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Basildon - A New Town In Essex (Part 2)

The Development of Basildon

Description of the Designated Area

   Basildon lies almost 30 miles east of London, 10 miles west of Southend-on-Sea, 14 miles south of the county's administrative centre, Chelmsford, and 4 miles north of the Thames Estuary.

   A group of small towns - Brentwood, Billericay, Wickford, Rayleigh, Corringham, Stanford-le-Hope, Benfleet, Hadleigh - and Canvey Island are within a 10-mile radius of the Town Centre.

   The Designated Area of the New Town takes the form of an oblong with a long axis of nearly six miles running almost due east and west; it is approximately three miles from north to south. The are ranges in altitude from sea level at Vange and Pitsea Creeks in the south-east to almost 375 ft. on the northern crest of Langdon Hills. Immediately south of the Designated Area boundary, these same hills boast the highest point in this part of Essex i.e. 400 ft. From the main mass of the Langdon Hills, a broken ridge runs eastward through Hawkesbury to Vange Hill and is picked up again at Pitsea Hill. It is also continued north-westward from Langdon Hills, through the isolated mass of Lincewood Hill and into the Dunton scarp; thus, the whole ridge forms a crescent-shape rim to the town from which the majority of the natural drainage is northward to the River Crouch. The ridge commands extensive views south over the marshes and the Thames to Kent and northwards, across the broad, level area of the Town Centre, over a wide area of southern Essex. From the main ridge, other shallower ridges extend northward declining gradually in height towards the River Crouch.

   Separating the ridges are broad, shallow basins, the largest of which contains the Town Centre and Gloucester Park. It is notable that the old parish churches e.g. St. Michael's at Pitsea and St. Nicholas at Laindon, crown prominent knolls.

   The London - Southend Arterial Road (A.127 Trunk Road) forms, apart from an area at Laindon, the northern boundary of the Designated Area. The old London - Southend Road (A.13) runs through the south-eastern part of the town: this section was reclassified (B.1464) following the opening of a new flyover and diversion road at Pitsea.

   The Fenchurch Street-Southend railway line runs through the middle of the area, skirting the southern boundary of the Town Centre and providing stations at Laindon, Basildon Town Centre and Pitsea. The Fenchurch Street-Tilbury loop line links at Pitsea Station.

   Vange and Pitsea Creeks provide limited barge access for two to three hours at high tide to the areas south of Pitsea but expansion of this would require continual dredging to prevent silting up.

   Southend Airport is some 10 miles to the east of Basildon and provides speedy transport for cargo between the Eastern Counties and Europe. Limited passenger services are also available.

   Basildon is only 5 miles from the M25. In an advanced stage of completion, this orbital route around Greater London will enable traffic to travel from one side to the other without having to cross the built-up area.


   Although Basildon appeared on the map as a New Town in 1949, it is shown in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Belesdunam and Berlesduna, and certain land owning families are mentioned by name in historical record from an even earlier date. In fact, the name is of Saxon origin meaning Beorhtel's Hill. Little direct evidence of these past generations remains other than the few old churches dating - at least in part - from the late 12th or early 13th centuries.

   It would appear that throughout the centuries this part of Essex has sheltered small communities whose livelihoods have been based on agriculture and timber. In the 1880's, however, two factors brought about rapid change; the advent of the direct rail link between Fenchurch Street and Southend, and the agricultural depression. The latter brought hardship to local farmers and caused many to sell out to land speculators, who in turn sold off the land in small plots; the former provided the means of bringing out people from London to the land auctions as well as easier access generally to this region. As a result, large farms gradually disappeared into the 'plotland development' inhabited by people who had been attracted out to unspoilt coutryside from the dreary congestion of East London.

   Having bought a plot, many of these people proceeded to put up wooden huts and other poor quality shelters which were intended for weekend and holiday homes. During the first half of this century, due to the country's housing shortage and the low rate levied in this area, an increasing number of people moved here and in many instances made these flimsy dwellings into permanent homes. Some built houses of a more durable nature - or had them built. However, most of the dwellings lacked made-up roads, sewers, main drainage and other public utilities. By the mid 1940's, these residents were agitating for such services and improved living conditions generally but their provision on such a large scale was beyond the physical and financial resources of then Billericay Urband District Council. (In 1954 (*see notes) the Council changed its name to the Basildon Urban District Council and subsequently moved its headquarters into the New Town. Following Local Government re-organisation in April 1974, it is now known as Basildon District Council).

   Together with the Essex Council Council, the Urban District Council approached the Government to designate the area as a New Town. Their petition was supported by the then County Boroughs of East Ham and West Ham (now known as Newham), which had serious housing shortages as a result of war-time activities. In fact, the Government saw such an action as the solution to a problem and designated the area as a New Town in January 1949. The Development Corporation was formed in February of that year.

Master Plans for Basildon

   The Corporation had been set two functions to fulfil: firstly, to build a New Town which would accommodate some of the excess population of the overcrowded areas of East London; secondly, to clear and re-develop an area which contained many scattered, sub-standard dwellings lacking water supply, sewage disposal and proper roads - an area which had come to be known as a 'rural slum'.

   Preliminary examination had revealed that there were already 25,000 people living here in communities based mainly on Laindon and Pitsea, while Basildon itself was a mere hamlet of a few houses and a shop or two. There were no directly communicating roads between these communities.

   Throughout its life, the Corporation has been hampered by the land problems inherited since many of the 30,000 owners of plots had either forgotten their purchases, lost the deeds, or simply could not be traced. These difficulties contributed to the early piece-meal development because tracts of land large enough for a housing estate could not be purchased at one time; another factor was the reluctance to demolish even poor standard dwellings when accommodation was in such short supply.

   The Advisory Committee on Greater London had suggested a population of 50,000 for Basildon New Town. By 1951, the Corporation was able to demonstrate the impossibility of designing a socially and economically viable town with so small a population scattered over such a large area (i.e. 7,818 acres). Their first Master Plan suggested a figure of 80,000 and this was subsequently revised to 106,000. In 1964, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government asked the Corporation to examine the possibility of further expansion. The Corporation concluded from its study that ultimate expansion beyond 106,000 was not only feasible but enevitable. The revised Master Plan of 1965 envisaged a population of 140,000 by the turn of the century, very nearly three times the target originally proposed. However, on commending the plan in December 1967, the Minister deleted two Neighbourhoods, thereby reducing this figure to 134,000. Subsequent amendments to plans for the South-West Area 1974 have further reduced this to 130,000.

   The original Master Plan for Basildon was based on the assumption of two fundamental policies: firstly, that the New Town would be a self-supporting, self-contained community, although it was recognised that some 7,000 of the original inhabitants would continue to commute elsewhere to work; secondly, that employment in the Town would be of an industrial nature. No provision was made for major office employment in the Plan. These principles were modified subsequently in the light of present-day circumstances.

   The opportunity to consider expansion of the New Town enabled a review of the entire Master Plan to be made. This was considered necessary for two reasons: the additional population would obviously have an impact on the main road system, the Town Centre, employment and the Town in general; and that circumstances had changed so much since 1950 that it was timely for a complete reappraisal. The rapid and continual change in social, technical and economic climate required a flexible attitude to planning problems.

   Some major changes which occured are;- 1) INDUSTRY: Originally, to main areas were proposed, sited to the north of the Designated Area. The industrial sites have now been increased to four and with future developments will total five. (In addition, there are some small acres of service and light industry). 2) The Town Centre was located at the geographic centre of the main road pattern and of the area. With the proposed increase in population, it was realised that the shopping facilities - even with the provision for expansion - would be inadequate so satelite centres were planned for Laindon and Pitsea. Laindon Centre was completed in 1969; Pitsea Centre, opened in 1976, has become a busy complex. 3) HOUSING areas were based on the Neighbourhood concept, having their own Neighbourhood Shopping Centre, primary school, community centre, public house, etc. so that each resident would be within a few minutes walk of essential daily services. Originally, nine Neighbourhoods were planned; this was increased to ten in 1954. Now the ultimate is twenty Neighbourhoods. Increases in the population target and car-ownership have strongly influenced recent and current design of roads and housing lay-outs.


   By travelling east-west across the Town, it is possible to trace the evolution of housing design over the past 20 years. Older development reflects the Garden City origins of the New Town movement: densitys are low; houses are built in short terraces of brick construction, each having a reasonable size garden at front and rear; roads are narrow and provide a through route for traffic.

   Over the years, changes have become necessary due to technological factors, particularly the private car, which has shown an increase of some 300-400% since the 1950's. Also, improved living conditions require more space within the home e.g. mechanical equipment requires more kitchen space. Since Central Government controls and the cost of land and building prevent a reduction in overall housing density to accommodate the above-mentioned factors, the amount of outdoor space related to the dwellings has to be reduced. This has resulted in the increasingly close-knit character of the town's housing in recent years.

   Reduction in the available space has meant not a reduction in standards but an increasingly critical attention to the way in which space is used. Gardens may be smaller but great care is taken that they may have privacy and a sunny aspect. Children must still be given outlets for energetic play with the minimum of interference to adults. Carefully sited play areas appropriate to each age-group are designed to meet this need and help to keep children away from the roads. Housing estates built in the mid-and late 1960's restrict vehicles to the outer edge of the area, leaving the interior traffic-free and safe for pedestrians.

   Most of Basildon's housing was originally built for rent although more than 35% of these properties have now been sold. In addition, there are several areas of private housing development ranging from the first time buyer home to executive housing. The latest first time buyer dwellings in Basildon have typified the close liason between the Development Corporation and the private sector in that the dwellings have been designed by Development Corporation architects and constructed by private companies. These dwellings have been well received by the Building Societies and National House Building Council and have seen as an attempt by the Development Corporation/District Council to shorten the housing waiting list via the private sector.

   By using a proven, rapid construction technique but still meeting all the stringent requirements of the National House Building Council and the Building Societies, prices have been kept to a minimum. This is achieved by constructing the houses in timber-framed sections in a factory then delivering the completed parts by road to Basildon. Sections are then hoisted into position by crane and the outside finished with brickwork to the ground floor. As most of the work is carried out inside the factory, construction is fast, and on-site labour and material wastage can be kept to the minimum, thereby reducing costs.

   For those wanting to build their own home, Basildon Development Corporation offers a number of attractive plots in a variety of sizes and prices throughout the New Town area. All plots have outline planning permission. The Corporation has successfully operated this scheme for several years, as can be seen by the number of attractive individual houses and bungalows built in Basildon.

   Basildon Development Corporation actively pursues a policy encouraging developers of private housing in the New Town. Land has been, and is still, made available to both large-scale and individual developers. Properties available cover the entire spectrum of the private market from the first-time buyer to executive style dwellings in prestigious locations.

   The New Town must accommodate not only the original immigrants but their sons and daughters who are getting married and need homes, as well as the grandparents who are retirement age. The Corporation is endeavouring to balance its mix of housing tenure by accelerating the number of private houses for sale in line with Central Government policy, whilst providing for sections of the population e.g. the elderly, who are unable to purchase their own home or key personnel moving into the Town with major development.

People and their Employment

   The original inhabitants of the New Town area are representitive of small rural communities some have gained their living from farms, small-holdings and small local industries; others had travelled daily to London for employment.

   Newcomers have chosen to come to Basildon because there are good housing and working conditions; also, it is a healthy place in which to bring up a family. A large proportion come from London and most are young married couples with children. The majority work and live in the town; commuting traffic out of and into Basildon is approximately one-third of the workforce. It is recognised that there are insufficient opportunities in office employment but it is anticipated that future provision will to some extent counter the 'London Magnet' and reduce the outwood travel to work.

   The New Town grew slowly at first because of the difficulties inherent in attracting industry to an area with no existing development. But success breeds success and the establishment of one of two world-famous firms in Basildon initiated a period of steady and prosperous growth. Factories range in size from service workshops of 600 sq. ft. to the Ford Tractor Plant with 1¼ million sq. ft. of workspace on a 100-acre site. Some of the workshops and Nursery Factories have less than half-a-dozen employees; the Tractor Plant has a pay-role of over 3,000.

   The success og Basildon's industries maybe gauged by the steady expansion of individual firms. Most of the older established factories have added considerably to their floor-space over the years; for instance, Marconi, Carreras, and Fords have all increased significantly in size.

   The New Town industry, which must comply with the Clean Air Act, is based on manufacture and light assembly - food and drink, engineering and electrical goods, vehicles and clothing. The main industrial sites are strategically placed in relation to the A127 Trunk Road yet well insulated from it by grass and trees - an informal recreation space during lunch breaks on fine summer days. Southwards, the Town Park, playing fields and allotments lie between factories and the nearest housing.

Recreational and Leisure Facilities

   Extensive recreational facilities have already been provided in the New Town and more are planned. Basildon Council has provided a wide range of social, cultural and sports facilities; the well-designed Towngate Theatre (incorporating an arts centre) was opened in 1968 on a temporary site and will eventually be resited in permanent accommodation; the swimming pool, situated in Gloucester Park, also opened in 1968 includes a main pool of championship size, a teaching pool and first-floor café. Pitsea Leisure Centre was opened in August 1981. Basildon Council also administers an eighteen-hole golf course and bowling alley.

   Private developers have built additional facilities, on land provided by the Development Corporation such as dance halls and cinemas in the Town Centre; also, a zoo at Vange, an equestrian centre off Dry Street, a squash club at Kingswood, a health club at Vange, and, set between two industrial estates, a family recreation centre. The latter offers a wide range of facilities including a golf course, dry ski slope, angling, water skiing and power boat racing. Also on the site is a well appointed 120 bedroom Essex Centre Hotel, which opened in 1972.

   Further publicity and commercially-provided entertainment and recreational facilities are to be established in the areas yet to be developed. There are flourishing youth centres in the New Town area and encouragement is given to people of all ages wishing to participate in organised activity. There are now more than 300 sports, social and cultural societies for adults and young people.

   The natural wooded area of Langdon Hills is a popular local beauty spot. In 1973, it was recognised by the Countryside Commission as two separate Country Parks, previously known as One Tree Hill and Westley Heights Public Open Spaces. These parks were created from part of the Langdon Hills Estate purchased by the Essex County Council in the late 1930's/

   Marks Hill Nature Reserve on the northern slopes of Langdon Hills overlooks the Crouch Valley and has been used for both agricultural and plotland development. Following the post-war designation of Basildon New Town the area reverted to mixed woodland and grassland. Subsequently it has been recognised as valuable for nature conservation and as a result of the collaboration of the Basildon Development Corporation, Nature Conservancy Council and Basildon Council, approximately 40 acres of Langdon Hills was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 1979. The Reserve is managed by the B.N.H.S., a voluntary organisation which is opened to anyone keen to conserve and appreciate the wild life of the Basildon area.

   In August 1981 a new nature trial through south-west Basildon opened, many of the footpaths and bridleways linking with existing country parks. There are parking facilities and picnic areas; seats and bridges are provided along the routes.


   Close liaison has been maintained between the Development Corporation and the Essex County Council, as the local Education Authority regarding the building of schools so that these could be ready in phase with house building. A new primary school has been provided in each residential neighbourhood and there are several comprehensive schools serving the New Town area, as well as denominational primary and comprehensive schools.

   A College of Further Education opened in September 1971. Its Departments of Engineering, Business Studies and General Education offer to local industry a wide variety of courses and to Basildon school-leavers a wide range of vocational training.

   Basildon Evening Institute offers a wide range of part-time and evening classes to meet the needs of those over 16 years of age. Within the New Town, two main Departments are organised at Fryerns and Laindon Comprehensive Schools where excellent facilities are available: classes are also arranged as required at other premises.

   Libraries have been established in the Town Centre (at present in temporary accommodation), also at Laindon, Vange and Pitsea. Further branches will be opened in areas as they are developed.

Health and Welfare

   Basildon's hospital, provided by the North-East London Regional Hospital Board, opened in April 1973. It has a well-equipped Post Graduate Research Centre.

   Two Health Centres and three Clinics are available within the New Town area in addition to the normal surgeries of doctors and dentists.

   There are numerous dwellings for Senior Citizens, including group home complexes provided by the District Council, the Corporation and the County Council. The George Hurd Centre, in Basildon, provides meals for luncheon clubs for the aged and also for the Meals-on-Wheels Service in the area. The Centre offers social and recreational facilities for elderly people and in addition midday meals are served. Transport in mini-buses is provided to take housebound elderly persons to clubs and centres as well as on organised outings.

Development Programme

   Further industrial expansion is taking place at the 110-acre Southfields Industrial Estate, the last industrial estate to be opened and Laindon North Trade Centre, now under construction.

   Phase 1 of the Town Centre expansion scheme which commenced in September 1978 is now complete. It includes a giant SavaCentre Store with its own single level car park, an enclosed air-conditioned shopping mall and a 49,700 sq.ft. office block. Work began on the second phase to be known as the Eastgate International Shopping Centre in September 1981. This will incorporate a 160,000 sq.ft. department store, a 25,000 sq.ft. fashion store and approximately 60 shop units on two enclosed mall levels. In addition there will be a 70,000 sq.ft. nine floor office block.

   These amenities will not only serve the New town residents but will also assist in making Basildon the regional 'draw' that the Master Plan envisaged.

   As already mentioned, the majority of the New Towns have been set up to ease the distressing conditions in the large cities and, at the same time, to offer housing and adequate employment to those who venture to move there. But the creation of a new town involves the creation of a new community; a blending of those people already living in the area at the time of designation and of those who subsequently move in.

   To judge the true success of the Basildon story, we will have to await the verdict of the second - perhaps even the third-generation residents; for people, not buildings, make a town.

Information & Publicity Office,
Basildon Development Corporation,
Gifford House,
Essex. SS13 2EX. Tel. No. Basildon (0268) 553261.

 Basildon Master Plan Report1965
Howard, Sir Ebenezer'Garden Cities of Tomorrow'
Faber & Faber
Osborn, Sir F.'Green Belt Cities'
Evelyn, Adam & MacKay
Osborn, Sir F. and Whittick, A.'The New Towns: The Answer to Megalopolis'
Leonard Hill
Thomas, R.'London's New Towns.
A study of self-contained and balanced communities'
Political and Economic Planning
Schaffer, F.'The New Town Story'
Cherry, G.E.'The Evolution of British Town Planning'
Leonard Hill
Hall, P.'Urban and Regional Planning'
 'Social Trends'
(annual report) H.M.S.O.

Titles of further books, also novels, are available if required.

A re-issue of 'Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform', First published in 1898.

Title: Basildon - A New Town In Essex

Publisher: Prepared by Basildon Development Corporation.

Date: Circa 1982. This publication is undated but references the ongoing continuation of the Eastgate Shopping Centre development as of September 1981.


(1) The progress report contained within this publication is reproduced in its entirety, unedited and unabridged.

(2) Basildon Natural History Society (B.N.H.S.).

Page added: 21/01/2018
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