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Building New Towns

11th August 2014

Tony Hutchinson on what we can take from the past and what we need to do differently...

One of the potential solutions to the current shortage of homes that has been mooted recently is the creation of a number of small new settlements building on the principles of the Garden Villages and New Towns of the past.

At an average 15,000 homes each it is arguable that these are too small to be fully independent new settlements and will need into a wider spatial plan to access higher education, a district hospital and major retail.

Successful New Towns are characterised by moderate to good construction standards for the homes, well managed and used public areas and a sustainable if evolving employment base. This largely means access to the Golden Triangle – Ruhr/Paris/London - that has driven much of the European economy in recent decades. The most successful have been the London satellite towns.

Tony Hutchinson

Tony Hutchinson

Development Director, Housing, Capita

Less successful New Towns have had non sustainable employment, poor access to alternative employment opportunities or reasons to attract inward investment. The homes built were poor quality and needed continuing public investment, while  public spaces were unloved and unused. Skelmersdale or Peterlee fall into this category
Ebenezer Howard put forward an ideal of an integrated, self sustaining settlement, successful new towns are part of a wider eco-system and future new towns need to move on from what may worked in an age before international mass transit of goods, people and capital, information based industry. Howard saw a network of small towns producing their own food and with industries that served local needs.

Twenty first century new towns need to look forward not back to an Edwardian vision. What might this include?

  • Connectivity is critical, good metro- style transit systems that link to employment opportunities and road access for deliveries, ultra-high speed broad band links to give businesses access to information and markets;
  • Accessible schools and health care for immediate needs, well planned links to secondary education and health care;
  • Exemplary design to create great places which recognise the lifestyles and aspirations of contemporary households, potentially modular homes which allow the space to change over time either in terms of volume or use;
  • Innovation in tenure to offer long term residents an equity stake;
  • Good local governance to encourage community engagement and participation. 

Delivering a new settlement is a daunting prospect, it needs design from the drains to the roofs, and literally from cradle to grave, not just the physical amenities but social, economic and environmental opportunities need to be designed in.

Tony Hutchinson is development director, housing and consultancy at Capita

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