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

Supplementary memorandum by Basildon District Council (NT 48(a))

  1.  The extent to which the original design is leading to concerns about sustainability, how car dependence might be reduced and the balance between new development and the regeneration of older parts. It is easy to look at new towns in hindsight. The planning of New Towns in the post-war period is a different context than today. At that time there were two immediate problems: how to deal with overspill populations and how to rebuild the national economy. New Towns helped fulfil both functions, but added to those were new planning techniques and principles.

  In the planning of New Towns, at least initially, planners focussed too much on increasing mobility through encouraging the use of the motorcar. Whilst this has resulted in generally a good road network, problems of lack of penetration into estates for public transport, the cul-de-sac syndrome, poor accessibility between homes and work for those without cars and excessive dual carriageways, subways and poor quality pedestrian bridges abound.

  Consequently, this had lead to the over-dependence on the motorcar and reluctance to use other forms of transport for many. These problems are only now being addressed.

  What is crucial for future New Town design is the right balance. Estates, both residential and commercial, need to be fully integrated into the public transport network and have public transport routes integrated into their design. New Towns can suffer from social isolation within the urban areas, as bus services, in particular, are routed around the very periphery of estates rather than through them. With the main employment areas, college, hospital and leisure facilities all located away from town centres, this lack of easily accessible public transport has resulted in many feeling excluded from day-to-day activities and facilities in the town. Plans are afoot to help address this balance by relocating the college to Basildon town centre, creating more employment in the town centre and looking at new development as a way to secure better transport provision.

  Development in New Towns employed the best standards and architectural practices of the day. It is easy to criticise now, but the level of redevelopment that has had to take place on estates so recently built suggests that mistakes were made. The current raft of government policies and local policies to be introduced through the new Local Development Frameworks will provide better guidelines for new development. It will be critical to set out at the forward planning stage the principles for urban design within New Towns, and to make better use of detailed master plans.

  The old system of Section 7(1) consents under the New Towns Act and vague New Town Master Plans did not provide sufficient guidance to ensure that what was developed was sustainable. It led instead to too much freedom for architects and experimentation—unfortunately it is now down to the residual bodies of the old Development Corporations (English Partnerships and the local Councils) to put these mistakes right.

  2.  Whether social exclusion in New Towns is being exacerbated by neighbourhood renewal.

  The 1991 census showed that the Basildon District had the largest population of all of the Essex Districts, slightly larger than that of Southend. The difference between the respective populations of Basildon and Southend was expected to increase as a result of Basildon's high birth rate and Southend's high death rate.

  However, subsequent population projections have indicated that Basildon's population has plateaued whilst Southend's population has continued to increase, making it now the largest District, population-wise in the old County of Essex.

  The reason for the apparent stagnation in Basildon's population has been analysed and is now thought to be due to outward migration by the older youth of the New Town. Young adults seeking their independence from the family home cannot find suitable accommodation in the New Town where the housing mix is predominantly family units. The situation is compounded by the lack of higher education in the area, forcing young people to universities elsewhere. This may be a South Essex issue, where there is no higher education provision, but consideration must be given within New Towns for all levels of education to be provided.

  In contrast the older towns like Southend contain many large older houses, which are suitable for conversion into HMOs. Hence, the high birth rate in Basildon is balanced by the outward migration of the town's youth. In contrast, the high death rate in Southend is more than compensated by the inward migration of youth seeking bedsits etc. The same effect can be seen in Harlow and its adjacent mature towns, suggesting an inherent problem in the democratic fabric of New Towns and their ability to retain residents.

  This situation results in the New Town losing its life-blood of young people, with the consequent effect on the availability of labour and the growth of new businesses from young entrepreneurs.

  The Development Corporations offered houses, jobs, schools and shops in a new place and many were attracted by this offer and high aspirations. Fifty years later though, the aspirations of the third generation New Town residents are to a great extent lower. The evolution to a more traditional demographic profile takes longer than 50 years.

  The social inequities within New Towns are well documented. In Basildon, the town has some of the most deprived wards in the UK and areas of considerable prosperity. Even within the more prosperous wards, however, there are still other social housing estates hidden within ward statistics that are not recognised as being in need of additional help. For example the Five Links estate is hidden in one of the most affluent wards in the District—Langdon Hills.

  3.  Issues relating to the organisation and regulations operating in the New Towns in particular in relation to English Partnership's control of land supply, the effect of the transfer to local authorities and the role of local authorities and NDPB to promote sustainable regeneration.

  New Towns have traditionally been publicly funded through development corporations. The residual interests of these bodies were passed to either the Commission for the New Towns (now English Partnerships) or the local authority. In the case of Basildon, much of the handover took place as areas were developed or in the mid 1980s with the first Community Related Assets Transfer, and two subsequent transfers since, and in the early 1990s when the housing stock was transferred. Employment areas and town centres were generally sold off to the private sector.

  In most instances restrictions have been placed on the use of land transferred to both the local authorities and private sectors. Covenants and clawback provisions unrealistically restrict new development and local regeneration initiatives, in particular within problem estates where redevelopment is the only option to improve the local housing stock, and town centres.

  Regarding town centres, the method of disposal of Basildon town centre was cumbersome and has led to long-term difficulties of multiple land ownership. The Corporation disposed of Basildon town centre by lot auction in 1987. Different parcels of land and blocks of commercial premises were sold off individually, resulting in 16 different landowners. In addition, to manage the remaining non-commercial assets a non-profiting making limited company was established, which initially retained the Commission for the New Towns as its majority shareholder. Land owned by this company, most of the car parks as well as most of the pedestrian areas, is also subject to restrictive covenants and clawback provisions. This is a major obstacle to the company realising the value of those assets and achieving town centre regeneration.

  Furthermore, given the design of town centres, there is little room for growth and innovative ideas are having to be explored, such as taking up road space for new development and the relocation out of town centres of some established users, such as the post office sorting office and the bus depot. This adds considerably to development costs, and Basildon consequently has not seen the same level of private investment in its town centre as other comparable towns, such as Chelmsford and Milton Keynes.

  The inability for the town centre to expand has led to a greater concentration of office development in out of town locations and continued pressure for out of town retail warehousing and new food stores—which the Council consistently resists.

  These problems have been compounded by the remit of the former CNT as a land disposal body, rather than a reinvestment body. It has only been in the last year that English Partnerships have given greater emphasis towards reinvestment whilst meeting Treasury targets. The preparation of their Town Strategy for Basildon is a right step, albeit without any statutory standing. The work that the Council did with EP on their Strategy, led to a wider Strategic Development Partnership being established with the DTLR (via the Thames Gateway Strategic Partnership and GO-East), Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership and the East of England Development Agency. This new Partnership sets common objectives and new ways of joint working and master planning to ensure continued investment from all partners in the New Town. It also provides legitimacy for reinvestment from English Partnerships.

  4.  The role of the New Towns in the regional economy.

  New Towns have always acted as drivers for economic growth. That growth was planned hand in hand with town expansion and the development leading to the development of significant employment areas, sub-regional town centres and office decentralisation.

  Foreign investment was the main driver of this growth, which is reflected in Basildon's case, by the establishment of large multi-national companies. Basildon had a mostly branch plant economy which did not establish a demand for skilled labour and is reflected in the current low skills levels in Basildon. The labour force was moved out from the derelict London Docks and redeployed within the large industries of Basildon.

  During the 1970s there was a slowdown in growth as the process of de-industrialisation started. There was also a lack of new investment, from both within the UK and from overseas, and, consequently, the recession at the beginning of the 1980s was mainly manufacturing led and hit New Towns hard. Basildon suffered greatly due to its heavy reliance on foreign owned manufacturing industry.

  Since the early 1980s recession, the manufacturing sector has never gained any substantial growth, although this was compensated to a certain extent by the growth in the service sector.

  In the last 10 years the process of de-industrialisation has had significant effect on restructuring the local economy in Basildon. A large number of the multi-national companies have either closed or down-sized resulting in nearly 6,000 job losses and has left a low- to semi-skilled work force having to find new employment in the growing tertiary sector, often in low-paid and part-time jobs.

  The legacy of the concentration of attracting multi-national investment in the formative years of New Towns has had the long-term impact of drawing the focus away from supporting indigenous companies to grow and innovate, and created a lack of demand of skills from local employers. The lack of employer demand of minimum skills entry level to the labour market has resulted in a sustained low skills level amongst the younger population.

  In addition, New Towns serve as dormitory overspill towns around the major conurbations and they have not succeeded, in economic terms, of developing a local sustainable economy free from the influence of nearby conurbations. This results in significantly high levels of out commuting, which not only puts pressure on the transportation network, but also has resulted in a skills drain out from the New Towns as residents seek greater employment prospects and greater salaries elsewhere. This is most prevalent in the London ring towns, including Basildon.

  To again become the driver for economic growth in the region New Towns must encourage entrepreneurship and innovation amongst small indigenous companies to drive up the skills demand from the private sector and enable economic growth.

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

  Regarding policies on design, it is felt that adequate changes have already been made both to best practice (on urban design, sustainable development, residential layout etc), and greater support for more detailed master plans as set out in the Planning Green Paper.

  One approach currently being adopted in Basildon is the Gardiners Lane South Master Plan. English Partnerships, the principal landowners of the site are the lead agency and have established a project partnership with the Council, the East of England Development Agency and Thames Gateway South Essex, to work collectively in preparing a master plan, and subsequent implementation, for a new high quality urban business quarter. This approach will use a master planning workshop in the summer, bringing together all stakeholders including local residents and the business communities.

  Key to the future success of the project, however, will be down to properly integrated detailed work on the master plan itself with a feasibility and viability assessment; an implementation strategy; a transport strategy that looks at not only movement within the site and immediately adjacent, but at strategic public transport routes; and a relocation strategy for existing occupiers. Underpinning all of this is a design-led approach, which will adopt the latest principles of urban design, streets for people and sustainable development and set rigid design standards.

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