Basildon is one of the eight New Towns of the 'London Ring', and like the
others has the primary purpose of relieving the congestion of population and industry in London; in its case
particularly the congestion in the East End.
The New Town of Basildon, however, has a secondary purpose: namely to
redevelop areas in which a large scattered community, living for the most part in dwellings of a low standard, had
already grown up. A great deal of unplanned and bad development had occured around the townships
of Pitsea and Vange on the east and Laindon and Langdon Hills on the west of what was to become
the site of the New Town. These areas, once pleasantly agricultural, had become what, with
justification, could be described as rural slums.
Little or no regard had been paid to the elementary principles of
town and country planning. Roads were left unmade, sewers were omitted, and other public services came in very
slowly. A situation had been created which the local authorities could hardly tackle without
very serious financial consequences.
Due largely to the representations of the Essex County Council and Billericay
(as it then was) Urban District Council, supported by the County Boroughs of West Ham
and East Ham (which had great problems of overspill) the designation order for a New Town
at Basildon was made in 1949. The Development Corporation appointed to build a New Town
were charged with the unusual task of clearing these 'backwood' areas and superimposing
modern planned development.
The scale of the problem facing the Corporation will be appreciated when it is realized
that in the designated area of nearly 8.000 acres there were 78 miles of unmade roads which
were little more than grass and mud tracks impassable except in summer. 5.000 dwellings
below accepted standards of construction and amenity were sporadically scattered over more
than one half of the area.
Although there were so many dwellings, only a fraction of the number of plots (running into
thousands) which had been sold off in the past, mostly to people of small means, had been
built on. Tracing the owners has proved to be the most difficult: many in fact remain unknown.
To date 7,156 separate purchases have been completed, covering some 3,267 acres.
The nature of the ground also presented difficulty, as the greater part of the area is covered
with the heaviest of London clay, which is sulphate-bearing and highly shrinkable. This meant
that special precautions had to be taken in constructional and building work.
Apart from the railway - the main line between Fenchurch Street and Southend - which bisects
the area, communications throughout were of a very poor standard; there were no roads directly
linking east and west.
Having prepared the master plan for the town, one of the first duties of the Development
Corporation was to improve communications and public services. New roads were built, new
sewers laid, a completely new sewage works constructed, and bridges reconstructed.
An early set-back was sustained over the drainage outfall. As the greater part of the
designated area falls northwards to the River Crouch, it was naturally wished to discharge
the purified effluent in that direction. However, the presence of oyster fisheries in this
river, and the possible adverse effect on them of reducing the salinity of the water,
resulted in the Corporation being required to turn their sewers southwards against the
natural contours and discharge into one of the creeks of the Thames estuary. Several
miles of trunk sewer had to be laid in tunnels at depths of up to 73 feet.
7,500 dwellings, providing homes for
23,300 persons, most of whom have come from London, have already been completed and building is continuing at the rate
of 1,250 dwellings a year.
Industrial development has been considerable. The first industrial area of about
200 acres is almost completely filled with over 50 factories, providing a diverse and well-balanced industrial base. The
factories look out on to the Southend Arterial Road with a pleasantly landscaped area between.
have been completed in the three neighbourhoods where develoment has so
far been largely consentrated, and other community buildings, churches, public houses,
etc., are gradually taking up their alloted places in the neighbourhood plans.
The Essex County Council have co-operated wholeheartedly with the Corporation, and the
New Town possesses some very fine schools, well equipped and well endowed with playing
fields. Basildon Urban District Council have co-operated in the provision of community
centres and in the laying out of public open spaces and playing fields.
One of the outstanding features of Basildon is its great variety of domestic agriculture. The
creation of an entirely new town centre, now rapidly taking shape, has given a unique opportunity
for imaginative development; a large measure of segreation has been achieved - the 300 shops,
to be served mainly by pedestrian ways, will have adequate car parks at the rear. The plan
of the centre provides for civic, government and county buildings of fine architecture,
cinemas, and a high tower-block of flats.
Development up to now has been concentrated in the more open areas in the centre of the town
site, but the stage has been reached when development of the areas on the east and west can soon
be commenced, and what were rural slums will in the course of the next few years give way to
pleasantly planned urban development.
It is expected that Basildon will have an ultimate population of at least 100,000 and that it
will become the largest of Britain's New Towns not only in area but in population. As
development continues the town will undoubtedly become an outstanding commercial and cultural
centre serving not merely the needs of its own residents but also those of the population
of a wide surrounding district.
Title: New Towns Exhibition 1959
Credit: No credited
author. Exhibition book produced by Hazel Evans & published by the Town and Country Planning
Comments: This account is reproduced in its entirety, unedited and unabridged.