Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Welwyn Hatfield Council (NT 23)


  Welwyn Hatfield Council is unique in having two New Towns, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City within its boundaries. They are "first generation" New Towns, designated in 1948. Consequently, our submission restricts itself to issues relating specifically to the first generation New Towns is that

  The New Towns were established to deal with overspill from major urban centres and as economic generators in the regional economy. They still fulfil those roles.

  All of the New Towns suffer from problems which are unique to New Towns, primarily the consequences of development over a short period, leading to uniform deterioration over time and the need for large scale infrastructure renewal.

  The Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) and the Treasury should be advised that there is a need to invest capital funds in the New Towns now in order to prevent further decline and a need for higher investment in the future, and that the way in which Standard Spending Assessments are calculated for New Towns should be reviewed.

  However there are different issues in the first generation new towns and the later new towns in terms of remaining land holdings available for development.

  The proposal should be put to the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions that in the first generation New Towns the minimal remaining assets held by English Partnerships should be transferred to the appropriate New Town local authority on terms to be agreed, and that a proportion of the income from sales of assets in the later New Towns should be reinvested in the first generation new towns.


  The first generation New Towns developed out of the 1944 Abercrombie Plan for the regeneration of London. They were established from 1946 onwards. The aim was to create good living and working environments which would attract investment and facilitate continuing economic health. The new town movement is generally regarded as successful and the New Towns represent prosperous, well developed communities.

  However, the early New Towns were built during an idealistic and optimistic period immediately following the second world war, before the introduction of sustainable planning policies. In consequence they suffer from a number of problems, inherited from the design practices of the 1950s and 60s.

  The towns were mainly planned and built over a very short period and subject to experimental planning and building techniques. They were designed to cope with the specific requirements of post-war communities and without the needs of future generations in mind. Large parts of the towns now need major redevelopment to meet the demands of societies which have moved on from the earlier concepts, but without the flexibility of urban fabric which more traditional towns have.

  The main problems of the first generation New Towns are:

    (i)  Deteriorating infrastructure, all built at the same time and now in need of replacement or major change to meet modern needs.

These include

      —  Mains services installations.

      —  Unadopted sewers.

      —  Highways, both adopted and private.

      —  Extensive footpath networks.

      —  Town centres and neighbourhood shopping centres.

      —  Community centres.

      —  Park and recreation facilities.

      —  Substantial landscape regeneration.

    (ii)  The maintenance and/or replacement of cheap and cheerful buildings of poor quality, system built housing and other non-traditional housing, again all deteriorating at the same time.

    (iii)  Countering inadequate planning which created narrow roads and inadequate parking for residential areas in most parts of each new town.

    (iv)  The sheer scale of routine maintenance problems such as huge areas of grass verges and open spaces, paths, playing fields, woodland and large numbers of roadside trees which are significantly greater than those in conventional towns.

    (v)  Employment in many New Towns was based around a single major employer which has now gone. This results in particular pressures in attracting replacement employers and the need to make provision for small businesses.

    (vi)  The demographic profiles of the New Towns are artificial as the original populations of the towns were predominantly young families "imported" en masse. This brings problems with a higher proportion of the New Town populations now being elderly, putting increased pressure on local services.


  The issues outlined above lead to substantial costs which are unique to the New Towns and are costs resulting from them being New Towns. There is a need for reinvestment in the towns, but the ability of the local authorities to address these issues is limited.

  The standard spending assessment (SSA) which determines the revenue support grants to local authorities is predominantly population based. It does not recognise the unique costs which are peculiar to the new towns. District Council SSAs are calculated within the other services block.

  The majority of New Towns remain in "Two Tier" authorities. A number of the services they provide are not taken account of in the District Council SSA but are in the County Council SSA. In that context, New Town need tends to be the poor relation of' Social Services' and "Education" and relies heavily on housing criteria as an indicator of deprivation, which disadvantages the new towns. Further, it does not take into account the cost of leisure and community facilities, all of which are provided at a higher level in new towns.

  There is no special funding through basic credit approval for housing renewal and infrastructure, despite the scale of the problems suffered in some of the first generation new towns and there is no special capital challenge funding which relates to the new town reinvestment problems.

  Other discretionary funding sources, particularly those which rely on deprivation indicators, tend to be skewed against new towns and are also subject to a pattern of changing rules.


  Like the Commission for New Towns (CNT) before it, English Partnerships (EP) has a contradictory brief. It is required to dispose of its assets at the best price for land and property and return the Government's investment to the public purse, ie act in the interests of the Treasury and the tax payer. At the same time, it is required to take into account the interests of the local community, ie people living, working or carrying out business in the New Towns.

  The CNT tended to satisfy the first part of that brief and disregard the second. As a result the first generation new towns were effectively asset stripped. EP have paid more regard to the second part of the brief, working more closely with the new towns on issues such as town centre redevelopment, but have not brought much investment of public funds back into the first generation towns.

  CNT appeared to invest only in order to facilitate disposal of assets and had no long term interest in the new towns which they served. Where assets were transferred to the local authorities, these were often in a very poor state of repair and transferred with no "dowry" to cover their maintenance and upkeep.

  CNT's disposal activities over the years created situations of multiple ownership, which make it extremely difficult for the local authorities to undertake development in the interests of the local community. The town centres are suffering from the decline brought about by out of town shopping developments and "simultaneous dilapidation" mentioned above, but these problems cannot be easily addressed when they are in the ownership of many different organisations. Multiple ownership also leads to a lack of co-ordinated maintenance in the town centres and creates problems when trying to negotiate redevelopment schemes.

  The remaining EP assets in the first generation new towns are now of minimal commercial value, but EP own clawback, restrictive covenants and ransom strips which severely inhibit the ability of the Local Authorities in developing the towns.


  As mentioned, EP have minimal assets in the first generation New Towns. It is proposed that in these towns all of EP's residual assets, including land, subsoils, interest in covenants and ransom strips are transferred to the Local Authorities as successors in title.

  This would immediately address a number of the problems noted above because ownership of the assets will enable the Local Authorities to:

    —  Remove bureaucracy and streamline the redevelopment process.

    —  Carry out appropriate maintenance where necessary.

    —  Reinvest in premises where necessary.

    —  Create more openness in the way any transactions are handled because it will be through the democratic process.

    —  Remove the stifling effect of covenants on potential developments.

  The residual assets in most of the first generation new towns are very limited and it will need to be clear how the transfer of such assets is to be handled.

  Any transfer should create no additional revenue costs to the recipient councils. The cost of maintenance of the assets needs to be established and the Local Authorities will need assets providing equivalent revenue income to balance them. Where no equivalent revenue income exists there will need to be support to the Local Authorities, either through payment from EP or through grant support. Where there is a revenue benefit to the Local Authorities, this to be used for repair, refurbishment and reinvestment.

  Consideration also needs to be given to the use of any capital receipts which may arise in the future from the disposal of any interest in the assets transferred from EP. Patently part of EP's current remit is to raise money for Government through its disposal policy and any proposal will need to reassure the Treasury that it will continue to benefit.


  The financing problems faced by the first generation New Towns, namely ageing infrastructure all deteriorating at the same time, run down housing areas, Town and Neighbourhood centres, has been outlined above. Currently there is no recognition of the particular problems in either credit approvals or the bidding criteria for other funding regimes such as Single Regeneration Budget.

  There is an urgent need to reinvest in the New Towns to halt a spiral of decline which is already becoming evident. If no reinvestment takes place, the original New Towns will then require larger investment of government finance in the future to tackle the inevitable problems of physical and social deprivation. Reinvestment now will stop that decline and prevent the worsening of the problem.

  Three possible alternatives could be put to DTLR:

    (i)  That the Government recognise the need for reinvestment in the New Towns and makes appropriate provision through either the basic credit approval or supplementary credit approvals to allow capital spend on refurbishment schemes.

    (ii)  That a separate fund be established, not subsumed into SRB, for reinvestment in the New Towns.

    (iii)  That a proportion of the income generated by EP from the disposal of major assets in the later New Towns be set aside for reinvestment in the first generation towns.

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