This conference (12 March 2019) was aimed at exploring what lessons we can learn from the original New Towns to inform a new generation of Garden Towns. I was there on behalf of Harlow Civic Society, the only voluntary organisation represented. Representatives from Harlow Council: Councillors Mark Ingall and Danny Purton, and Brian Keene, Managing Director also attended. 

A summary of the conference follows. You can download my full notes of the day from our Documents page here.

With significant developments proposed in and around Harlow, currently branded as the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town, this was a timely opportunity to reflect on the experience of the earlier New Towns and how they can influence current plans and their delivery.

The day was chaired by Mary Parsons, the Chair of the TCPA and  Group Director for Placemaking and Regeneration at Places for People; they are key players in the Gilston developments and are also launch sponsors for our own Architectural Design Awards.

It was pleasing to note that Harlow’s sculptures were highlighted as an example of community assets generating civic pride and pictures of them were shown in several sessions.

There were presentations covering:

  • The current common challenges and the key lessons from the original New Towns.
  • the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group on New Towns. 
  • the new programme for 24 communities and Garden Towns ranging from 1500 to 40,000 homes in size
  • the development of Milton Keynes,the regeneration and growth of Hertfordshire’s New Towns, the growth and renewal of Cwmbran and The Breakthrough Basildon Commission.

Hugh Ellis, TCPA Director of Policy, summarised the day, calling the New Towns the greatest achievement of the 20thcentury in planning and delivery. He emphasised that we must do better than the shoddy places currently being built under Permitted Development and with add-on estates to towns. He ended by saying ‘this is where the future begins’.

I would summarise the key points of the day as follows:

  • need for Master planning and strong design principles
  • need for Community-led Development Corporations with significant powers to deliver at scale, pace and quality – requiring new public investment
  • place-making as key, not just building homes
  • land values based on current not future value to make purchase affordable
  • collaboration of local authorities (especially with the ending of regional planning)
  • more assertive Local Planning Authorities, especially in their expectations of developers
  • generation of Civic Pride as an important part of renewal and development
  • community stewardship of assets.

Tony Evans

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