Memorandum by Colin Pickthall MP (West
Lancashire Constituency) (NT 36)
I welcome the inquiry into the problems of New
Towns currently taking place.
Skelmersdale, in my constituency, suffers from
all the problems of other New Towns with the addition of being
relatively isolated (it has no rail links) and in an area of high
unemployment since the 1970s.
Over many years I have sought to make the point,
to successive Governments, that concentration on Inner City deprivation,
important as it was, led to an ignoring of the needs of smaller
urban centres like Skelmersdale. These towns' needs were similar
to those of Inner Cities yet they had few of the compensating
advantages (decent public transport, cultural infrastructures,
shopping choices, leisure facilities, plus special Government
investment and attention.)
During the 1980's the local West Lancashire
District Council and myself made repeated representations to Government
asking that the assets in the New Town left in the hands of the
Commission for New Towns (later with English Partnerships) should
not simply be stripped off, but at least a proportion should be
left in the town as "seed corn" for regeneration projects.
These pleas were ignored, not to say ridiculed.
The recessions of the 1980's and 1990's did
long term damage to employment in Skelmersdale and created unemployment
levels in some of the New Town wards that were amongst the highest
Like most New Towns, Skelmersdale was built
in a hurry over a period of about a decade. Originally intended
to house 80,000 people, its growth was stopped at about 40,000,
thus ensuring that the town never got the basic infrastructure
it expected its hospital was cancelled; its public transport system
was never developed. It has no cinema and very inadequate sports
and fitness facilities.
Most importantly, its housing has grown prematurely
old all at the same time. Housing put up in Skelmersdale used
virtually every experimental method known, many of them proving
to be failures. Thus the local authority, which took over responsibility
for the social housing from the Development Corporation at the
end of the eighties, has been faced with a major problem of refurbishment
and even rebuilds, throughout the nineties and into the new century,
a problem that Governments have not fully recognised in its Housing
Regeneration has been led chiefly by the District
Council calling upon SRB and Objective 2 money. In particular
the upturn in employment since 1997 has been underscored by regeneration
work in the Industrial Estates led by the District Council.
Key development now is to be in and around the
town centre to turn it into a commercial and civic centre which
Skelmersdale has never had.
A key element in regeneration is the use of
development land, not only as location for key development but
also to provide resources for the Local Authority to address key
This is nullified by the position of English
Partnerships who hold most of the publicly owned land in Skelmersdale
but have the brief to asset strip it. West Lancashire District
Council holds a small amount of land in the town, but that is
subject to claw back.
I understand that the North West RDA has put
in for the EP assets to be handed over to the RDA. While I understand
that the RDA's desperation to acquire assets to put together a
realistic budget, I maintain that EP assets should be returned
to the appropriate local authority specifically for regeneration
projects in the New Towns.
I also strongly believe that LA's should be
freed from claw back, which totally stifles their initiative.
There is no means by which government has ever
recognised the physical structural problems of New Towns built
on the Radburn principle. This means that every Council Service
costs more, especially refuse disposal and local transport. It
also creates many more problems of crime and disorder and of social
alienation than are experienced in traditional towns of similar