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Breakfast Saturday, 27 July, 2002, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
New Town Blues
inner city decay
New towns have areas of deprivation with housing needs
Ministers are warning that the new towns built in Britain after World War II are in danger of falling into a "spiral of decline".

The Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee says many of the communities built as a model of 20th century living now suffer from collapsing house prices and high crime rates.

Breakfast talked to one man who was born and brought up in the new town of Harlow in Essex - the town's MP, Bill Rammell.

One of the town's big problems, he says, is that everything was built at the same time, so it all needs repairing at once.

He's also very critical of the funding from successive governments: the treasury keeps up to 80 per cent of the funds generated by selling off public land, rather than letting the council keep the money to fund local services.

New building techniques have also been a headache in Harlow. While housing from the forties and fifties has worn well, some modern homes now need up to 30,000 worth of repairs each.

Despite all the problems, he says, most people who live in Harlow actually like it: the criticisms tend to come from outsiders.


Twenty-two new towns were built between the 1940s and the 1970s, intended to improve housing conditions for those living in the inner cities by creating Utopian communities for people to live and work in.

The planners, I think, just wanted to get as many people into as small an area as possible

Don Burrows, Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation
But the report says their needs have been overlooked in successive government programmes to regenerate urban areas and they are in danger of becoming expensive liabilities.

MPs said Telford in Shropshire, for example, suffers from a collapsing housing market, high crime levels and pockets of severe deprivation.

They say a comprehensive investment programme is now needed to prevent a spiral of decline.

Another problem highlighted by the report is that many of the new towns were designed around the car and their central areas need to be completely rebuilt.

Major problems

Committee chairman Andrew Bennett MP said: "The government needs to recognise that the New Towns are up to 50 years old, and large amounts of the housing and infrastructure are desperately in need of a thorough overhaul.

"They also have major social and economic problems."

New towns
First generation:
Basildon, Bracknell, Crawley, Harlow, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City, Corby, Cwmbran, Newton Aycliffe, Peterlee
Second generation:
Redditch, Runcorn, Skelmersdale, Washington
Third generation:
Milton Keynes, Northampton, Peterborough, Telford, Warrington
In 1992 the New Town Development Corporations were wound up and most assets and liabilities transferred to the Commission for New Towns.

This later merged with English Partnerships which now owns about 5,700 hectares of land in the new towns valued in excess of 1bn.

The report said this de-designation had resulted in "piecemeal" regeneration.

Almost all new towns were found to have areas of deprivation with high unemployment and housing needs.

Design faults

The report adds that: "This failure of public policy to adapt to change may well create a text book example of how not to manage public assets."

Don Burrows, of the Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation - a Telford-based charity which aims to help improve local communities - said the original design of some estates had led to many of the problems.

"High density large estates with poor amenities, mainly designed for the car not the pedestrian are turning into breeding grounds for petty crime and drug abuse," he said.

The MPs suggest regional development agencies should take control of strategic sites and a New Towns Reinvestment Fund could allocate profits from the sale of these according to need.

A spokesman from the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's office, said they welcomed the report and would be responding fully to the list of conclusions and recommendations.

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Bill Rammell MP for Harlow

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