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Last edited 25 Apr 2019
One of the first duties of the new Ministry of Town and Country Planning which was set up in 1943 was to oversee the creation of new towns, influenced directly by Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement. These new towns eventually came about as a result of the ambitious New Towns Act of 1946 which gave the government new powers to build new communities within an overall programme designed to:
- Facilitate the post-war reconstruction of Britain’s towns and communities.
- Control the rapidly increasing urban sprawl suffered by the major conurbations.
The concept of building new towns from scratch, as opposed to expanding existing communities, was accepted in 1945 by the Lord Reith-chaired New Towns Committee. The passing of the 1946 act gave rise to a series of development corporations, each of which was responsible for building and managing one of the new towns until its construction was completed. At that point, it was expected the town would revert to the relevant local authority. However, in 1958, the government decided to create a special statutory authority – the Commission for the New Towns. Although initially the move was controversial, it meant that the higher property values created by the construction of the new towns could be enjoyed by the community, as opposed to creating wealth for the respective local authority.
A total of 28 new towns were designated under the 1946 act of which 14 were created in England and Wales between 1947 and 1950, sometimes referred to as the Mark 1, or first-generation, new towns. These included:
- Eight around London to absorb its overspill: Basildon, Bracknell, Crawley, Harlow, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City (of which Stevenage was the first, designated in 1946). This was partly inspired by the 1944 Abercrombie Plan to move 1.5m people from London to new or expanded towns.
- Two in the North (Peterlee and Newton Aycliffe)
- One in South Wales (Cwmbran)
- Two in central Scotland (Glenrothes and East Kilbride – the latter for Glasgow overspill) and
- Corby (designated in 1950) linked to the local steel works.
Second generation new towns (1961-64) included Telford, Runcorn and Skelmersdale.
The period between 1960-1970 saw the launch of third generation new towns, the most well-known of which is Milton Keynes, more a ‘new city’ than a new town; also, Peterborough. Both of these were based around substantial existing settlements.
 Original intentions and lessons learnt
The original New Town concept aimed to create well-integrated, socially-balanced communities. Achieving this was not always possible, especially as the early years witnessed higher-income groups tending to leave, allied with segregation occurring between neighbourhoods. Detractors have blamed what they perceived to be banal modern, concrete architecture, especially in the Mk 1 towns, but environmental factors cannot be wholly responsible for such failings, assuming that is what they are. In any case, the success of new towns such as Milton Keynes demonstrates how well the concept can work when mistakes are learnt and new policies implemented.
Another lesson learnt from experience was that the original target population size of between 20,000 and 60,000 was found to be insufficient in stimulating the required economic growth. The figure was later increased and the result, typified by Milton Keynes, has resulted in new cities.
Although many of the new towns have been designed around the car, and a plethora of roundabouts, they have, to a certain extent, been successful in resolving the pedestrian/car conflict suffered by traditional urban areas. They have championed pedestrian precincts – Stevenage town centre was one of the first such precincts in a British town centre – and have also led the way in cycleway provision.
What the new towns (especially the Mk 3 type) can offer is a less congested way of living compared to the major conurbations, with countryside within easy reach, more walking provision, a full range of shops to equal older-established towns and better car-parking provision.
In April 2014, the government published the Locally-led Garden Cities prospectus which set out a broad support package for local authorities to develop locally-led garden cities, which it described as ‘…liveable, viable, modern communities with the resident at the centre of planning’.
For more information see: Garden towns.
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