In terms of British social history, New Towns are very young, the oldest having been in existence for little
more than three decades. Yet, over the past centuries and in other parts of the world, the idea behind their structure - as offering a better way
of life - has been expressed in varying forms by many different people. It was, however, left to the twentieth century to make a dream become
a reality on a national scale.
The experience of past generations strongly influenced the form of our New Towns e.g. the establishment
during the 19th Century by industrial philanthropists of communities centred around certain industries (such as Cadbury's at Bournville) and the
achievement of Ebenezer Howard informing the Garden Cities of the early 20th Century, namely Letchworth Garden City in 1902 and Welwyn
Garden City in 1920. However, these were commercial projects rather than a national policy. It was not until the latter part of the 1930's that the
Government of this country felt compelled to look into the matter of living conditions of our industrialised society. An ever growing number of
people had moved to large towns and cities in search of employment; as a result, cities such as London and Birmingham had grown ever
larger and more congested while open countryside became more remote to the residents. Certain Royal Commissions were appointed by the
Government to consider this and other inter-related problems and to give their reports. Largely as a result of these, the first New Towns Act was
passed by the Government of the United Kingdom in 1946 and a great social experiment was born.
The first New
Town, Stevenage, was designated in 1946, now there are 28 established in England, Scotland and Wales. Eight of the earliest are within a
radius of about 30 miles of London.
The main object of the New Town policy is generally to restrict the continous outward growth of the larger cities by
attracting people a sufficient distance away from them into new, self-contained communities surrounded by countryside. To do this, a New Town
must provide a family with not only a home and employment but also the amenities for their educational, social, cultural, spiritual and physical
Industrial, administrative and commercial organisations are attracted to move from over-crowded
cities to the New Towns where more space is available and where housing can be offered to employees who move with them.
The first New Towns Act of 1946 gave power to the Minister of Town and Country Planning, niw called the Secretary
of State for the Environment, to designate New Towns and to appoint Development Corporations to plan, construct and administer them. The
Board of each Corporation consists of a Chairman and up to eleven Members who are appointed individually by the Secretary of State. The
Members include people appointed to represent local interests. The staff is appointed by the Corporation which is led by a General Manager
and a team of Chief Officers responsible for architecture and planning, civil engineering, estate management, finance and law. Special
attention is paid to the personal and social aspects of housing and community development.
The first task of the
newly formed Development Corporation is to submit to the Secretary of State for the Environment its Master Plan for the New Town. This sets
out proposals for the siting of industry, housing, shops, schools, roads and the many other services required for the functioning of the town. Such
decisions are reached after consultation with the relevant local and other statutory bodies, and the public generally.
While the Government determines the extent of the New Town area, much of the land within those boundaries must be
purchased by the Corporation before development projects can begin. Money is made available by the Secretary of State, who is empowered
to make advancies to Corporations and the loans are repayable with interest, on terms approved by the Treasury, on an annuity basis over a
period of 60 years. Plans for building projects must satisfy the Secretary of State that a financial return acceptable to the Treasury can be
secured. The aim is that each town should, in the long term, be financially self-supporting. Corporations are empowered to build houses to
rent. Rent, subsidies, grants and the proceeds from the sale of land to local and statutory authorities for such purposes as school buildings,
housing and recreational facilities, are the Corporations' only source of income. Rates are chargeable on all occupied property and are the
income of the local authority which has the responsibility of providing the usual local authority services.
Industries which move to a New Town to take advantages of the facilities offered e.g. greater space for expansion,
good communication, can either take a ground lease of a site on which to build a factory to an approved design, or negotiate an occupation
lease on a Corporation-built factory.
Offices and shops are generally built by the Corporation or major development
companies and leased to occupiers.
Houses have been built for rent but currently Corporation housing is largely for
sale in close co-operation with the various agencies of the private sector. This policy has produced an extensive range of owner-occupied
accommodation in Basildon, with the town and the surrounding area offering a wide range of house types and sizes to rent or purchase.
The Services of Local Authorities and other bodies
Local authorities unlike the Development Corporations, are run by members elected by the residents of the area. In
accordance with Local Government laws, local authorities provide such local services as environmental health services, road maintenance and
cleansing, street lighting, refuse collection etc. Such services are extended to cover a New Town area in the same manner and the Development
Corporations may not take over the functions of a local authority without the permission of the Secretary of State for the Environment. In cases
where the Development Corporations construct or provide services such as roads, these are handed over in due course for maintenance and
repair by the local authority. Essex County Council is responsible for education; the Area Health Authority for health services. Transport,
water, gas, electricity and telephone services are the responsibility of the appropriate Statutory Undertakers or other bodies. Close contact is
maintained by the Development Corporations with all the authorities concerned throughout the development of the town.
New Towns are at various stages of development according to their date of designation, their ultimate population
target and the progress that has so far been made. Over 1,000,000 people and a considerable number of factories and offices have moved to
New Towns Commission
According to legislation which has been in force since 1959, as each New Town in England and Wales substantially
achieves its task of planning and construction, the Development Corporation is wound up. Many of the earlier New Towns have completed
their development programmes or are approaching completion. In seven of them, Corby, Crawley, Harlow, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead,
Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City, the Development Corporations have been dissolved. Their housing has been transferred to the local
authority and the rest of their assets to the Commission for the New Towns, which was set up in the early 1960's for the purpose of managing the
assets of completed towns.
The remaining first and second generation English New Town Development
Corporations will be dissolved in the 1980's as they complete their tasks. The programmes of the third generation New Towns in England are
expected to continue into the latter half of the decade. No dates have been fixed for the winding up of any of the Scottish Development
Corporations or of Cwmbran in Wales.
Click here to read on