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

Memorandum by Warrington Borough Council (NT 46)

  I refer to your letter of 27 March 2002, inviting this Council to respond to the 21 questions raised in the light of the completed first stage of consultation with English New Towns Local Authorities on the above matter.

  I now respond,, on behalf of the Council, to those questions, as follows:

  Q.1  What was the original objective of the town? The reference point for setting out the objectives for development of Warrington as a New Town is the "Warrington New Town Outline Plan" approved by the (then) Secretary of State in 1973. The overarching objectives were:

    (a)  to provide the widest possible range of opportunity and choice;

    (b)  to make Warrington a good place in which to live and grow up;

    (c)  to facilitate growth and change; and

    (d)  to carry out the development in a rational and business-like manner.

  The plan had two main tasks:

  1.  To provide houses, jobs and services for a new population of 40,000, as well as for the "natural increase" and,

  2.  To deal with the problems and needs of Warrington, as it then existed, in a comprehensive manner, including the restoration of nearly five square miles of derelict military installations.

  From a base population (1973) of approximately 130,000 the target was that this be increased to over 200,000 by 1991, with the potential for the population to reach 225,000 in the longer-term.

  The structure of the town, then focussed predominantly on the Town Centre, would assume a different pattern and become more diffuse. Five districts would be related to the Transportation framework and to the distribution of commercial and community services in their respective centres. One of the Districts would be what is now referred to as "Inner Warrington", focussed on the established town centre. Three would be integrated with established suburban development and one developed from scratch, largely on the most substantial area of derelict military installations.

  The highway network was to be fundamentally restructured, with new ``expressways'' providing a grid of routes to accommodate longer trips, including links to the motorways, freeing the Town Centre and residential areas from through-traffic. The proposals recognised the (then) growing importance of public transportation as well as the increase in car ownership. They would provide conditions within which an efficient bus system could be operated.

  An increase in jobs from 62,700 to 98,100 was envisaged, with a slight decline in the manufacturing base, but 50 per cent increase in service sector employment. It was recognised that, over and above this forecast, a further 20,800 manufacturing or service jobs would have to be created; to reflect continuation of Warrington's role as a centre of employment for the immediate sub-region.

  Five new employment areas were planned, with other service employment to be associated with the Town Centre and District Centres. It was hoped that some of the sites would be suitable for establishing out-of-city offices and research centres.

  Rented housing would be integrated with owner-occupied housing, with great importance placed on improving standards of landscape and layout.

  A system of linear parks was proposed along waterways to provide settings for larger public parks. District Parks of at least 50 acres would accommodate most formal team sports and provide large informal park areas. These would be complemented by local parks.

  The New Town project was to be driven through a Partnership arrangement between the Development Corporation and the Local Authorities. Warrington County Borough Council, Warrington & Runcorn Rural District Councils, and Lancashire & Cheshire County Councils held various levels of responsibility for providing services within the New Town area in 1973. From 1974, and throughout the greater part of the New Towns' ``induced'' growth period, responsibilities were shared by Cheshire County Council and Warrington Borough Council (then as a ``shire district'' Authority within the ``new'' Cheshire area). Since 1998, the whole of the former New Town area has been included within the area of the Warrington Unitary Authority, which shares with Halton the distinction of exercising Unitary Development Plan powers.

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

  This question has been addressed from a range of perspectives, as follows:

    (a)  Economic Development

  A large number of the stated objectives have been met; notably, under the headings (a to d), as set out at Q.1 (above).

  Opportunity and choice

    —  Industry of all kinds has been attracted, including that employing women, eg call centres; women returners to work.

    —  The mix of industries attracted is probably at the fore of what could have been expected and ahead of shifts in sectoral growth regionally, if not nationally.

    —  Outside organisations have been attracted in good numbers.

    —  Birchwood; the ``new'' district created largely from derelict and contaminated land, was developed as a science base.

    —  Shops in district and town centres do work and offer a choice, although the effect of "out-of-town" retailing, which has been attracted to the expansion areas close to the motorways, was perhaps not envisaged in 1973.

  A good place to live in

    —  Most residents would view the town as a good place to live, as indicated by the above-average rate of house-price increases over the years.

    —  As regards the aim to progressively reduce congestion, the level of congestion is, perhaps, not as great as in other (economically successful) areas. In its early Local Transport Plans, the Council has, however, properly promoted integrated transport initiatives to tackle the problem.

    —  The aim of using "natural breaks" in developed areas to accommodate expressways has worked well where those routes have been provided (N.B. A considerable portion of the planned network has not been implemented).

    —  Successful regeneration of much of the legacy of previously derelict land has been achieved, particularly in the Birchwood and Westbrook (former air base) areas, which no longer give the impression of having once been derelict.

    —  Although some eyesores still remain, they are not dominant. Strong regeneration-based plans are needed for areas on the fringe of the town centre, which were outside the main foci of New Town activity.

    —  Changes in attitudes and lifestyle generally have created a momentum for eradication of pollution, which was an aim of the Outline Plan.

    —  Measures have been taken to secure the town's built environmental heritage although there are some "hidden gems" that should be rediscovered and their continued protection ensured.

    —  Overall, whilst the "new character" of Warrington has not been fully established, it is most certainly not subject to the fairly negative perceptions that affect some New Towns.

  Growth and change

    —  Warrington is successful by most economic measures; above average wage rates being the exception in the past, but now very much on the increase.

  Overall, the planned transformation of the transport and highway network is perhaps the area in which work is unfinished, although the growth in road-use has probably exceeded 1973-based predictions.

  There is also the issue as to how the success of the New Town can be apportioned between English Partnerships and the former Development Corporation/CNT, and the extent to which the commercial market would have associated Warrington's development in any event.

    (b)  Regeneration

  The following proposed actions, supporting objectives a to d (as set out) can be said to have been successfully carried out:

  Opportunity and choice

    —  Provision of owner-occupied housing in new districts and ``older'' housing areas.

    —  Enabling of purchase of Council houses and making them more saleable.

    —  Positively impacting on the needs of the elderly and the young.

    —  Provision of adequate schools to meet demands of new development and provide choice.

    —  Meeting demand for formal and informal games.

    —  Provision of recreational facilities for minority pursuits.

    —  Provision of a choice of modes of transport, but continuing weakness in provision for pedestrians and for the elderly and disabled.

  A good place to live in

    —  Development of parkways and good quality landscaping of "expressways" (a term not now applied to routes which are intended to provide a broader Transportation function).

    —  Achieving a balance between man-made and natural environments.

    —  Creation of diversity of character in new developments.

    —  Improving standards of private housing.

  Growth and change

    —  Growth and change have been properly allowed for.

    —  Development in a balanced way.

  Rational use of resources

    —  Good level of achievement of dual use of social and educational facilities.

    —  Balanced distribution of land uses throughout the town.

  Instances of objectives which are not perceived as having been met fully from a regeneration standpoint, include:

    —  development of communications to facilitate wider choice of access to goods and services;

    —  provision of local alternatives to regional open space and recreation facilities;

    —  exclusion of extraneous traffic from neighbourhoods within the established parts of Warrington (progress being made now, led by the Council's LTP);

    —  reducing traffic speeds in the interests of pedestrian safety and creating what are termed as "safe routes to school (both of which are now LTP-led priorities, resulting in positive measures being implemented)"; and

    —  ensuring schools, shopping and services are provided concurrently with residential development.

  (c)  Strategic and Environmental Planning

    —  The New Town provided houses, jobs and services for a considerable proportion of the 40,000 ``new'' people expected to be attracted to Warrington. There was, however, a major change of direction around 1980, when the Development Corporation took a lead from the incoming Government, by changing to a largely owner-occupied based housing strategy. The New Town's population had reached only an estimated 158,770 by the year 2000; still more than 40,000 below the 1991 target figure.

    —  There is now likely to be only marginal additional new growth of that figure for two key reasons:

    (i)  The emerging "sustainability"-led Regional Planning Strategy will focus development largely in the conurbation cores, effectively confirming the reversal of the trend which provided much of the raison d'etre for the New Towns in the region designated in the 1960s.

    (ii)  1973-based ambitions of re-shaping Inner Warrington, through provision of higher-density modern housing were largely un-fulfilled (though there are indicators of a belated partial fulfilment of that objective in the present "post-New Town" era). The ``ultimate'' capacity of the Designated Area will thus be much reduced in relation to the 1973 Scenario. This has been compounded by recognition of the fact that much of the open land around the built-up area which had been allocated for development, is now perceived by the Council and constituent communities as an unacceptable location for built development, particularly in terms of impact on amenity. This has already been reflected in submissions to the Secretary of State for a continuing reduction in the rate of development in the Borough as a whole, and in ``safeguarding'' policies in the Council's emerging UDP.

    —  The town centre has "survived" as the accepted core of community activity within the New Town, whilst the District Centres have become established generally in a way which allows them to serve their districts without undermining the primacy of the town centre. But the Council is vigilant in ensuring that the town centre maintains and enhances this role, in the face of competition from new forms and locations of retail provision which have been introduced to the sub-region outside the context of the New Town Plan.

    —  The formerly-termed "expressway network" has only been partially implemented, leaving a legacy of increased pressures on established radial routes in the urban area. The Council is now left with the task of developing an integrated transport system not envisaged in 1973 but using the partially completed ``grid system'' introduced through the New Town Plan, as one of its building blocks.

    —  As regards provision and enhancement of open space and recreational facilities, the transformation of the previously unexceptional environment along watercourses into maturing, high-quality recreational and amenity land has been a recognised major success of the New Town project. The difficulties of ensuring provision of like quality in Inner Warrington have not been fully overcome. Provision of District and Local Parks in the main ``expansion'' areas has been made in accordance with the Outline Plan's objectives. Specific intentions to invest in equivalent provision in areas accessible to established suburban areas which were to be expanded as part of the New Town Plan, have remained unfulfilled.

    —  As an overview, it is clear, with hindsight, that the objectives for development of the New Town were "prisoners of their time". For example, notwithstanding references to the importance of provision for public transport and pedestrians, there was great stress on the needs of the car user. The scale of planned investment in a highway network that would inevitably facilitate increased car use meant that it has been difficult to adapt quickly to the change of emphasis in favour of restraint of car use and encouragement of sustainable forms of transport. There have been consequent difficulties in securing the evolution of a land-use pattern which helps sustain the drive for "sustainable development" as currently defined. The key objectives of raising the profile, image, attractiveness and quality have, however, been substantially fulfilled. Its development has, in reasonable measure, been shaped by the pre-existence of a substantial ``core'' community, and is perceived as not having been as ``brutal'' as in some New Towns. Its roads are not as intrusive and divisive as in other New Towns, and the design and quality of its built development have been to a generally high standard.

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

    —  Warrington's uniquely advantageous location and the momentum of New Town-led.

    —  Growth will ensure that it should continue as a focus for inward investment. Particular emphasis must be placed on its potential to attract high quality science-based employment taking advantage of, and building further links with the wide range of Higher Education facilities in the Region.

    —  The town's further physical growth must, however, be restrained, particularly for local environmental reasons but also to support the emerging Regional Planning Strategy which is establishing a regeneration focus, demanding investment in provision of housing opportunities, particularly in the ``cores'' of the neighbouring conurbations.

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

    —  It guides development to an increasingly limited extent. Two of the best examples of why this is the case are:

    (a)  Recognition of the need to manage a reduction in the rate of housing development, with the probability that many of the remaining undeveloped but previously-allocated ``Greenfield'' areas will remain undeveloped for the foreseeable future. The Council will need to be satisfied that implementation of these development schemes can take place according to the current demands for sustainable development and in accordance with Planning Policy Guidance (notably PPG3, in association with other PPGs, such as PPG13).

    (b)  Abandonment of plans to complete many elements of the proposed highway network and continued safeguarding of only a limited number of routes for schemes which will demonstrably cater for sustainable modes of transport.

  Q.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 continuation of the Town Centre as the main focus for the whole of the town must have been a force in favour of integration, in both community terms and in terms of the maintenance of a reasonably high-level of public transport accessibility.

    —  There is a distinct contrast between the overall physical character of ``old'' and ``new''. The ``new'' areas are characterised by relatively low-density development, a much higher standard of landscaping and a ``modern'' road structure, in the terms set in the 1970s.

    —  The physically distinct districts do not act as self-contained communities to the extent that, for example, many town-wide retail and leisure facilities are located within single ``New Town'' districts, whilst there is no other evidence of a "closed" relationship between homes and jobs within any one district.

    —  The character, layout and land-use within the ``expansion'' areas will set a major challenge for achieving sustainable development as now understood, but that challenge is being met through the UDP and TPP in particular.

    —  There has been a perception for many years that New Town growth has overwhelmed and distorted the ``natural'' growth limits of the town. This has been reflected in the rate of growth to be prescribed at the Strategic level; notably through Regional Planning Guidance. This is however tempered by realisation of the need to accommodate economic growth in selected ``high quality'' sectors, for which Warrington is the most suitable location to serve regional interests.

    —  There is an important medical health dimension to integration which is not necessarily implied in the question. The following comments, in that regard, are pertinent.

  Over the years, Warrington's health status, as measured by age-standardised death statistics, has steadily improved, so that Warrington now lies at or just above the national average for all causes of death, circulatory diseases and breast cancer to name a few. This is a notable achievement for a north west town with Warrington's industrial heritage. Although the causes of this improvement cannot be ascertained with any certainty, it is likely to have been influenced by increasing affluence and a low unemployment rate.

  However, areas of the town continue to have much higher age standardised death statistics. This is true particularly of seven wards in the centre of the town. There are worrying indications that inequalities in health may be worsening. For example, for ischaemic heart disease, four wards have death rates which are more than 25 per cent less than national rates. In contrast, eight wards have death rates 25 per cent above national rates; two of these are over 50 per cent above national rates. A similar picture is seen for lung cancer and all causes of death. The trend over the last 10 years is for a widening gap between the seven wards and the rest of the town.

  The prosperity of Warrington has appeared to have a beneficial effect on the health of the population, but it is a concern that parts of the town have not benefited equally.

    —  The Council is conscious of a ``Mid-Mersey'' community of interest on planning and development issues and hosts informal Member-level meetings of a group, of which Halton, St Helens and Wigan Councils are also Members.

    —  Warrington evidently has a foot in a number of overlapping sub-regions and seeks to maintain an interest and, where appropriate active involvement, in key issues arising within each of the three sub-regions referred to. It does not have a resolved position as to which particular sub-regional arrangements it should be party to, should any statutory sub-regional structures be brought into effect.

  Q.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?

    —  Warrington has a well-established sub-regional role which it strives to maintain and enhance. Regional centres, other strong sub-regional centres and the Trafford Centre are easily accessible to those living within Warrington's own ``core'' catchment area. The Council recognises the need to adopt a proactive approach, in seeking to secure its long-term future within that hierarchy. Opportunity locations have been identified within the Town Centre area, for further comparison floorspace, with the strong desire for, and prospects of attracting a department store which is seen as a key component of the overall retail mix that will need to be on offer in the future.

    —  The Council has recently completed a major environmental improvement scheme to enhance the sector of the town centre which has fallen behind the quality of the centre as a whole over recent years. Crucially, the centre is seen not just as a shopping magnet, and the Council is actively and successfully promoting a broadening of the appeal to the sub-regional community eg having completed a new Arts Centre this year.

    —  The Centre is finally beginning to attract quality housing to its core, with completion of 48 apartments alongside the Centre's main formal ``Square''. This will hopefully inspire confidence and is a manifestation of what was (optimistically at the time) envisaged as the type of initiative that would be given impetus by the New Town Plan.

  Q.11  Can you give some numerical examples of the problems that have arisen with clawbacks and covenants in housing, amenity space and other land uses?

    —  No information available on this matter.

  Q.12  The Committee has been made aware that in some cases, clawbacks have 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?

    —  In Warrington, there has not been a problem in the clawback provision that has made the Right to Buy receipt marginal or even negative.

    —  Regarding properties sold in 2001/2002 the percentage range of claw back to selling price was from 48 per cent to 72 per cent, with an average of about 60 per cent.

  Q.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?

    —  No information available on this matter.

  Q.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?

    —  This is impossible to answer for two reasons. One, it is not possible to provide an assessment of the value of its outstanding assets and two, there is no evidence of any exercise having been done to establish the liabilities caused. The Community Related Assets passed to the Borough with a package of commercial assets to meet the costs. Also the development and increased population bring with it additional resources via Revenue support Grant and Council Tax. It would be wrong to speculate on how a "balance sheet" of liabilities compared to New Town assets stacked up but it could be argued that the failure to deal with traffic issues and the long-term cost of maintaining extensive green spaces has left problems which will be expensive for the Borough to resolve.

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

    —  They have continued to be involved in "Warrington 2000+" at board level. Although this is not a regeneration partnership in the traditional model, it does act as a promotional vehicle to some extent.

    —  They are certainly totally involved and committed to working in a very effective partnership with us on the regeneration of Omega.

  Q.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?

    —  The most obvious issue here is the leads and lags in the SSA formulae which relate to population changes.

    —  The SSA formulae are highly dependent on population figures. The figures used in any year's SSA are always two years out of date (ie the 2002-03 SSA formulae use mid 2000 population figures). New Towns tend to experience higher than average population increases and therefore they lose out when the calculations are made.

    —  There is a dual penalty here. This is because the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) takes into account the Tax Base of a Local Authority. The Tax Base is a measure of the number of properties in any area paying Council Tax. The higher the number of properties (the Tax Base) the lower the amount of RSG for any given SSA. The tax base figures are only one year out of date (ie the 2002-03 Tax Base is the figure for the number of properties at November 2001). Because of the rapid development of New Towns, the Tax Base tends to rise faster than the average.

    —  The result of these two factors is that New Towns lose out on one year's worth of population growth through the SSA formulae but that year's increase in the Tax Base in fact is fed through to RSG and lowers the amount of RSG received.

  Q.17  Has the pattern of ownership and CNT/EP's role had any implications in your ability to develop a housing strategy for the area?

    —  No. However, there is concern that planning approvals already held by the CNT, (from 1989 or earlier) appear to preclude possible re-negotiation to incorporate a commitment to providing affordable housing. The Council has already indicated to English Partnerships that, if they seek support from the Council for continued release of ``Greenfield'' sites with New Towns Act Section 7(1) Approvals, contrary to strict application of the PPG3 ``Sequential approach'', agreement to negotiate for affordable housing which meets a defined social need would be among the prerequisites of such support.

  Q.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?

    —  No response is made to this question.

  Q.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?

    —  No analysis is at hand regarding design issues in relation to crime, specifically regarding the New Town developments.

    —  The Council has recently published a comprehensive Community Safety Strategy, which sets out the design principles to be followed in seeking to bring about reductions in various categories of crime.

  Q.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 whole thrust of the Council's LTP is to promote and invest in sustainable transport, with a primary aim of reducing dependence on the car. A hierarchical approach to accommodating various modes of transport is adopted, whereby use of the private car is the least favoured mode.

    —  The Council's first UDP is evolving alongside reviews of the LTP and its (First Deposit) Transport Policies have taken on board all land-use related policies contained in the LTP. These include policies for guiding the form of new development, such that it reflects the principles of PPG3 and PPG13.

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

    —  Active promotion of "safe routes to school initiatives" come within this category. These are promoted within the LTP and UDP and specific schemes are under way.

Alan Stephenson

Strategic Director of Environment and Regeneration

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