design led to problems with crime?
Crime is a symptom of deeper social problems.
Design alone does not make a criminal, but it can provide opportunities
for crime to be committed. Opportunist crime accounts for approximately
80 per cent of the total, and such criminals will always seek
and assess the best locations to commit a crime, ie a footpath
that leads to a back garden or a poorly lit, secluded area. The
simple answer to the question is YES. Developments such as Southgate,
Castlefields and many more of the New Town housing estates within
Runcorn did not consider "Designing out Crime" measures,
including Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)
and therefore the design of these estates has provided the opportunist
criminal with an easier target than some of the more traditional
If so, have you considered Designing Out Crime?
In the early 1990s the first blocks at Southgate
were demolished and the new housing estate later called Hallwood
Park was constructed to include CPTED measures. The estate was
later awarded "Secured by Design" status, the Police
national award scheme for designing out crime in residential housing.
Another successful project in Runcorn was the
re-design of the Shopping City car parks at Halton Lea (as it
is now called). In the 1970s these car parks experienced very
serious crime problems, concerning both vehicles and, more importantly,
personal safety. The car parks have since received large investment
from the Management Company and have successfully achieved Secure
Car Park status. Crime has significantly reduced and the fear
of crime is now eliminated, with the company and the shops seeing
a sudden increase in car and shopper usage.
Other housing developments in the New Town owned
by Housing Associations, such as in Palacefields and Castlefields,
are actively refurbishing or redeveloping, adopting the principles
of CPTED and considering safety as a primary factor.
Are there any funding streams available to address
this problem, and if so how successful have you been at bidding?
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on
how the question is interpreted) the crime figures on the Halton
housing estates are below the threshold for applying for funding
under the Home Office Crime Reduction Programme and Burglary Reduction
Initiative. However, the authority has benefited from the Home
Office CCTV initiative and has installed cameras within the Runcorn
area. It should be noted that there is a significant revenue expenditure
associated with CCTVmonitoring and maintenance as well
as line rental chargeswhich has to be borne by the Council.
Overall, direct funding to address security
matters is relatively low, and the main funding has to come from
private investment, or from the Housing Associations who now own
the vast proportion of rented housing stock within the New Town.
20. What are you doing through your Local
Transport Plan to address the problems of car dependence? Does
your Local Transport Plan include provision for dealing with issues
of design and layout where that promotes car dependence?
The current Halton LTP covers the period 2001-02
to 2005-06. It specifically makes the point that there exists
within the Borough a sound basis for the development of more integrated
and more sustainable travel: low car ownership, the unique Busway
system, good railway links, and a high proportion of trips by
bus and on foot. The potential is unrealised because of past under-investment
in the transport infrastructure, and the LTP goes to identify
the various priorities to help redress the matter. These include
Bus Quality Partnerships and Corridors, Green Travel Plans for
schools and businesses, and improved cycle routes and links.
21. Have you introduced or planned any measures
to promote mobility schemes targeted at the old or the young?
The Borough Council has clear objectives to
improve Social Inclusion across all its services. These include
transport, with the LTP providing an outline strategy for social
inclusion. It makes the point that the council operates a policy
of continuous review of its transport policies with the assistance
of a Public Transport Advisory Panel made up of a wide range of
interests, including community and disadvantaged groups.