Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by New Towns Group (NT 14)


  1.1  The New Towns Group warmly welcomes the Committee's inquiry into New Towns and the opportunity to present evidence to the Committee. The New Town Group believes that the Select Committee should note the following recommendations:

    —  New Towns should be "normalised" wherever possible—that is to have similar, or enhanced powers over planning and development issues to other local authorities.

    —  New Towns are sub-regional growth centres, often with strong economies. In order for them to continue to thrive, the Government needs to have policies to support them.

    —  New Towns have significant levels of deprivation and need specific funding to meet their needs.

    —  The responsible local authorities are the best placed organisations to lead and regenerate New Towns.

    —  Local authorities responsible for New Towns lack the ownership of assets and access to finance required to sustain population growth, maintain infrastructure and tackle regeneration. The Government therefore needs to make additional finance available to tackle these problems through changes to the Revenue Support Grant formula.

    —  English Partnerships assets held in New Towns should be transferred to local authorities. Any remaining broader remit should be handled within each region by the Regional Development Agency, and have regard to the RDA's obligations concerning sustainable development.

    —  Local authorities should have full planning powers in New Town areas.


  2.1  The New Towns Group represents 10 of the local authorities in The New Towns Special Interest Group (SIG). These are:

  1.  Easington

  2.  Halton

  3.  Harlow

  4.  Milton Keynes

  5.  Northampton

  6.  Peterborough

  7.  Telford and Wrekin

  8.  Torfaen

  9.  Warrington

  10.  West Lancashire

  2.2  The organisation includes representatives from each local authority at both an officer and member level. It has at all times tried to engage in constructive dialogue with Government to ensure that New Towns interests are properly represented and that moves are made towards their normalisation—that is to have similar, or enhanced powers over planning and development issues.

  2.3  In providing evidence to the Committee, the Group has attempted to answer each of the Committee's concerns in turn and, where possible, provide examples.


  3.1  The New Towns were created by post-war Governments on greenfield and brownfield land and many of the them are now over 50 years old. That seed-corn investment by the Treasury has now reached a high level of maturity. Most of the New Towns are economically dynamic areas, which have levered in significant business investment. They have also fulfilled an important social function, providing housing for many from blighted inner-city areas, generated jobs and provided recreational amenities. They are, in most cases, successful sub-regional growth centres.

  3.2  There is a wide variety of New Towns, but they all share common characteristics. While most of the New Towns were built on sound principles at the time, they have not stood well against the tests of time. There is overwhelming evidence that they are no longer sustainable communities and are in urgent need of regeneration. In particular, the Committee should note that there are concerns about:

    —  Overall infrastructure decay.

    —  Urban deprivation is reaching acute levels, but Government regeneration schemes are not reaching the most deprived wards.

    —  Housing in need of regeneration.

    —  Poor urban design and housing design for today's needs.

    —  Unsustainable growth levels in many areas.

    —  Over-reliance on the motor car and a lack of public transport.

    —  Lack of assets available to local authorities.

    —  Lack of overall planning control by the local authorities.

    —  Limited local facilities and limited levels of public realm.

  3.3  The New Towns Group recognises that the Government made significant investments in the past to establish these towns, but the Government must now remain committed to their future and refocus their attention on the needs of the towns.

  3.4  New Towns are artificial constructs. As such, they do not have normal patterns of growth and have different demographic make-ups. Many communities are cut-off through poor urban design and lack of public transport. Crime is also an important issue, for example, Peterborough has the highest rate of crime per 1,000 people in Cambridgeshire. In some cases, these towns have not been built along good principles of sustainable development (eg because of low density, car-dependent lay-outs and segregated uses which lead to isolation and limited access to jobs and facilities), which is a cause of major problems of social exclusion. In other cases towns have attempted to provide elaborate public transport infrastructure but failed to deliver as expected (eg the Runcorn Busway). Town centres have been built along the lines of out of town shopping malls and therefore provide little scope for social interaction, public realm, enjoyment, mixed areas or evening economy.

  3.5  The costs of maintaining these communities are disproportionately high. Many of the New Towns are now requiring significant levels of investment to help regenerate early housing estates (and in some cases completely or selectively demolish) and local shopping centres. In many cases these estates do not qualify for urban regeneration funding, but their needs are every bit as great as other recognised urban areas. In addition, the local authorities have to meet the significant costs of maintaining expansive parks, road schemes art works and facilities, beyond the norm found in traditional towns and cities.

  3.6  The land upon which New Towns were originally built was owned by the Development Corporations. Once the New Towns were wound up, local authorities inherited much of the infrastructure and housing stock, while residual development land was handed over to the Commission for New Towns and finally integrated with English Partnerships. In some instances, well-founded fears over future housing maintenance liabilities led the local authority to decide not to take on the New Town housing stock, it being transferred to housing associations instead. In these cases, the Housing Corporation as well as EP exert considerable influence on future developments. The ownership of the residual development land by CNT and latterly English Partnerships has caused significant problems for the local authorities representing New Towns.

  3.7  Sally Keeble MP made the point in a recent debate, where she said; "it is important that the new towns are part of the Government's agenda for the urban renaissance."[4] If the Government is to take forward its urban revival agenda, it must find a solution to the problems of the New Towns as a matter of priority.


  4.1  New Towns were built to provide a better quality of life for Britain's over-crowded inner-city populations. They have been engines of growth and development for the past 50 years and continue to grow. Many of them, now having reached a stage of maturity, are major regional and sub-regional centres of growth, industry and commerce in their own right, but often do not have the full range of facilities (eg theatres, cinemas etc.) to cope with their role.

  4.2  Many of the New Towns are sub-regional retail centres. Their physical form and design means they are ill equipped to fulfil this role, lacking as they do in a truly diverse mix of uses, a quality public ream and good transport access.

  4.3  New Towns are the focus of much of the country's manufacturing and industrial base and many of the New Towns have very clear visions for future growth. Telford and Harlow for example are trying to build on hi-tech corridors and Milton Keynes and Northampton have strong economies. They are often regional employment centres and have the potential for yet further growth. Inadequate public transport systems and the segregation from housing areas may curtail that growth. In addition, lack of investment in infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, could undermine the future of the New Towns. With demographic change, the number of older people in New Towns are growing as the initial population retires and there will be a need for greater investment in years to come.


  5.1  The Government's policy towards New Towns has been ambivalent. Nevertheless, the Government has recently accepted that this has been the case and has indicted that it is prepared to look at the issue. As the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Sally Keeble MP, said "We must recognise that the creation of the new towns was one of the great achievements of the post-war Labour Government. They provided new residential areas and areas of economic growth for people to live and work in, and transformed the lives of people who made the journey from overcrowded inner cities. We should recognise the pressures on housing, infrastructure and communities in the new towns. . . What was a great vision of the Attlee Government is starting to show its age, and it is time to look at what is going on."[5]

  5.2  Much of the Government's focus has understandably been on the regeneration of the cities, and to a lesser extent some regeneration of market towns. New Towns however have many of the same characteristics of outer city housing estates, including deprivation, poor public transport links, poor local facilities and urban design to name but a few. The Government should therefore look at the best practice being implemented to rejuvenate the nation's cities and provide the funds and access to expertise to the New Towns.


  6.1  New Towns have been at the mercy of a number of Government agencies, starting with the New Town Corporations, then the Commission for New Towns and finally, English Partnerships. CNT and English Partnerships have not served the New Towns well and have not invested the necessary interest, nor finance. English Partnerships also operates in Cwmbran in Wales. Given the existence of the National Assembly for Wales, this anomaly should be amended and the powers and assets held by English Partnerships in Cwmbran should be transferred to Torfaen Council. English Partnerships also operates in different ways in different areas. For example, English Partnerships operates in the District of Easington as both a regenerator of the coalfields area, where money is recycled from asset sales into further coalfield regeneration, and as an owner of former CNT land. In cases where EP is acting as the inheritor of CNT land, it is stripping land assets for the benefit of the Treasury and is contributing few resources towards local regeneration schemes.

  6.2  The Government has set up a new raft of structures which deserve attention. Local Strategic Partnerships could have a key role to play in the future development of the New Towns. They should have a key stake in how regeneration funds are spent in New Towns and should influence the management of assets. We believe that LSPs would be best placed as having a strong supportive role or "critical friend" of local authorities. Though it is still very early days in the evolution of LSPs, and their potential role needs further thought, they could play a key role in the future.

  6.3  Regional Development Agencies currently have regeneration powers, a duty to promote the economic well-being of their region and develop a number of strategies to do so. We believe they will always be focussed on the areas of greatest deprivation and meeting the needs of local cities. New Towns have specific problems and are usually important within sub-regions, rather than having a high status regionally. Therefore RDAs are not the appropriate vehicle for regenerating New Towns—any potential role in New Towns should be to support the prime effort from local authorities.

  6.4  Local authorities already have a track record of running New Towns. Many of the New Towns have either unitary authority status or are large District Councils (such as Northampton). District authorities have the powers to cover planning and economic development issues, but counties have a role in social service and education provision etc. Any transfer of powers from Government bodies to districts would have to take into account the capacity and remit of the local authority. We believe that unitary and district authorities certainly do have the capacity to deal with regeneration and planning issues. Local authorities have however been hindered in assisting the development of New Towns by a lack of:

    —  Consistent partnership with English Partnerships.

    —  Assets, which in many cases are controlled by English Partnerships primarily for the benefit of external finance limits set by HM Treasury.

    —  Funds from central government, in recognition of the high costs associated with growing populations.

    —  Planning powers to cover the whole of the community they serve.

    —  Lack of access to specific regeneration funds.

    —  The provision of infrastructure through new developments via Section 106 agreements.

  Given that local authorities are the most responsive organisations to people's needs and the communities they serve, local authorities overseeing New Towns should be empowered with the funds and powers you would expect to find in any other local authority.


  7.1  The Government's regeneration strategy is focussed primarily on the 88 Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF) priority areas, targeted at the country's most deprived wards. Some of the New Town's local authorities are recipients of funding through the NRF, as well as SRB and European structural funding. However, a significant number of the New Towns do not qualify for any funding, despite significant levels of deprivation. Many of the deprived wards in New Towns are all the more striking because they are so visible in the context of a modern, built environment. They therefore have a distinctive nature, contrasting with the overall prosperity of many of the New Towns.

  7.2  One of the issues the Committee should consider is whether the current regeneration schemes are sensitive enough to be able to recognise that deprivation levels can be spread either across several wards or can have acute problems relating to one indicator—such as health or education. Many of the most deprived wards in New Towns have the highest levels of deprivation on a sub-regional or regional basis. If the Government is to avert higher regeneration costs in the future, it needs to act now.


  Runcorn New Town is a large component of Halton. In the national Index of Multiple Deprivation 2000, all the New Town wards fall within the top 10 per cent most deprived wards in England—and four of these are in the top 5 per cent.

  7.3  The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the local authorities do not have access to the financial resources normally available to local authorities. English Partnerships operates in the New Towns as an asset manager, but not as a regeneration agency. As a result, English Partnerships is selling assets, without any benefits being realised by the local community. The New Towns Group believes that this issue needs to be urgently addressed to ensure that local authorities can manage the assets and ensure that finances accruing from sales are recycled into the regeneration of the most deprived wards in the area.

  7. 4  Taking the Government's data on rank by levels of deprivation, the only New Towns which qualify for Neighbourhood Renewal Funding are

    —  Easington

    —  Sunderland (though the wards affected are not in Washington New Town)

    —  Halton

    —  Sedgefield

    —  Preston

  If the rank of local authorities was to be expanded beyond the current NRF qualifying local authorities to include the top 150, the number of New Town local authorities qualifying would include a further nine New Towns in England. In Annex 1[6] we have also indicated the nature of the deprivation and whether there are specific deprived wards, demonstrating where each one has a ward within the top 1,000 most deprived wards in any one of the Government's deprivation indices.

  7.5  There is clear evidence that there are significant levels of deprivation in many of the New Towns and many of them lie just outside the NRF qualifying levels of deprivation. The Government needs to target resources at New Town deprivation.


  8.1  New Towns are both the engines of growth for the nation's economy and also areas of need of regeneration. The best organisation to meet these needs are the local authorities, in partnership with key stakeholders.

  8.2  There is considerable concern by the New Town local authorities over the operation of English Partnerships, to the extent that we can see no specific role for the organisation within the New Towns. At present, English Partnerships owns a total of 5,700 hectares of land in England, most of which is based in the New Towns.

  8.3  As presently constituted, English Partnerships has a variable record of partnership with local communities, has no regeneration remit in the New Towns and is focussed on selling off assets for the benefit of HM Treasury, not the local community. It is self-evident that New Towns have paid off any "debt" they may have owed HM Treasury and yet they are being used as a cash cow and local authorities are expected to handle the liabilities they have inherited from the Government in the way of deprived neighbourhoods.

  8.4  The New Towns Group therefore believes that:

    —  Democratic organisations should be in control of key assets in New Town areas.

    —  Local authorities should have access to assets currently held by English Partnerships so they can reinvest the money back into the regeneration of local communities.

    —  English Partnerships assets in Wales, principally with Cwmbran, should be transferred to Torfaen County Borough Council.

    —  Covenants and claw backs are a major hindrance on the development and redevelopment of many sites in New Towns and are inhibiting incentives to develop new uses for many sites. Therefore, all claw backs and covenants should be cancelled to allow local authorities to develop sites to meet the needs of today's communities. Even by 2012, claw backs established in 1987, reduced by 2 per cent per annum, will still be worth 50 per cent of the receipt. Covenants exist in most New Towns on land formerly in the ownership of CNT. Development of this land requires EP to lift the covenant, which often is problematical. The preferred position would be for all such covenants to be either extinguished or gifted to the local authorities.

    —  English Partnerships' control of sub-soils and ransom strips curtails and slows down developments in New Towns.

    —  Local authorities in New Towns should have the same planning powers as any other local authority, including rights to Section 106 agreements and planning fees. This would allow these local authorities to receive the benefit of the planning system any other local authority would take for granted.

    —  Any broader residual role of English Partnerships could be handled by the respective RDA with whom the individual local authority already has a constructive and developing relationship.

    —  Local authorities cannot borrow against assets held by English Partnerships.

  8.5  The overall benefits of transferring the assets and powers held by English Partnerships to the local authorities would include:

    —  A more responsive and democratic structure.

    —  A true partnership could operate, giving stakeholders a key role in the development of New Towns.

    —  Funds from the sale of local assets could be recycled into locally deprived areas, and meet the high costs of maintaining New Town infrastructure.

    —  Local authorities would have control over the future of the communities they serve.

    —  Local authorities could buy in specialist services to help them develop sites in a responsive way to the needs of the local community.


  9.1  New Towns continue to be a success, in many cases acting as growth centres within regions. For this success to be maintained, the Government must address the underlying problems afflicting the New Towns. New Towns have deteriorating infrastructure and a desperate need for regeneration. Many New Towns do not qualify for Neighbourhood Renewal grants, yet have deprivation levels as acute as that found on outer-city housing estates. Local authorities are unable to resolve these problems due to a lack of assets and claw backs and covenants held by English Partnerships and lack of control over significant development areas. Therefore the Government should be advised to "normalise" New Town local authorities as soon as possible, restoring planning rights and providing them with an asset base as found in any other normal local authority. For too long New Towns have had their problems ignored on the basis that they were "new", now the Government should act to ensure they can continue to successfully grow.

4   Commons Hansard, 19 January 2002, Col 40 WH. Back

5   Commons Hansard, 19 January 2002, Col 40 WH. Back

6   Ev not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 16 April 2002