new towns

new towns
   The modern British ‘new town’ emerged in the formative years of reconstruction after the Second World War. The national mood favoured a centralist policy to influence the creation of new towns intended to relieve the overcrowding of the great metropolitan centres such as London and Glasgow. Design principles, considering the location of industry and housing with convenient transportation while at the same time preserving the countryside, ensured planned neighbourhoods with social and other facilities in spacious and amenable surroundings. The social composition of the new communities was also a matter for attention with regard to popular concepts of egalitarianism. Directly descended from the proposals put forward by Ebenezer Howard at the end of the nineteenth century, the new town policy evolved gradually from the first garden cities at Letchworth (1903) and Welwyn (1920), and through the propagandist activities of individuals, notably F.J.Osborn, and organizations such as the Town and Country Planning Association. Final endorsement was secured through Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s plans for London in 1943 and 1944, which were to form the basis for urban and regional planning for twenty years.
   The New Towns Act (1946) set out government procedure for a national policy of town design, specifying the choice of agency for building a town, the legislation required and the principles on which the town should be designed and the plan implemented. Initially, a total of twenty-six new towns were envisaged: thirteen for London, seven for the rest of England and six for Scotland, with populations of between 30,000 and 50,000 people, on sites varying in size from 5,500 to 11,000 acres. Between 1946 and 1949 eight new towns were designated, intended to absorb excess population from the Greater London area. Critics of the new towns drew attention to their totalitarian form, and the consultation process surrounding the designation of the first, Stevenage (1946), was both acrimonious and disputatious. The other towns forming the ‘London ring’ were Crawley (1947), Hemel Hempstead (1947), Harlow (1947), Welwyn Garden City (1948), Hatfield (1948), Basildon (1949) and Bracknell (1949). Others were designed to serve the special needs (social and industrial) of their areas, including Newton Aycliffe (1947), Peterlee (1948) and Corby (1950). In Scotland and Wales, East Kilbride, Glenrothes and Cwmbran, Monmouthshire, were designated in 1947, 1948 and 1949 respectively. These Mark I new towns are characterized by fairly low densities, and as a central concept adopted subdivision of the towns into almost self-contained neighbourhood units planned around school and community facilities, involving strict land zoning. Based on an American concept from the 1920s, this planning device has fallen into disrepute in recent years.
   Cumbernauld (1956), Skelmersdale (1961), Runcorn (1964), Dawley (1964, renamed Telford in 1968), Redditch (1964), Washington (1968), Livingstone (1962) and West Lothian, (1962) were all Mark II new towns designed to meet overspill needs. Proposals for Northern Ireland stemmed from the Belfast Regional Survey and Plan (1962) and included Craigavon (1965), Antrim (1966), Ballymena (1967) and Londonderry (1969). Mark I I plans, for higher populations, are more centralized and have to consider the effects of the growing rise of the motor car, either by providing appropriate roads or by the creation of effective public transport facilities. Mark III new towns, including Central Lancashire (1970) and Milton Keynes (1967), were intended for larger populations of 500,000 and 250,000 respectively. They involve the incorporation of several existing large communities and evidence a much greater incidence of private development.
   Advocates, including Frank Schaffer, a former official from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, were resolutely optimistic in their belief in the new towns as a social panacea, but ‘new town blues’ were reported in the 1950s. Culling-worth’s official history (1979) argues that despite their becoming social and planning models for other local authorities to emulate, the new towns did not fulfil expectations in a number of ways. In 1972 they formed a very small percentage of postwar housing. As Gordon Cherry contends, industry does not relocate as readily as people, and the building of dormitory areas in the vicinity of existing manufacturing centres tended significantly to outweigh the building in new towns, so reducing the intended effect on overcrowded cities. Furthermore, new towns are not necessarily meeting, directly, the social need for which they were intended because only a proportion of the residents are drawn from the overcrowded conurbations they were meant to relieve.
   See also: town planning
   Further reading
    Cherry, G.E. (1996) Town Planning in Britain since 1900, The Rise and Fall of the Planning Ideal, Oxford: Blackwell.
    Cullingworth, J.B. (1979) Environmental Planning, vol. III, New Towns Policy, London: HMSO.
    Schaffer, F. (1970) The New Town Story, London: MacGibbon & Kee.
   HILARY GRAINGER

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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