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The Town & Country Planning Association: 1899 - 1959

The New Towns Exhibition occurs appropriately in the 60th year of the Town and Country Planning Association, which has always had New Towns in the forefront of its interests. Being the world's senior voluntary society for town planning, it has had great influence on the modern evolution of this most important development in public and private development.

Founded in 1899, as the Garden City Association, to put into practice the proposals in (Sir) Ebenezer Howard's book To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), latest edition (1946) now titled Garden Cities of Tomorrow, it promoted in 1903-4 the building by a private enterprise company of the First Garden City at Letchworth, Hertfordshire, now a prosperous manufacturing town of 22,840. And in 1919-20 it sponsored the second pioneer New Town of Welwyn Garden City, now 31,500.


These were both designed as towns of moderate size (32,000 to 50,000) with a variety of industries, good houses with gardens within easy reach, community facilities, ample open space, and permanently reserved green belts, planned as a whole in advance, on sites in unified ownership held in the public interest. By proving that such towns could be established and succeed, and by persistent advocacy, the association was the major influence leading to the New Towns Act 1946 and the foundation of the 15 New Towns now being built in Great Britain.


In 1899 the members of the Association were few and litte known, but they were clear-minded and enthusiastic, and soon they gained the support of such successful industrialists as George Cadbury, the first Lord Leverhume, T.H.W. Idris, Aneurin Williams and Joseph Rowentree, and of (Sir) Ralph Neville, QC (later Mr. Justice Neville) and other very influential men. The plan of Letchworth was made by (Sir) Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, whose work became world-famous. The first full-time Secretary of the Association was Dr. Thomas Adams, later the planner for New York.

It is impossible to record here the many other professional and lay enthusiasts who in 60 years have contributed generously to the work of the Association. Right up to today it has had the voluntary service of many men and women of experience in planning, housing, law, local government, finance, industry, commerce, and all branches of social policy.

In 1913 the Association took the lead in founding the International Garden Cities and Town Planning Federation, now the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning, with a world-wide membership and influence.


For a long time, despite immense interest aroused by the building of Letchworth, and vigorous properganda by the Association no further New Towns were started. New Towns After the War published in 1918, proposed the building of 100 New Towns in connection with the national post-war housing effort, but though 4½ million houses were built in Britain between 1919 and 1939, Welwyn Garden City was the only New Town then started.

The Government did, however, appoint several committees to study the subject, which reported (rather cautiously) in favour of the idea. The Association gave evidence to these bodies, on which also some of its members served. It is of historic importance that Mr. Neville Chamberlain, later Prime Minister, was a member of one of these. In 1939 he set up the (Barlow) Royal Commision on the Distribution of Industry, to which again the Association gave evidence; and the Barlow Report of 1940 proved a turning point in national policy.


During the Second World War the Association, though its staff was reduced almost to vanishing point and its members, like everybody else, heavily engaged in other activities, succeeded in exercising considerable influence in the discussions on the radio, in the press, air-raid shelters and war-time camps, and in Parliament. Conference reports and booklets on post-war policy were published and widely circulated. A National Planning Basis was drafted by the Association in 1941 and accepted by a number of other bodies. Lord Reith, as Minister of Works and Planning, with special responsibility for working out a post-war reconstruction policy, obtained Government acceptance of the main recommendations of the Barlow Report. He appointed the Uthwatt and Scott committees, to which the Association gave evidence. And at last, in 1943, a Ministry of Town and Country Planning was set up, and began to draft new planning legislation in advance of any precedent. In the same year the Association's Country Towns Conference gave the smaller towns their chance to claim their place in post-war development.


In 1945 Mr. (now Lord) Silkin succeeded as Minister, and at once appointed the New Towns Committee, with Lord Reith as Chairman, on which several members of the Association served.

There followed the New Towns Act 1946, under which the present New Towns are being built, the great Town and Country Planning Act 1947 - a tremendous step forward - the Town Development Act 1952, and the Green Belt policy of 1956.

Many influences have played their part in producing the powerful system of law and administration that now exists in Britain, and in other countries, for planning and town building. The Association can claim to be earliest, and among the most persistant and effective, of these influences.


Much, however, remains to be done. The reconstruction of old and crowded cities is really only just beginning, and encounters many difficulties. Its pattern is still the subject of controversy, and unless public opinion is enlightened and alert, it could still be depreciated by short-sighted and unbalanced views.

The Association believes that is policy which included city redevelopment, some dispersal of industry and people to new towns and existing country towns, and the preservation of green belts and most of the countryside, will produce the best surroundings for personal and family life and for efficient productive activity. It has done much with a small membership and limited financial resources. With more members and funds it could intensify its efforts for bold imaginative planning and town development.


The President of the Association is the Rt. Hon. Lord Salter of Kidlington, GBE, KCB. Vice-Presidents are the Rt. Hon. Lord Beveridge, KCB, the Rt. Hon. Herbert Morrison, CH, Rt. Hon. W. S. Morrison, the Rt. Hon. Lord Reith, GCVO, GBE, Rt. Hon. the Marquess of Salisbury, KG, the Rt. Hon. Viscount Samuel, OM, GCB, GBE, the Rt. Hon. Duncan Sandys, and the Rt. Hon. Lord Silkin. Sir Harold Bellman MBE, DL, is Chairman of a Council of 60 members, which elects the Executive Committee.

The Executive and its expert sub-committees maintain a constant study of all aspects of planning, development and housing policy, and frequently issue memoranda to the Government, local authorities and the press.

Title: New Towns Exhibition 1959

Credit: No credited author. Exhibition book produced by Hazel Evans & published by the Town and Country Planning Association.

Comments: This account is reproduced in its entirety, unedited and unabridged.

Please note: All names and positions were current at the time of this publication (1959) only.

Page added: 2003
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