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

Supplementary memorandum by Telford and Wrekin Council (NT 26(a))

  1.   What was the original objective of the town?

  Two aims:

    1.  To house the West Midlands growing population in the 60s—principally from Birmingham (but also from Black Country).

    2.  Reclaim and regenerate the East Shropshire coalfield.

  2.   Which of these objectives do you think have been met?

  Both. Telford has continued to be a regional growth point, providing economic growth for north and west of the midlands.

  In addition, substantial reclamation work has been undertaken to bring into good use most of the 2,000 hectares of slag heaps, colliery tips, quarries, disused mineshafts and derelict works that was the East Shropshire Coalfield.

  3.   What do you consider to be its role in the region/sub-region in the future?

  Telford will continue to be a sub regional focus for sustainable growth with employment and housing development in balance. This role is recognised in the current version of the TPG that take us up to 2021.

  4.   To what extent is the original masterplan for the town still used as a guiding principle for development and redevelopment?

  The original masterplan has been implemented to a significant extent although, inevitably, some variations and modifications have taken place. The principles underpinning the original masterplan are not consistent with the currently recognised principles of sustainable development and good urban design, (higher density, mixed use, connected communities, quality public realm, safe streets, vital and diverse town centre with public transport, walking and cycling friendly layouts).

  Consequently, the review of the Local Plan (recently commenced) and all masterplanning work undertaken in recent years (eg Lightmoor, East Ketley, Woodside and the Town Centre) all promote radically different principles of design and layout that are now advocated by central government (eg PPG3 and various published urban design guidance).

  5.   How well have the old and new parts of your town been integrated? If they have not been well integrated, what from does this take in physical/spatial terms and what are the implications of this for the growth of the town?

  A.  It is difficult to integrate old and new developments as the original masterplan isolated the original towns and also new developments into clusters surrounded by a green network that is protected under the current Local Plan.

  The original five settlements have had the original road links between them severed and to make matters worse new direct links to the new Town Centre of Telford have not been provided.

  Future growth in the town needs to focus not only re-connecting old and new communities but in connecting the new communities to each other. This can be achieved by providing new road links and through new development to provide safe new movement routes for people ie a public realm enclosed by development. This innovative approach is being developed through a masterplan currently being drawn up for the depressed Woodside area of Telford where new, developed, links to adjoining established areas are being investigated. This work is being undertaken in partnership with EP and the Housing Corporation. This approach is expected to underpin our work in our new Local Plan.

  A consequence of this approach is that some of the growth originally planned for the periphery of Telford will be diverted into the existing 'developed' areas and possibly some of the gaps between them to enable us to develop a more sustainable pattern of development.

  6.   Has/can the town achieve the population relate to the national average? Is this related to your being a New Town? How do local agencies and strategies respond to that?

  A.  The original target was 220,000. This was reduced in the 1970's to around 150,000. The current population of Telford is some 130,000 but it remains a sub-regional focus for growth up to 2021.

  7.   How does the age profile of your population relate to the national average? In this related to your being a New Town? How do local agencies and strategies respond to that?

  A.  The age profile of New Towns inevitably reflects their attraction in the early development stages for young families. The focus on lower density family housing in recent years together with the severe lack of an evening economy in the Town Centre further skews the profile in comparison with more traditional settlements.

  The following age groups are more strongly represented in Telford than the UK average:

  5-19 (over 7 per cent)

  30-19 (nearly 9 per cent)

  45-54 (around 7 per cent)

  It is under represented in the age group: 65-90

  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?

  There has been a steady demand for commercial land within Telford, however there is a somewhat hidden demand for speculative development that has been suppressed in the past by English Partnership not being keen on this sort of development.

  Having said that low rental values have traditionally acted as a damper on speculative development. This also reduces significantly opportunities for private sector contributions towards local needs/facilities often achieved through planning obligations. In Telford we are heavily dependent on EP negotiating these benefits, as they are often able to, by-pass the planning process.

  Telford is also re-positioning itself, having been very successful in attracting overseas investment (particularly from Japan) in the last 10 years, it needs to diversify as these markets decline.

  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?

  The West Midlands RPG is in place with indicative growth for Telford as a sub-regional focus for growth. Telford and Wrekin has completed a Joint Structure Plan with Shropshire County Council which is due for adoption in summer of 2002.

  Renew of the RPG is in progress with an EIP taking place this summer. Telford continues to be a sub-regional focus for growth.

  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?

  Telford is the largest town in Shropshire and has a growing sub-regional shopping centre.

  The Town Centre Masterplan, approved by Telford & Wrekin Council, sets out a step change in its development to create a diverse, 18-hour mixed-use centre with a quality public realm and new facilities.

  The Council and EP have commissioned a study by DTZ to test the current levels of investment interest to assist in taking forward the Plan to implementation.

  A £30 million new department store and 16 shop units are currently under construction as an extension to the existing covered retail centre.


  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?

  Clawback on amenity/other land uses:

  The Council sells some 40 to 50 small areas of land each year where with clawback still at around 80 per cent the Council potentially spends more on administration than the net receipt left available. This provides a disincentive to rationalise larger land holdings. Land is also held back till clawback reduces further over the years even where the land is surplus to requirements.

  It should be noted that by bypassing the planning process, the provision of facilities such as social housing and secondary education is severely compromised.

  Clawback on housing land is covered in Question 12.

  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?

  Following Transfer of its Housing stock in March 1999, the Council is still held responsible for clawback payments on ex Development Corporation property now sold by the Wrekin Housing Trust (RSL established to run the housing stock) under the Right to Buy legislation. While under the Housing Transfer regulations the Council is still entitled to part of the receipt from the RTB disposal, this is likely to be less than the clawback penalty paid by the Council to English Partnerships. Thus, for instance, in April 2000 the Council received £678,000 in respect of 106 RTB disposals of ex Development Corporation stock, but had to pay £887,000 over to English Partnerships. Every RTB disposal by the Wrekin Housing Trust costs the Council money!

  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 sheer scale of the highway network and areas of open spaces is a major burden on the authority. The assets transferred to deal with these areas does not cover the costs involved.

  Of even greater concern is the fact that as much of this infrastructure was provided over a short space of time, there will be a major peak in the next few years in the capital costs of highway reconstruction or refurbishment. Our budgets are totally inadequate to cope with this situation.

  The design of the early estates (particularly those following the Radburn layout) coupled with the impact of the Right to Buy legislation, generates enormous problems in terms of the logistics and nature of the external spaces requiring maintenance. The lack of natural surveillance in these areas increases problems of dumping, graffiti and vandalism which adds to our liabilities.

  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 Council has only nominal land assets of its own. In contrast, we have calculated that the gross development value of EP's remaining land assets as some £270 million. While its net value will be less than this figure, we believe investing in regeneration and the sustainable development of the town as a whole, including the town centre, will lead to enhanced land values.

  From our initial work in the Woodside estate significant investment will be required over an extended period to deal with the issues in this area alone. Given our other liabilities and investment needs (new infrastructure, maintenance of existing infrastructure, the regeneration of the early New Town estates and the revitalisation of the Town Centre) we will require a significant proportion of, if not all, this asset base to be invested locally.

  15.   To what extent has English Partnerships participated in regeneration partnerships in your town?

  Until very recently English Partnerships have repeatedly made it clear that they have no remit for regeneration in Telford. Their primary role is a CNT based one which is to secure the disposal of their remaining assets in Telford, largely for the benefit of the Treasury. In the last few months EP have indicated a willingness to engage in the regeneration of Woodside and potentially adjoining deprived estates in south Telford. An innovative partnership is emerging involving the Council, the local RSL and the Housing Corporation to deal with those housing areas in greater need where abandonment due to market failure is already in evidence.

  In other areas, EP offer some support through fully or part funding the commissioning of studies that have a wider redevelopment value (eg Town Centre).

  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 weakneses and set out any suggestions about how any successor to the SSA could be improved?

  The present SSA system does not recognise the needs of growing authorities because it is not based on current figures, especially for population.

We have made representations, as part of a group of growing authorities, to the Government to change the way they calculate Revenue Support Grant. We have suggested how data trends could be used to predict the levels of current population, rather than relying on actual data which is two years old. These points have been made in papers and discussions at the Formula Revenue sub Group, which feeds into the working group on Grant distribution. There are encouraging signs that the Government is listening to our case and are inclined to act in our favour on this.

  We have also raised other issues affecting the funding of former new towns, notably inconsistencies regarding how Combined Fire authorities are treated, the issues of regeneration needs and the role of English Partnerships and how their assets are used.

  Combined Fire Authorities, unlike Metropolitan Fire Authorities, do not currently have separate precepting powers. Their budgets (which are not decided by the New Town authorities) form a part of the local authority budgets and are treated thus for RSG and Council Tax purposes. This is unfair when compared with Metropolitan districts, which is why we have pressed strongly for separate precepting to be introduced. This was included in the recent White Paper as a commitment from the Government, so this will at some stage be addressed.

  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 land ownership and English Partnerships' role has not by itself inhibited the Council's ability to develop a local housing strategy. (Indeed, over the last four years the Council has been assessed as "well above average" or "above average" by the Regional Government Office), but it does impact on its success.

  The fact that EP owns the majority of development sites (which have the benefit of pre-existing planning permission) has directly affected the authority in achieving one of its strategic housing objectives, which is to meet the housing needs of the district, including the need for social and affordable housing. The Council itself owns very little housing land.

  EP release sites to private housing developers through its annual land release programme. As part of this, a number of major developments are likely to come forward in the near future and it is unclear to what extent these will include social and affordable housing, if at all.

  For a number of years EP (and its precursor) have donated a limited number of sites at 100 per cent abated value for the provision of social housing. This has been welcomed. However, other than this, the provision of social housing is limited to sites that can be acquired by housing associations on the open market and to provision that can be negotiated with developers on sites above threshold level using S106 agreements.

  In addition, the above pattern of land ownership/disposal directly affects the ability to achieve communities with a mix of housing tenures and types/sizes.

  An important related factor here is our general inability to control the form, quality, phasing and infrastructure of new housing development through the planning process.


  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?

  A.  It is difficult to apportion their relative impact. Deficiencies in the original design and layout and maintenance budgets have been highlighted elsewhere. A significant number of early houses (around 8,000) were timber framed system built. They were constructed at low cost and to a rapid timescale. Consequently, their life expectancy is considerably reduced from the more normal 60 years, with many having already reached or nearing the end of their useful life. This points to solutions that are a combination of some clearance, comprehensive investment in repair and major investment in the external environment including replacing the road infrastructure and layout.

  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 bidding for such funding?

  The general absence of a pattern of continuous development that fronts on to the main movement routes with secure enclosed rear gardens/areas found in more traditional settlements generates significant problems relating to Community Safety. This occurs at the local level within estates (especially the Radburn layouts) and between estates where they are surrounded by open space and non-frontage access distributor roads. The general isolated disposition does not encourage walking or cycling or travel by public transport. This further reduces levels of natural surveillance essential to safe places.

  The layouts also provide countless opportunities for people to hide unobserved through recesses, alleys and inappropriate landscaping. It is not surprising therefore that surveys of local residents put community safety as their biggest concern.

  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 Council's LTP is rated as "well above average" and the Council has recently secured Beacon Status for "Better Access and Mobility". Promoting sustainable transport is a key theme of our LTP. Specific initiatives are set out below:

  Quality Bus Services—redline 44 and blueline 33 are Telford & Wrekin Council's first two quality bus partnerships. They are the product of a comprehensive agreement between the Council, and local bus and rail operators and form part of a strategy to achieve a step change in the provision of the town's high frequency "core" bus network to fully accessible quality partnership standards.

  The results of the project have been significant. Together the two routes have arrested the long term decline of bus patronage in Telford (3 per cent per annum over the last decade) and contributed to patronage growth across the district of 8.5 per cent. The results also demonstrate modal shift away from the private car of between 6 and 9 per cent.

    —  Development of bus lanes, including two legs of the Telford "box road" designed to improve reliability and reduce travelling times on local bus services.

    —  Construction of bus boarders and build outs rather than the traditional lay-by, thus keeping the vehicle in the lane of traffic whilst passengers board and alight and thereby contributing to improved reliability and a reduction in travelling times.

    —  Installation of "bus friendly" traffic lights providing priority at signalised junctions to local services.

    —  Implementation of roadside infrastructure, including the development of passenger interchange sites and the enhancement of waiting facilities to promote bus services at the expense of other road users.

    —  Telford's segregated residential, retail and employment areas make it difficult to comprehensively serve all travel needs by conventional public transport. To overcome this the Council piloted an innovative taxi-share scheme Fareshare with a local operator, with a view to ultimately developing a town wide scheme allowing access to employment opportunities at a similar cost to bus travel. Since the initial pilot project the Council has secured funding under the Urban Bus Challenge programme to develop a town wide taxibus and taxi-sharing scheme. The system managed by the Council's new Mobility Centre will target workplace travel requirements to provide both enhanced travelling opportunities and a realistic and affordable alternative to the private car.

21.   Q:  Have you introduced or planned any measures to promote mobility schemes targeted at the old or the young?

  A:   The Council took the opportunity as part of its introduction of the national minimum scheme to develop its Concessionary travel service for elderly and disabled residents. The choice of concessions now available, including a range of bus and rail card options, and for disabled and mobility impaired residents and additional choices of Telford Dial-a-Ride or National Transport Tokens, represents one of the most comprehensive concessionary travel services in any non-metropolitan area. Indeed, the new concessions have been warmly welcomed by local residents and we anticipate issuing more travel concessions again this year than last.

  Since unitary status Telford and Wrekin has supported a limited scheme to promote and facilitate access to Post 16 establishments. In particular the initiative seeks to contribute to the Council's overarching objectives of combating poverty and social exclusion and promoting the needs of children and young people. The Council has recently been successful in securing additional resources as part of the DfES's Transport Pathfinder Project to augment the exisiting scheme on a pilot basis. The new arrangements, commencing this September, will provide free term time travel within the district for students from some of the areas most deprived wards.

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