Memorandum by City of Sunderland (NT 21)
1.1 This report examines Washington New
Town in response to a request for information from the House of
Commons Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the
Regions inquiry into New Towns. The report examines the underlying
principles of the new town and evaluates the original design with
reference to the long term sustainability of the town. Current
regeneration initiatives in Washington are evaluated in order
to understand how current government approaches to regeneration
and neighbourhood renewal are being implemented.
2.1 Washington was one of the "third
generation" of new towns designated in response to increasing
population projections throughout the 1960s. The town is based
around the former mining villages of Usworth, Colombia, Fatfield
and Harraton. Over the past 20 years the new town has been the
fastest growing area in the North East. The town's location, adjacent
to the A1(M), gives direct access to the main north/south motorways
linking England and Scotland and is within 15 minutes drive from
the main cities of Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland.
3. CONCEPT DESIGN
3.1 In 1963 a white paper was issued entitled
"The North East A programme for regional and development
for growth" which included specific proposals for a New Town
in Washington. The following year the Minister for Housing announced
the Washington New Town Designation Order and the Washington Development
Corporation was established. Interim proposals were drafted prior
to a master plan being prepared. The main philosophy underpinning
this was the need to plan for full motorisation of the town. The
town was therefore based on a road network with a regular grid
system of half mile squares. This grid was also used to locate
village areas which make up the new town. The road grid was intended
to give flexibility in accommodating wide variations of land use
over the years and to provide areas suitable for contained residential
and industrial development. Whilst the road network was designed
to accommodate transport by bus its primary function was to accommodate
the private car. The pedestrian network was fully segregated from
vehicular traffic. Residential areas were constructed based on
individual villages with approximately 4,500 residents.
3.2 Each village was planned to have shops,
a school, village hall and pub with each village centre providing
a social nucleus. A particularly important element of the masterplan
proposals for each village was the substantial amount of open
space for general amenity. The design of villages was based on
the neighbourhood concept with each village planned as self contained
3.3 The main proposals for industry were
based upon the principle of dispersal and traffic dilution in
addition to the existing industrial area. From the outset it was
decided to create a new standard in industrial estate layout and
factory design. A particular emphasis was placed on landscaping
and making industrial estates a positive element in the townscape.
4.1 It is now approximately 15 years since
the "New Town" was completed and the Washington Development
Corporation abolished. The town forms a western gateway to the
City of Sunderland and is made up of four electoral wardsSouth,
East, West and North. It has a population of about 61,700 which
is characterised by a relatively young and mobile age group. This
population is distributed around 18 villages and the road grid
network system described above.
4.2 The new town is based around the town
centre and 17 villages
17 village areas Donwell, Usworth,
Concord, Sulgrave, Blackfell, Albany, Barmston, Washington Village,
Columbia, Biddick, Oxclose, Lambton, Glebe, Ayton, Fatfield, Harraton
4.3 The main shopping area is the Galleries,
a 550,000 sq ft indoor shopping mall with an adjoining 67 acre
retail and leisure park. Concord, Washington's original shopping
area still provides important shopping and community facilities
and there are shops in each of the villages.
5.1 Washington plays an important and significant
part in the City's and regions economy. It contains 54 per cent
of the City's industrial land. There are 16 industrial estates
which are segregated from village areas. The most notable employment
site is the Nissan Motor Manufacturing Plant. The company employs
about 4,600 people this is expected to rise as production of the
new Micra begins. The importance of Washington to the region is
emphasised by the number of jobs throughout the North East which
are dependent on Nissan (approximately 20,000).
5.2 The industrial estates which are distributed
across Washington are also particularly important sources of local
employment. These estates vary in size and character but the majority
of them are located close to the primary road network which helps
ensure that they remain relatively popular to national and international
firms. The distribution of these sites means that nearly all residents
live within 1 km of an employment site.
6.1 Washington has a wide variety of different
housing types which reflect the different periods in which they
were built. The council no longer owns any housing stock as these
have now been transferred to the new Washington Housing Company,
part of the Sunderland Housing Group. The stock consists of 5,201
houses, 135 maisonettes, 1,410 flats and 899 bungalows. Some of
this stock is in a poor state of repair and the housing company
plans to tackle these problems by spending £23.2 million
in the first five years and a further £111 million in Washington
over a period of approximately 25 years.
6.2 Sixty-four per cent of Washington's
Housing stock is owner occupied, the area is also very attractive
to private housebuilders.
6.3 Large scale regeneration work has now
begun in Albany Village with the demolition of 242 flats and improvements
to 242 houses planned over the next three years. Improvements
include replacement of external facades, full internal modernisation
and environmental improvements.
7.1 Washington has its own leisure centre
with a sports hall and swimming pool that is frequented by 274,000
visitors a year. There is also the Northumbria centre, a large
indoor venue which has been used for conferences, exhibitions
and sporting events such as Darts, Netball and Basketball. The
town has two main parks, the Princess Anne Park in the North and
the James Steel Park on the banks of the Wear.
8.1 One of the key issues facing all new
towns is the level of long term sustainability they can achieve.
Although Washington took an approach to development which recognised
some of the key ingredients of "sustainability" before
the term was in general use there were a number of contradictions.
8.2 For example whilst issues such as mixed
tenure, low energy buildings and facilitating community development
and voluntary sector activities were incorporated and taken into
account other elements such as mixed use activities, pedestrianised
streets, active frontages, high density housing and public transport
nodes which could have improved sustainability were largely ignored.
There are other sustainability issues in Washington which are
becoming increasingly important, for example, the sustainability
of the housing stock much of which needs to be remodelled, repaired
8.3 In recent years the government has been
particularly concerned with promoting the sustainable city. "Towards
an Urban Renaissance" and the recent Urban White Paper emphasise
the need for sustainable cities. The Urban White Paper outlines
a new vision of urban living which promotes;
good design and planning which makes
it practical to live in a more environmentally sustainable way,
with less noise, pollution and traffic congestion.
8.4 The white paper says that good design
should create places which are attractive and people friendly.
One of the problems facing all new towns is that they were carefully
planned developments but in many cases they fail to deliver the
concepts which are presently promoted by contemporary planners,
urban designers and architects. For example, it is often difficult
to walk to shops, jobs, leisure and other facilities. In the following
section Washington is assessed against the seven key principles
that are critical in creating successful streets, spaces, villages,
towns and cities. These principles help remind us what should
be sought to create a successful place.
9.1 CharacterIntegration of villages
into landscapes to reduce the impact on nature and reinforce local
Most of the villages were planned to blend in
with the landscape and take account of local features and topography.
To this extent Washington performs well and many of the villages
are surrounded by woodland and vegetation which provides habitats
for a variety of nature and wildlife.
9.2 Quality of the Public RealmVillages
with attractive and successful outdoor areas
Whilst many of the villages have a high amount
of open space and parkland the quality of the public realm within
village centres is variable. The villages have been designed primarily
with the car in mind therefore outdoor areas in such locations
are not particularly attractive to pedestrians.
9.3 Ease of movementA town which
is easy to get to and move through
One of the key criticisms of Washington is that
it was designed for car users and not for public transport and
pedestrian use. Whilst all the villages are interlinked with footpaths
these are often poorly lit and fail to create an attractive environment
conducive to encouraging more people to walk. The separation of
roads from pedestrians means that the town is difficult and confusing
to navigate. This is also the case for motorists who are often
confused by the numbered districts and the inability to drive
through villages because of restricted access. There is a clear
need for updated, user friendly signage in Washington. There is
also a problem with the divisiveness of the road network and motorway
system which runs through the town and causes physical and psychological
9.4 LegibilityA place which has
a clear image and is easy to understand
Many of the villages in Washington do have a
distinct identity particularly in relation to housing types. However
taking the Washington Town as a single entity it could be argued
that there is no real image or identity and that the town is hard
to understand and navigate around. The Galleries shopping mall
is the main focus of the new town however this is enclosed and
there are no active frontages with pedestrians and traffic. The
17 villages often feel isolated and disconnected despite attempts
to improve footpaths and linkages between them.
9.5 AdaptabilityA place that can
Washington has evolved since it's inception
as a new town however the grid road network upon which it is based
means that it is difficult for villages to adapt. The road network
acts like a collar therefore new development and change is unable
to straddle more than one village.
9.6 DiversityA place with variety
Another criticism of Washington is that the
urban landscape is monotonous much of the new housing built by
private investors in the 1980s and 1990s is based on standardised
house types and cul de sac developments which lack character.
The housing built under the Development Corporation is often more
distinctive as it was commissioned and designed by different architects.
However many of the materials used in these more innovative house
designs were poor quality and are now requiring repair and replacement.
It is in these areas where the architecture and design is more
distinct and has more in common with the fundamental principles
of the new town which planning policies should be attempting to
10. CURRENT REGENERATION
10.1 Washington is home to a range of innovative
projects which are trying to enhance the lives of people in the
community and reflect the distinctive cultural life of the area.
The City of Sunderland recently published its Area Regeneration
Framework Strategy for Washington. This guides the allocation
of Strategic Initiatives Budget (SIB) funding. The Washington
Area Committee has £200,000 a year to invest in projects
which contribute to the objectives of the Area Regeneration Framework.
In the past five years £1 million-worth of SIB funding has
been channelled into Washington initiatives. Below is a brief
summary of some of these initiatives.
10.2 Washington PrideThis
multi agency partnership brings together people from the public,
private voluntary sectors who want to make the area a successful,
safe, vibrant place to live and work. Washington Pride has taken
a road show to all four wards to ask local people what they think
about issues such as transport, community facilities, housing
and community safety.
10.3 North Washington Healthy Living
CentreA healthy living initiative backed by a massive
investment from the New Opportunities Fund. £1 million for
the area has been secured. The programme covers Concord, Usworth
and Sulgrave and aims to enhance the well being of local residents.
Plans for North Washington include:
Improved transport in the community
Support for the elderly
10.4 Bridge (Training and Education Opportunities
for Women)Bridge controls a budget of in excess of
£500,000 a year and is the lead agent for North Washington
Sure Start's community parenting scheme. Bridge welcomes all women
and particularly targets and supports those who are socially excluded,
including lone parents, women on low incomes, disabled women,
those with learning difficulties and women who are experiencing
poor mental health. Bridge has two main bases in Sulgrave and
Colombia with a new family centre in Albany.
10.5 Washington Millennium CentreThis
new community centre is at the heart of Concord, North Washington
and was funded by the City of Sunderland, the Millennium Commission
and National Playing Fields Association. More than 60 groups use
the centre each month and facilities include a community library,
electronic village hall, creche, café, disco area and multi-user
floodlit outdoor games area.
10.6 Washington is also in the unusual position
of being home to three major government initiatives which target
the overall development of children and young people. These projects
are concentrated in the North and West ward where nearly a quarter
of the population are under the age of 16.
10.7 North Washington Sure Start IIThis
is a £2.25 million initiative which releases trained staff
to work with families to promote the physical, intellectual and
social development of pre-school children, thus enabling them
to thrive once they start school.
10.8 On Track (4-12s)North
Washington is one of only 24 areas nationally to benefit from
On Track, a seven year programme which aims to strengthen vulnerable
children and their families. The City Council's bid has attracted
Home Office funding of £450,000 per year from 2000-03. On
Track is part of the governments crime reduction programme and
provides a range of support services to children, and their families,
who are at risk of offending.
10.9 Youth Inclusion (13-16s)This
government initiative which is managed by Crime Concern aims to
reduce the number of arrests among 13-16 year olds, reduce recorded
crime and reduce truancy and school exclusion. The programme is
funded by the Youth Justice Board with local matched funding of
£75,000 per year. Activities include midnight basketball
and a four day residential course at an outdoor activities center.
10.10 It is clear that there are a number
of ongoing regeneration initiatives in Washington, however, there
is concern that there are small pockets of deprivation within
10.11 One of the problems associated with
the way the government currently approaches regeneration and neighbourhood
renewal is that funding is focussed and awarded on the basis of
deprivation and indicators of deprivation. The worst areas from
across the UK compete nationally and tend to receive money based
on ward areas. In Washington the four ward areas taken together
do not perform particularly poorly because deprivation is concentrated
in specific neighbourhoods. The masterplan framework conceived
Washington as a single entity therefore a holistic and joined
up approach to regeneration which encompasses all the villages
Key issues in Washington
|Young People || Shortage of good quality youth provision in Washington
| Shortage of leisure facilities
| Increased provision of supported housing for young people
| Need for more pre-school provision and family support
| Drug, solvent and alcohol misuse among young people
|Housing|| Need to encourage private landlords to improve stock and management of properties.
| Sustainability of stock eg non traditional housing needs to be remodelled
| Need to assess future housing need with reference to population analysis
|Health|| Reduce by 10 per cent the gap between the areas with the lowest life expectancy at birth with the population as whole by 2010
| Need to promote community led solutions to tackling health related issues
|Economic Growth|| Need to increase employment rates in the areas with the poorest initial labour market position by 2004
| Need for more small business units and start up facilities
| Encourage private sector investment in the regeneration Washington
|Community safety|| Need for increased community safety on housing estates
| Need to address youth disorder and anti social behaviour
|Environment|| Need to enhance the environment by improving parks and open spaces
| Need for user friendly signage in Washington
| Need to reduce the litter problem Lack of maintenance to woodlands and plantations which has community safety implications
| Need for further development of industrial land
| Reduction of graffiti in the Washington area
| Enhance lighting for environmental and safety purposes
|Transport|| Improve access to public transport
| Promote safer routes to schools
| Improve cycle routes to and within Washington
| Reduce the emphasis on car users and encourage public transport which is accessible to all age groups and at all times
|Social and cultural|| Need to establish local demand for refurbished and enhanced community facilities
| Support and increase the participation of local communities in regeneration initiatives
| Shortage of play facilities and provision of teen shelters
| Demand for increased sports facilities in Washington
11. CITY OF
11.1 The Environment Department is presently undertaking
an area based study of Washington. Since the new town was completed
there have been many important national social and economic changes.
Similarly in terms of planning there have been important shifts
in what is considered good practice and how planners think about
urban areas, towns, design and layouts. Many of the National Planning
Guidance Notes have been revised since the Washington Masterplan
proposals were completed in 1985. In particular new guidance on
housing (PPG 3) and transport (PPG 13) has been published these
advocate different densities and patterns of land use than previously.
Part 1 of the study will provide an opportunity to assess some
of the strategic issues facing Washington.
11.2 Part 2 of the study will examine each of the village
districts which comprise Washington. This analysis will show the
dynamics of each village. The following five themes will be used
to evaluate each village district:
2. Employment estates
3. Community facilities
11.3 In December 2001 the Government published a green
paper on planning. This outlines the governments proposals to
reform the planning system in particular the document proposes
a new framework for development plans. This study will be prepared
in light of the recommendations made in the document. The green
paper recommends more detailed action plans for smaller local
areas of change such as town centres and neighbourhood undergoing
renewal. The Washington study will adopt this approach by identifying
priority areas in Washington which are most in need of revitalisation.
12. ORGANISATION AND
12.1 Most New Towns were developed under special legislative
and administrative arrangements with unusual powers and access
to funds. This is true of Washington where a Development Corporation
was created to secure the development of a new town. The Washington
Development Corporation was the delivery vehicle for growth with
a limited life. Such arrangements no longer exist as the Development
Corporation has been disbanded. The City of Sunderland does not
have the assets or special powers that the Development Corporation
had to intervene in the market and assist in promoting new development.
When the Washington Development Corporation was disbanded the
housing and associated assets were passed over to the local authority.
Economic development land was passed to the Commission for New
Towns which subsequently became English Partnerships.
12.2 As mentioned above all of the housing which was
transferred over from the development corporation to the local
authority has recently been transferred to the Sunderland Housing
Group as a registered social landlord. The council does not have
any large holdings of land within Washington to bring forward
or encourage specific development as the Washington Development
Corporation was able to.
12.3 English partnerships has the power to grant outline
planning permission for B1, B2 and B8 uses on land that it owns.
The local authority is normally consulted on such applications
but problems can occur when this does not take place. This emphasises
the need for a close working relationship between English Partnerships,
the local authority, community groups and transport organisations.
It also reiterates the importance of having an integrated spatial
framework to ensure development is guided to the right locations.
13. STRENGTHS AND
13.1 Most new towns and their administrative arrangements
included many concepts currently held in high regard by national
and EU administrations. They contained good practice in many areas
for example they:
Took a long term holistic approach to the planning,
development and management of areas embracing an integrated approach
to the development of physical, economic and social structure.
Had a lot of success in attracting private investment
particular inward investors (Nissan)
Provided valuable examples of success in development
and redevelopment on greenfield and brownfield land. Washington
in particular redeveloped many brownfield sites.
Their weakness stemmed from three sources
The Development Corporations holistic approach
relied on imperfectly engineered partnerships with other public
authorities. Co-operation was often frustrated by conflicting
There was no connection between the growth of
the new town and the income available to the local authority which
took responsibility for the on going running costs, and the initial
capital cost of some facilities and services.
The sudden closure of development corporations
and handover of assets to the Commission for New Towns caused
problems. The legislation under which the CNT was set up gave
it a much narrower role than the development corporations. Through
the CNT the government became asset strippers selling of large
amounts of land and assets.
14.1 It is clear that there have been many achievements
in Washington and that the new town has represented a long term
holistic approach to urban development and renewal, which has
been lacking in other urban policies. However whilst the aims
and principles behind the masterplan and the new town movement
in Washington were laudable and worthy of praise it is clear now
that are a number of underlying problems particularly in relation
to sustainability and social exclusion in some of the village
14.2 The City of Sunderland has begun to try and address
these through a number of regeneration initiatives which are described
in more detail above however further funding will be required
to help make environmental improvements and alter the infrastructure
upon which the new town is based. New planning policies which
address a wide range of issues will also be required to help promote
regeneration and development in villages areas. The long term
holistic approach described above as an example of good practice
needs to be replicated in regeneration initiatives to ensure an
integrated approach to the development of physical, economic and
social structures in Washington. With this in mind the government
should consider how they can develop specific policy initiatives
for new town areas as they present a set of unique problems and