Although frequently in the news, the UK’s housing shortage is by no means a new phenomenon. One of the ways that such shortages have been tackled in the past has been to construct entirely new towns, usually on ‘greenfield’ sites adjacent to the major centres of existing population.
At a recent meeting of the Bakewell and District Probus Club, the speaker was club member Tony Crook who, as Professor Emeritus of Town and Regional Planning at Sheffield University, is an acknowledged expert on the subject of housing policy. Tony started his talk by presenting a number of statistics concerning new towns in the UK. There are currently 32 of them, with a combined population of 2.8 million – approximately 4% of the country’s total. Their origins may be traced back to the time when ‘model’ settlements to house their workers were established by some, usually philanthropic, industrialists. Among these were places like Bourneville (by Cadbury), New Lanark (Robert Owen) and Port Sunlight (Lever Brothers). These were followed, in the early 20th century by privately funded ‘garden cities’ (e.g. Letchworth and Welwyn). These examples were seen to be successful and they provided the impetus for government-backed schemes to be introduced.
The speaker then described a number of factors which led to the creation of new towns in the post-World War II period. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act created a national planning system which was refined and updated by subsequent legislation. As a result, new towns were created to cope with ‘overspill’, initially from London (e.g. Harlow) but later from Birmingham (Telford), from Merseyside (Runcorn) and from Glasgow (Irvine).
Although fulfilling a housing need, these new towns were often criticised for their lack of social cohesion and without architectural merit. They also had the effect of drawing the economic life out of the existing cities. Hence, a re-think of policy has come about since the 1970s. The emphasis has now shifted to one of urban regeneration within the older centres of population. But, irrespective of these changes in policy, the fact remains that, as a nation, we are continuing to fail to meet our housing needs, and we struggle to agree on the method of meeting the demand. The speaker suggested that additional new towns could be one way of meeting these needs.
Details of the Bakewell and District Probus Club, including reports of earlier meetings, can be found on its website at www.bakewell probus.org