The majority of current settlements, in Britain, have developed through time, mainly from the Roman period, but also from the Norman and Medieval epochs (Hoskins, 1955 p19). It is a rarity for a town to be born (as opposed to evolve) in the twentieth century.
New Towns were developed to halt the forces of urban sprawl, which was mainly the result of improvements in public and private transport during the inter-war period but also coupled with significant economic changes, in Britain’s cities and large towns. Some may suggest that the idea of ‘Globalisation’ was also a very influential concept in urban restructuring (Short and Kim, 1999), whereby an increase in imports and exports altered both the economy and society, consequently changing urban areas.
In areas containing worrying levels of urbanisation, new satellite towns were constructed to ease the pressures on the environment, economy and society. This would redress the economic consequences of uneven development between cities and regions, in particular the legacy of the physical and economic decline of the major industrial areas (Hill 2000 p14). Decentralist policies were also thought to be beneficial in the event of further aerial attacks following World War Two.
However, New Towns were designed to be different in the sense that they did not have the disadvantages inherent in satellite suburban development (Cullingworth & Nadin, 2006 p23). The objective was to make them socially integrated areas whereby each individual would have greater access to amenities and a general improved standard of living. British New Towns were conceived as self-contained, socially balanced towns planned to receive overspill population and employment (Goodall, B 1987 p323) and many were built with the concept of utopianism in mind. Heraud (1968) explained that the New Towns were an attempt to alter the ecological pattern of class distribution found in other communities and to change the whole character of urban class relationships.
The idea of a New Town Movement was the brainchild of the Victorian, Ebenezer Howard, whose book Garden Cities of Tomorrow provided inspiration and direction for post-war planners, who were developing a complete physical planning system. Howard wanted a balanced society with ‘all true workers of whatever grade’ (Heraud, 1968 p34). . Sir Patrick Geddes and Raymond Unwin also inspired planners to make the significant changes that were needed.
Some could argue that there have been five waves of New Town development, ranging from c.1903 (Garden City movement) to the present day. However this depends on varying definitions of ‘new’ and also how much impact they had on society e.g. industrialists created ‘new model’ towns and villages with the desire to improve conditions for their workers (Heraud, 1968 p34). Interestingly such developments have taken place for many centuries, e.g. The Roman new town of Winchelsea and the Bastide towns of the 12th-14th centuries (Goodall, B 1987 p323). Also the USA has undertaken new town schemes since the 1920s.
The development of new towns was dependent on certain factors such as balance and variety, ease of movement and access, opportunity and freedom of choice, the creation of an attractive city, public awareness and involvement and the efficient use of resources (UWE material).
The first main phase (mark I) occurred as a result of the Second World War and was controlled under the New Towns Act 1946 (recommended by the Reith Committee) and the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which were informed by an assortment of wartime commissions; the most famous being the Barlow Commission. This phase contained 14 New Towns (e.g. Welwyn Garden City and Stevenage) between 1946 and 1950, which greatly reflected the Garden City ideals.
The Reith Committee recommended that the Mark I New Towns should be circular with a central area, an industrial zone and a general urban zone, that is residential, which was to be split into neighbourhood units. They believed that these units were the foundation of successful New Towns, as they would reverse the perceived breakdown of ‘community spirit’ during the inter-war years (Homer, A 2000) The committee also recommended that the area should be surrounded by a green belt, 6.4km wide (UWE material). None of the Mark I New Towns could conform to this model.
The second phase (mark II) was to combat housing shortfalls in the rapid urbanisation period of the late 1950s and early 1960s (e.g. Washington and Runcorn) and represented an abandonment of the neighbourhood unit. The other main difference between this phase and the first phase was the adjustments in plan-form to cater for the impact of the automobile. Therefore, transportation networks were greatly improved and there was a tendency towards the use of a more compact, linear shape, which implied higher densities. Target populations ranged from 80,000-120,000 (Goodall, 1987 p324).
Finally, the third phase (mark III) was chiefly aimed at allowing for additional growth, mainly in more areas to the north of London, especially in the north of England, in the late 1960s. Migration and household formation had added to the pressures for development and a need for an alternative to expanding suburbs and peripheral estates (Cullingworth and Nadin 2006). The New Towns were more distinctive, as they were quite often built around existing town centres and because of the urban fabric which existed before their designation. There were further developments of the transportation network, which was the most important factor in their growth. They were designed to house and employ much larger populations.
New Town development was also controlled by The Distribution of Industry Acts, The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act and later, the Town Development Acts (Cullingworth & Nadin, 2006 p23). Accompanied by these government controls, the 1955 Green Belt Act had a significant influence on decentralist policies, which were in force to control rapid growth into the countryside (Ilbery, 1998).
ReferencesCullingworth, B and Nadin, V (2006). Town and Country Planning in the UK (14th Edition), Routledge, LondonGoodall, B (1987) Dictionary of Human Geography. PenguinHeraud, B.J (1968) Social Class and the New Towns. Urban Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp33-58Hill, D.M. (2000) Urban Policy and Politics in Britain. MacmillanHomer, A (2000) Creating new communities: The role of the Neighbourhood unit in post-war British Planning, Contemporary British History 14:1, 63-80Hoskins, W.G. (1955) The Making of the English Landscape. BlacksellShort, J R and Kim J H (1999). Globalization and the City, Prentice Hall