What can the Garden Cities and New Towns of the past tell us about creating innovative new communities for tomorrow?

The words “New Town” are often met with cynicism and jokes about modernist housing estates, bleak architecture and roundabouts. However this is far from the full story – the New Towns programme – a direct descendant of the Garden Cities movement – had an unrivalled scale of ambition and focus on community development.

Today, the UK’s 32 New Towns provide homes for over 2.7m people (4.5% of the UK’s households) and include some of the fastest growing and most successful places in the UK. However, they also face their own challenges. Meanwhile, the Garden Cities enjoy strong legacies of high-quality environments, vibrant social life and, for Letchworth, a profitable economic model.

As the nation finds itself in the midst of an escalating housing crisis, it is clear that urgent action is needed. The need to create comprehensively planned, larger-scale developments, alongside the continuing task of urban regeneration and renewal of older towns, is firmly on the political agenda, as is a new generation of Garden Cities as part of the portfolio of solutions to the housing crisis.

As a new programme of Garden Cities and New Towns looks increasingly likely, it is important to learn the lessons – good and bad – from what has been done before. The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has today launched ‘An Introduction to the UK’s New Towns and Garden Cities’. This report is the first in a two-stage project looking at those lessons, providing an overview of the Garden City and New Towns Story, and using the latest data from the New Towns themselves, offering up a snapshot of the state of these communities today. The publication includes a main report and a ‘five minute’ fact sheet on each of the New Towns.

Kate Henderson, TCPA Chief Executive said:

“New Garden Cities which have cross-party political support, should combine the very high social and environmental standards of Gardens Cities with the highly effective delivery mechanisms of the post-war New Towns, incorporating the best of both approaches and learning the lessons of what has worked in the past and what has not.”

“The New Towns programme was the most ambitious large scale town building programme ever undertaken in the UK, to provide high-quality housing in well-designed communities as part of a wider public programme addressing wider issues such as public health and social justice. In the face of the current housing crisis, we must again seek to produce homes on this scale, creating the types of well-designed and sustainable new homes that people want to live in, and communities want to live in.”

Born from the need to rebuild a post war Britain, the New Towns programme began in 1946, and sought to create a number of large scale new communities, and meet housing need. Following the New Towns Act in 1946, which detailed how these large-scale new communities would be located and paid for, and how they would be planned and delivered by dedicated, long-life Development Corporations, the New Towns programme was delivered in three phases, beginning in 1946, and running until the last New Town designation in 1970. In this time, the programme created 32 New Towns across Britain.

Katy Lock, TCPA Garden Cities and New Towns Expert and Advocate added:

“While we must strive to meet the nation’s housing need, we must also remember that revitalising our existing towns and cities is just as important as new growth, and many of the places in need of renewal are the New Towns themselves. The TCPA strongly supports the creation of new Garden Cities, but this must go hand in hand with regeneration.”

The ‘New Towns & Garden Cities: Lessons for Tomorrow’ project is sponsored by David Lock Associates, the Lady Margaret Patterson Osborn Trust and the Planning Exchange Foundation.

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