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Planned Communities


The task of creating the ‘Welfare State’ lead the Labour Party to establish four environmental Acts, with devolved/


delegated powers rather than centralized ones.

The Second World War had changed everything and the

cised power in economic and logistical thinking on a scale

The New Towns Act 1946, allowed the construction of new towns.

new thinking behind the large scale schemes brought a sense of national comfort and reassurance. During the war a coalition government and the military forces had exer-

previously unknown, or experienced. Now this mode was to be applied to ameliorative peacetime reconstruction ef- forts. The planned communities discussed here are the New Towns built by the Development Corporations under the

The Agriculture Act 1947, supported agriculture in its post- war expansion and made farmland desirable for farming again––rather than for development, like in the 1930s.

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, allowed the parks and the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and encouraged recreational access to the countryside.

  • 1946 New Towns Act. The chapter isolates the stated objec-

The Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which with modifications contains the essentials of the system today.

tive of the New Towns, that they were to be self-contained and balanced communities, and does not focus on the much more heterogeneous group of expanded towns built under the provision of the 1952 Town Development Act. The

  • 1946 Act served to limit the role of local council\govern-

ment in the development process by handing over the job

of building and planning to special ad hoc Development Corporations, insulated to a remarkable degree from both central and local government pressures and comparable to corporations set up to run the nationalized industries. The task of central government was essentially limited to subsidizing the provision of infrastructure like roads and sewers, whatever was beyond the capacity of local authori- ties to supply.

What differentiates the culture of the “planned commu- nity” from other efforts at city-building, or urbanism, is its exclusive focus on a complete, well-designed, self-con- tained unit of settlement. Planned communities, ranging from neighbourhood units to towns to complete cities, are united by a common conceptual query, whether a human settlement can be planned coherently all at once. Advo- cates like Ebenezer Howard or Frederic J Osborn thought so. Planning theorist C.B. Purdom wrote in 1921 that new

towns should be “planned to make convenient, healthy, and beautiful places to live and work in.” So what was the role of ‘the planner’ in this scenario of increased state power in the post-war years, and what was going to be planned? Abercrombie and Forshaw’s The County of London Plan (1944) and the Greater London Plan 1944 generated national and international debate about just such concerns.

Planned Communities The task of creating the ‘Welfare State’ lead the Labour Party to establish four

Under the aegis of the Development Corporation the new town planner had a much more active and control- ling function, responsible for almost every aspect of the development. In conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) the Development Corporation largely determined what industry would come to town and the location of its premises. They determined the siting, density, and priority of factories and offices. They planned and contracted-out building the residential areas. Homes were separated from industry; factories, warehouses were in industrial zones and offices in the town centre. This was an astonishing procedure of interaction between differ- ent the actors and not the usual route found in the normal process of planning and development. More pointedly, for the Industrial Selection Scheme by which the offer of a new house in a new town was linked to securing a job offer there, the planner effectively pre-selected the occupants for the housing being built––thereby abolishing the role of the market altogether.

The reason for such a degree of control seen in the pro- planning years immediately after the war was the re- markable scale of national development. Under ordinary circumstances in the normal development process, the planning office would work in a piecemeal fashion. But with the new planned communities the approach was sweeping. Here the grand design––the masterplan––was

Under the aegis of the Development Corporation the new town planner had a much more active

paramount. And herein lies a fundamental caveat of its success and failure, its principal source of innovation may unwittingly have contributed to its downfall\ shortfall, that culturally the concept of a new settlement conceived in a sweeping fashion is highly anachronistic to the English Picturesque imagination. The national sense of urgency behind the new town legislation, planned for specific target populations, masterplanned with rigid layout schemes with a greater measure of design coherence than was previously evident, although tolerated in the years immediately fol- lowing the war, is otherwise outside the cultural imagina- tion of town-making. At no time before had developers and planners sat down to design communities of 50,000 all at once!

Illustrated with image from RIBA photo library
Illustrated with image
from RIBA photo library

In 1921 Purdom had insisted on “something more than an obvious reply [to the question of new settlement]; we want an illustration in detail of what is meant.” Purdom wanted a masterplan! The paradoxical relationship of articulat- ing a highly structured lay out, holistically conceived and implemented, with an acute application of the details of urban form and its workings to create a better living condi- tions, and what a dramatic conceptual leap that was, may be something to take into account when reflecting upon today’s debates.

Under the aegis of the Development Corporation the new town planner had a much more active

The fi rst wave of new towns fall into two groups: those vis- ibly intended to achieve the ambitions of Ebenezer Howard and Raymond Unwin, the planned dispersal of population from overcrowded urban cores. Howard’s principles, prox- imity to the countryside, comfortable walking distances in town, the public realm, a scrupulous regard to density, a ‘community purse’, carefully attempt to balance the affi li- ation of town and countryside. Unwin stated, “It is not an easy matter to combine the charm of town and country.”

All eight “Mark One New Towns” designated for this purpose, located around London, share similarities in their social intent, however their locations and objectives were widely diverse. By 1971 there were twenty-one New Towns in England, two in Wales, and fi ve in Scotland; they housed roughly 1.5 million people, about one in every sixty of the British population lived in a new town. A respect- able achievement after only a quarter of a century of effort.

The second wave of New Towns marks a signifi cant break in progress. For eleven years after 1950 no New Towns were designated. Instead the Conservative Government of 1951 put all its emphasis on the 1952 Towns Development Act, and announced in 1957 that no new towns would be built. Only in the early 1960s was the policy reversed. From 1961 to 1970 eleven towns were designated. With the exception of Newtown in mid-Wales, these towns were intended to solve overspill problems. Three were added to the eight existing fi rst wave around London: Milton Key-

The fi rst wave of new towns fall into two groups: those vis- ibly intended to

nes, Peterborough and Northampton, designated in 1967. In the West Midlands, Telford was designated in 1963, and Redditch in 1964. In Merseyside, Skelmersdale was designated in 1961, and Runcorn in 1964. In Greater Man- chester, Warrington was designate in 1968, and Central Lancashire in 1970. In Tyneside, Washington was desig- nated in 1964 and enjoyed special incentives. So of the 21 new towns in England, eighteen were conceived to provide for overspill.

Commute distance of a new town from a larger urban centre represented a contradictory association. One desire was to keep the towns as close in as possible for reasons of economic and cultural benefi t. The other impulse, on the part of the planners, was to provide physical and social separation of the new town from the parent conurbation. When the South-East Study (1964) suggested new plan-

ning guidelines for the region around London, it proposed that the New Towns be located considerably further afi eld, fi fty to eighty miles away, to maintain functional separa- tion from the capital. Planned new town communities were not innately anti-urban, nor were they meant to be suburban. They should be regarded instead as something defi ning of urbanism itself. They play an essential func- tion in articulating\grappling\challenging the nuances of intensity––and therefore density––of city life. Still some of the most outspoken qualms about the success of the New Towns, whether the psychologies of “new town blues” or the sociology of kinship, have been couched in terms of the ties with the existing, primary home, cities.

Chronology of new town development was an important factor in regard to size. The Reith Committee had recom- mended a rather modest population range for the fi rst wave of new towns between 30,000 and 50,000. The twelve “housing relocation” new towns on predominately green- fi eld sites retained this target populations in keeping with Howard’s estimation of 32,000. Very few however were genuine greenfi eld sites like Newton Aycliffe. The second wave of new towns from the 1960s show a break with this guiding principle, there is an increase in the size of the towns and a sharp increase in the population. A typical new town of the 1960s was likely to start with an existing town of 100,000 and build up two-or threefold.

The second wave of new towns was much more diversifi ed. Several of the towns followed the principles of towns built for overspill: Redditch for Birmingham, Skelmersdale and Runcorn on Merseyside, Washington for Tyneside with modest increases to planned target-populations. This was in keeping with the theories of the time that held that a town of this size was needed to provide critical mass adequate for shopping and other services. Peterborough and North- ampton, and Warrington departed from this formula. These towns had substantial populations that were increased by

a factor of two. Even more striking was the example of Central Lancashire, a region comprising several established towns with a combined population of 240,000 expanded to a target of 430,000. With the second wave, the new town had evolved into a concept of a new town added to an old town, and then to the concept of a planned city region. The concept of self-contained community

The idea of being “self-contained” meant providing the needs of everyday living, work and shopping and other services. “Balance” meant establishing the right mixture of different social and economic groups. These two aspira- tions of provision and mix were claimed as a virtue; social polarization was what the new towns set out to avoid. The overall concerted effort of the planned community was to bring about better standards of living for all classes, espe- cially the working class.

“Some fashions in new-town building then have changed. But some have been more enduring. In particular, virtually all the new towns have been designated with the idea––to quote the words of the Reith Committee––that they should be “self-con- tained and balanced communities for working and living.”

“Self-containment” is an objective that came down through the Garden City legacy. Howard promoted a variety of employment, services and amenity that would serve to hamper costly and tiring commuting. The Reith Commit- tee was aware that such an objective required balanced consideration, a full range of job types provided locally, for example head offi ces, administrative and research facilities, and governmental departments, as well as factory jobs. The wider the range of employment opportunities the greater the range of people that would be attracted, workers of all kinds, who would in turn encourage a range of services and stimulate commercial fl ow. Hence the two objectives were mutually reinforcing and created conditions that dif- ferentiated the town from the suburb: a community must have some qualities of urbanism––or the potential to foster the conditions of the city––and the development must be

purposefully designed, not merely improvised. A high level of self-containment was achievable because new- town planners were in a position to ensure it: they selected and situated the most of the employment and the housing, and they could be discriminating in their choices. Only in a new town did people fi nd as part of its policy an agency (the Development Corporation or the New Towns Com- mission) that helped them fi nd a home in the same area of their place of work. With the discussion of increased mobility and car ownership and the widening search both for jobs and homes in the chapter on Milton Keynes, the weighting of containment and balance is one that will be returned to. more to come… Towards an urban renaissance

Despite these important points, there is no real sense that

the lessons of the New Towns are being objectively assessed in the current debates about urban sustainability. The La- bour Government’s ‘Urban Task Force’ has declared himself an opponent of English low-density development and new towns. It is unsurprising therefore that the Urban Task Force Report (1998) ignores Milton Keynes. Just because the new towns start with a focus on the formal masterp- lan––the layout, the neighbourhood unit, the location of the centre and industry and roads, and its pattern––from scratch, they are no less relevant than established tradi- tional networks or the dense concentrations of well-estab- lished historic districts. Designers of the planned com- munities thought in terms of establishing new patterns of urbanism. And although they were largely utopian in their aspiration the schemes focus on the complete formation of new habitations from the ground up: the family home, the

neighbourhood unit, the town or city.

The implications of designing planning communities on a clean slate are signifi cant…

“Self-containment” is an objective that came down through the Garden City legacy. Howard promoted a variety

Sustainable Communities

The specter of debate about sustainable communities, the particular balance between form and restrained movement that shapes the definitions of “sustainable” were part and parcel of the foundations that made up new town planning and design.

But the extreme difficulty, even impossibility, of any direct reference to sustainable communities (until the late 1970s or 1980s), on the part of architecture to the self- conscious aspects of human life––in spite of the obvious fact that architecture is designed by self-conscious human beings–– doesn’t suggest it wasn’t always there. Instead it is much more part of the explanation for the variety and the many facets of architecture that have been tried out in the new towns for sixty years, from Gibberd’s reliance on Unwin’s formal aesthetic setting to James Stirling’s over- sized structures which seemed to be out of concordance with simple domestic life yet in keeping with the big ideas the new towns attempted to capture. From the harmonic

proportions found on abstract facades in Peterlee meant to make buildings and human experiences of the coal mines commensurate, to photovoltaic or solar thermal panels on the rooftops of Milton Keynes that account for life itself:

the heat and light of nature. In each of these cases what was criticized were the terms of disjuncture felt, or some perceived asymmetry between life and architecture. Runaway scale of 1960s regional new towns might have

gone against the grain of the small-is-beautiful satellite communities conceived by Ebenezer Howard. But with today’s expected world population increase from 6.2 bil- lion to 9.3 by 2050, Britain’s population is also set to swell. After an episode of stagnation, the birth rate is increasing; and population growth in migration is up sharply from EU Accession Countries, like Poland. And as predicted in the early 1960s, people will gravitate to concentrated urban centers.

New towns were designed to evolve from start points notably at opposite ends of the spectrum: the job and the house, the house in the street, the neighborhood unit, the neighborhood center to the scale of the town center on the one hand. And New Towns were conceived from a stra- tegic level inward/ downwards: from macro resource and economic planning, to the relocation of industry, outline plans represented by blocks of discrete land use labeled “Industry” or “Residential” or “Landscape”, to footpaths and shopping areas. Both ends of the spectrum depend on the result of evolution to develop. One can argue that the way

to approach the design of sustainable communities is from both directions at once, from macro to site-specific detailed design simultaneously. However in both directions the general objectives remain the same.

Sustainable Communities The specter of debate about sustainable communities, the particular balance between form and restrained

Sustainable transportation

The commonly held definition of ‘sustainable transporta- tion’ is transport which aids the mobility and freedom of one generation without compromising the future of another. The key to a sustainable transportation system is the establishment of a hierarchy of means that gives prior- ity to the pedestrian and the cyclist, and facilitates the ease of exchange and convenience between different modes of bus, train and car use while not degrading the public realm or the environment. Incorporating sustainable transporta- tion into the urban design is likely a greater environmental imperative now than it was when the new towns were originally conceived. The basis of the New Town changed in two other ways as well: that at least half of the houses built were to be private enterprise for owner-occupiers, and their design would accommodate 1.5 cars per house- hold. That said, major capital investment in infrastructure was planned holistically from the outset in all new town master plans.

Renewable resources

Setting the standard for achievement of a sustainable en- ergy policy CHP MK town center building Glenn Howells Architects with shared CHP Water resource, SUDS, landscaping; building reservoirs; establishing cleaner waste management systems The choice of construction materials play a big role in a commitment to sustainability, and have always played an important part in the making of the new towns, whether in matters of design appropriateness or efficiency. New Town architecture was often historically the testing ground for the use of materials and construction methods, which sometimes went awry. …

Sustainable transportation The commonly held definition of ‘sustainable transporta- tion’ is transport which aids the mobility