Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Bracknell Forest Borough Council (NT 12)

  I am writing in response to your request for submissions to the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee of the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions which is considering the problems and future of New Towns. Bracknell Forest Borough Council welcomes the fact that the Government are examining the issue and are grateful for the opportunity to provide information to the Sub-Committee.

  Bracknell, in common with all other New Towns, was subject to a large scale development over a short period of time. As a result, much of the architectural fabric in the town, in the case of Bracknell particularly in the Town Centre, is of a similar period and style which has not aged well. In considering the Council's response, two points are of paramount importance. The first is that in the medium to long term, Government policy is not geared to the needs of New Towns. Indeed, in some cases, current policy can obstruct progress on issues which are important for the long term development and sustainability of former New Towns. Whilst the Council understands that there are many real and serious issues that the Government need to address that are not related to New Towns, the New Towns' specific problems do need to be seen as part of the mainstream policy agenda to ensure that they do not become larger scale issues over the next decade which need even greater investment to overcome.

  The second key issue specifically relating to Bracknell Forest, is that the Town Centre is in serious decline with around 80 per cent of people living within 10 minutes' drive choosing to shop elsewhere. A major consequence of this is that community identity is seriously undermined and there is no focal point for local activity. To be a successful and sustainable community, a town centre needs to be a place in which people can both live and work, reducing the requirement to drive to other destinations with the resulting pressure on the transport infrastructure.

  The Council has been working with landholders, the Regional Development Agency, the Civic Trust and many other stakeholders and now has many of the elements in place to undertake a successful regeneration of Bracknell Town Centre. However, in some respects, the plans that have now been developed do not reflect the current paradigm of physical and social regeneration in more traditional urban areas. The solutions being proposed are, however, directly relevant to the area and the specific problems faced locally which are a legacy inherited as a New Town. As part of the process of bringing New Town issues into the mainstream agenda it is essential that other organisations that influence redevelopment policy understand the context in which New Town regeneration proposals are developed.

  Within this general framework there are a number of specific points which the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee could usefully consider. A particular issue is that Government funding for major regeneration schemes is not available to a New Town such as Bracknell because of the relative affluence and lack of deprivation in the area. Provided the context within which we are working is understood this may not be seen as unreasonable. However, there are a number of specific points which would facilitate more effective regeneration possibilities in the future. In particular, the process relating to the transfer of land from the Commission for New Towns to local authorities could be re-examined.

  In this respect, the transfer of housing and neighbourhood shopping centre assets to the Local Authority in 1978 and the early 1980s was largely unproblematic. However, by contrast the transfer of community related assets in 1983 has created a number of problems. Central to this is the fact that the process included standard covenants on land which mean that if it is sold, or the use changed in a way which increases its value, English Partnerships and hence, in practice, the Treasury realise a large share of the increase. In reality, English Partnerships do not take a role in the regeneration process and this is draining resources from local authorities as they try to deal with the growing need for sustainable regeneration in the New Towns. Changes to the rules relating to the clawback arrangements would significantly help overcome this process.

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