Previous Section Index Home Page

After the war, the ordnance factory was run down and some of the buildings were sold off to private companies. That become the nucleus of Newton Aycliffe’s industrial estate, which is now the largest industrial estate in County Durham, with more than 250 companies employing between 8,000 and 9,000 people. It was inevitable that a growing industrial estate miles from anywhere would lead to the building of an urban area, and eventually a new town was proposed, with a corporation to oversee its development. The first chair of the corporation was Lord Beveridge. A friend of mine, John Moran, who has lived in Newton Aycliffe for almost 50 years, is a bricklayer and helped to build more houses in the town in those early days. He remembers Lord Beveridge visiting the building site
11 Mar 2008 : Column 258
on Crosby road one day, wearing his trilby, overcoat and that traditional building-site apparel, a pair of spats.

Newton Aycliffe was the smallest of the new towns. It was planned to cover an area of 880 acres and cater for a population of 10,000 people, 6,000 of whom would work on the industrial estate. In his 1952 pamphlet “New Towns and the Case for Them”, Beveridge described the first inhabitants of Newton Aycliffe. He said that the town consisted

Of the town’s first 500 inhabitants, many came from all over County Durham, including such areas in my constituency as Ferryhill and Chilton. Many more travelled from Birmingham, London, Oxford, Coventry, Somerset, Scotland and elsewhere.

The town grew steadily, but had no amenities. Every school, church, community centre and doctor’s surgery had to be built from scratch. The first row of shops opened on Neville parade in 1952, and boasted a post office, a greengrocer’s, and a fishmonger’s. The first shops in the town centre started to be built in 1957, when the population target for Newton Aycliffe was doubled from 10,000 to 20,000, so that it could reach its industrial potential. By 1959 there were 49 shops in the town centre, of which 39 were let.

At the time, a road ran through the town centre along Beveridge way, but it has been pedestrianised. Many constituents remember the town centre from those times; they say that it was vibrant and full of flowerbeds, and that it was somewhere that people wanted to go. From my understanding, the problems with the development of the town centre started in the early 1960s, when Lord Hailsham, as Minister for the North East, produced a report entitled “The North East—A Programme for Regional Development and Growth”, which proposed additional industrial land for Newton Aycliffe and a new target population of 45,000. Even then the figure was seen as highly optimistic, but the corporation started to consider the future of the town centre in the light of the new target.

The development corporation’s annual report of 1963 records that

There were further delays while consultants prepared a master plan. A report was commissioned in 1964 but did not materialise until 1966. The plan was to build a new town centre a quarter of a mile away, and to connect the two by a pedestrian walkway. That proposal was rejected and it was agreed to expand the existing town centre.

In 1968, the Secretary of State agreed to phase 1 of the town centre’s development, which provided 14 new shop units and a modest amount of second-floor office accommodation. In 1970, Darlington rural district council built the leisure centre that now stands on the corner of Beveridge way, with a £100,000 contribution from the development corporation. The centre was further extended by Sedgefield district council, the successor local authority, in 1974. In 1972, phase 2 was agreed and led to more shopping and office space.

11 Mar 2008 : Column 259

Between the publication of the Hailsham report and the completion of phase 2 in 1975—a period of 12 years—the town centre changed, some thought, architecturally, for the worse. In his book “Aycliffe and Peterlee New Towns”, Garry Philipson said that much of the problem could be attributed to

By 1980 Newton Aycliffe’s population stood at 26,000. A fresh target was set the following year which envisaged a population of 32,000 in 1991, a figure dramatically lower than the 45,000 set by Hailsham. The population in 2008 is only about 27,000. In 1984 the town centre was sold off to the Grainger Trust, which in 1990 sold it to Freshwater property investors. The following year the Avenue comprehensive school was closed because of falling school rolls. The school was next door to the town centre and was demolished in the early 1990s.

It was not until 1999 that the county council agreed to sell the land to Manchester-based developers CTP. In 2000, CTP and Tesco announced a plan for a 68,000 sq ft supermarket as part of a £25 million town centre makeover. The owners of the existing town centre opposed the proposal on the grounds that the Tesco store would be too large, and integration between the new development and the existing town centre would be poor. As a consequence, there was no agreement.

The borough council agreed to go ahead with the development in two phases. Phase 1 consisted of the new Tesco store, eight retail units and a youth centre. The development was completed by 2004. Phase 2 was to include a pedestrian plaza, health centre and library and community facilities. In 2006, Somerfield supermarket closed with the loss of 63 jobs in the town centre, mostly as the result of competition from Tesco.

The agreement between Durham county council and CPT expired before the development of the second phase could start. The council stated at the time, in May 2007, that despite

That was the view of Chris Tunstall, deputy chief executive of the council.

That is how we reached the present position, but as I said, there are grounds for optimism because things are starting to move after much pressure and after getting people to sit down and sort the problem out. Some may say that we have been here before, and we have. That is why I will continue to press hard for action rather than talk. Action is starting to happen, but my anger will match that of my constituents if the promised action is not forthcoming.

Slowly, retailers are beginning to show confidence in the town once more. A new store will be moving into the town centre in the coming months where Somerfield once had a supermarket. That may be of little comfort for my constituents in Newton Aycliffe, but criticism of town centres in new towns is not restricted to the town centre that we are debating tonight. It has been a concern for many new towns. The Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee report “The New Towns: Their Problems and Future”, published in July 2002, stated in paragraph 18:

11 Mar 2008 : Column 260

In paragraph 21, the report went on to say:

That is true of Newton Aycliffe town centre. Freshwater, which owns the site, however, is showing renewed commitment to the town centre’s redevelopment.

In the book on Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee by Garry Philipson from which I quoted earlier, the author pointed out the fundamental problem with the development of town centre shopping. Referring to both Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee, he saw

He wrote that in 1988.

That was then; this is now. Today, the north-east is growing at a faster rate than any other region in the country. Unemployment in my constituency is at or below the national average. Back in the 1980s, it stood at 40 per cent. in some areas of my constituency. Employment is at high levels. I read in the papers yesterday that the north-east is exporting more than it is importing, part of which, no doubt, is down to the businesses on Newton Aycliffe’s industrial estate.

It is time for developers and everyone else who has the regeneration of Newton Aycliffe town centre at heart to step up to the plate and deliver. The people of Newton Aycliffe have waited long enough. Newton Aycliffe is a dynamic town, with a strong community spirit, and in 2008, the year of the town’s 60th anniversary, my constituents there can look forward with confidence. All they want is a town centre that they can proudly say is at the heart of their community.

I conclude by asking the Government to consider two proposals. First, will my hon. Friend the Minister ensure that the Government’s regeneration agencies work with the local authorities responsible for Newton Aycliffe to ensure that the town delivers its full potential as a sustainable community and strategic growth point for County Durham? As we approach the creation of a new unitary authority for County Durham, does he agree that that new authority has an important strategic role in delivering for the people of Newton Aycliffe?

Secondly, the Government are developing a radical policy on the creation of eco-towns—there are to be 10 by 2020. That is an excellent approach to marrying together sustainable communities and the need to tackle climate change. However, as they will be new towns, I strongly believe that the lessons of the existing new towns should be taken into consideration as plans progress. They need to be places where people can live, work and, dare I say, shop in harmony. Can the Minister tell me if the lessons, both positive and negative, from the past 60 years of new town development will be fed into the decision-making process on eco-towns?

Newton Aycliffe is a great town and one that I am personally very proud to represent.

11 Mar 2008 : Column 261
10.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): It gives me real pleasure to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), who is my next door neighbour in parliamentary constituency terms, on securing this debate. He has been in this House for only a relatively short time but he has impressed all sides with his tenacious campaigning on behalf of his constituents in Sedgefield and his knowledge of and passion for raising the skills levels of people both in his constituency and in our wider north-east region.

I am aware that revitalising and regenerating Newton Aycliffe’s town centre was a hot topic in the by-election that enabled my hon. Friend to come to this House. True to his word, he has been resolute in his promise to his constituents to raise this matter in the House. I was particularly impressed with the fact that he has also kept his constituents closely informed about this matter. I understand that he wrote to more than 1,000 people who have expressed an interest in the subject of Newton Aycliffe town centre, informing them that he had had meetings with the private owners of the centre, parish, borough and county councils, and the primary care trust. He is a strong campaigner on this matter. He demonstrated that in his maiden speech, and he did so, in an excellent fashion, here again tonight.

The Government strongly believe that facilitating and enabling town centres and other service centres within regeneration areas to achieve their potential is an important part of maximising economic growth and realising the sense of place and high quality of life that we all wish to obtain. The Government’s policies and approach towards town and city centre development have underpinned successful regeneration across the country, and we now need to reflect on how we can build on that success and drive improvement and investment forward to improve still further areas such as Newton Aycliffe.

Government policy acknowledges that places are different. For example, Newton Aycliffe is different from Sedgefield village or Trimdon colliery—other parts of my hon. Friend’s constituency—and will have distinctive strengths that require nurturing and challenges that need to be addressed. That can be done only with a wider, deeper and more meaningful involvement with the local communities affected. Councils can take on the role of strong and strategic local leadership, with central Government encouraging local priorities and innovation. What is also vital to appreciate, particularly when, as in my hon. Friend’s case, the town centre is privately owned, is that partnership working and good, strong and mature co-ordination between private, public and community organisations, tailored to the specific area, is the best way to succeed.

My hon. Friend asked me how we could ensure that the regeneration activities work with the local authorities responsible for Newton Aycliffe to ensure that the town delivers its full potential. I absolutely agree with the concerns he expressed. He will no doubt be aware of the sub-national review, in which we propose that the regional strategy for planning—the regional spatial strategy—and the strategy for economic development—the regional
11 Mar 2008 : Column 262
economic strategy—form into a single integrated strategy. We are proposing more delegation of funding for One NorthEast as the regional development agency in our region and a new economic development duty for local authorities. That renewed clarity of roles for RDAs and local authorities will address the concerns raised by my hon. Friend. On the sub-national review, he will wish to note that we are preparing consultations on those reforms, which we will publish shortly.

I also agree with my hon. Friend’s point about how the creation of a new unitary authority for County Durham has an important role in delivering for the people of Newton Aycliffe. Incidentally, I thought that he was excellent on this subject on the BBC’s “Politics Show” on Sunday. I would suggest that the partnership approach that I mentioned earlier will need to be established quickly with the new unitary authority to ensure that the council addresses the needs and aspirations of the people of Newton Aycliffe.

I understand that sometimes the processes of land assembly, property purchase, negotiation with landlords and tenants and, importantly, consultation with local people and agencies take time and I know that the communities in Newton Aycliffe and the wider borough of Sedgefield have sometimes expressed their impatience with that process. However, it is to the credit of all concerned, particularly my hon. Friend, who has done much to engage with local people on this matter and broker a deal with the relevant players, that the people, businesses and public agencies in the town can look forward to a revitalised town centre built on partnership and long-term sustainability.

As my hon. Friend said, Newton Aycliffe town centre is in the process of a major redevelopment around the old Avenue school site. That redevelopment has seen the creation of a new library, community centre, supermarket and a wider range of leisure and retail units, adding about another 16 acres of commercial and recreational opportunities for the people of Newton Aycliffe. I am aware that this new redevelopment will be based around a new town square, which will be the central point between the old and the new town centres. The sense of place that I mentioned earlier is so important. I strongly believe, as does my hon. Friend, that the public realm is vital in creating that positive sense of place, and that the development of well-planned areas with high quality design and construction attracts people to live, work and relax in them.

What my hon. Friend has described tonight is an emerging success story, with private developers and public agencies locked into an agreement to transform the main area of the town centre. I understand that there are still some property moves and demolitions to be undertaken, but we, and the people of Newton Aycliffe, can look forward with renewed confidence to the return of the busy and bustling town centre that the town deserves to have. That is particularly good news for the town and excellent timing, because it will help us to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the town.

The Government are keen to see a co-ordinated and holistic approach to regeneration, with an emphasis on ensuring that our towns and neighbourhoods are connected and have the right mix of economic activity to provide for more and better jobs, decent standards, a
11 Mar 2008 : Column 263
choice of decent housing and excellent public services close to the community. My hon. Friend has already raised with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health the matter of the £250 million access fund, which will establish 150 new GP-run health centres and improve access to first-class health facilities in areas such as County Durham. My hon. Friend promised his constituents that he will continue to bang on about matters relating to the health centre in the town and, thanks to his efforts, work is progressing.

Housing greatly interests me and I know that Newton Aycliffe, like my own constituency, and the rest of the Sedgefield constituency, has seen significant development and improvement in its housing stock over the past 10 years. In addition, the nearby industrial estate continues to be a major source of investment and employment. The industrial estate is the largest business location in County Durham, covering some 230 hectares and is located close to major road links in the north-east such as the A1(M). I am confident that the industrial estate will provide still more enterprise and employment opportunities to County Durham and Newton Aycliffe in the years to come, following further investment.

One of the big successes of this Labour Government has been the neighbourhood renewal fund, which was charged with reducing the inequalities in our most deprived areas. That was done through the national strategy action plan, “A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal”, which set out the radical vision that within 20 years no one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live. As a result of that commitment, the north-east region has received more than £377 million of neighbourhood renewal funding since 2001.

Town centres such as Newton Aycliffe have benefited from elements of that investment, and Sedgefield borough council and its partners have received more than £7 million as part of neighbourhood renewal fund moneys.

Although, as my hon. Friend said, unemployment levels in Newton Aycliffe, the wider Sedgefield constituency and the north-east are at record lows, more needs to be done. That is why we recently announced the new working neighbourhoods fund to drive down unemployment still further in our disadvantaged communities and help councils and community groups optimise the talent and enterprise in our neighbourhoods.

Next Section Index Home Page