How to make successful New Towns and Villages in the UK

In this article, urban regeneration expert, Adrian Griffiths, looks at the issue of delivering successful New Towns and Villages in the UK.

2017 started with the welcome news that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, is backing the concept for fourteen new towns and villages to help solve the current UK housing crisis. Whilst applauding this aspiration, I do have the feeling of déjà vu on the basis that we have heard this before with no recent successes to date.

However, as a country, we do have a strong pedigree in the delivery of new towns. The model village, Bournville, was the brain child of the Cadbury family, who realised that better accommodation was required for their factory workers. Commencing in 1893, this development, with its village feel and sense of place, has stood the test of time, being a sought after location even though there are no public houses, due to the Cadbury family’s Quaker faith. Letchworth and Welwyn soon followed, both new towns based on the Garden City concept designed by Sir Ebenezer Howard. Milton Keynes was designated a new town in 1967, and Poundbury, inspired by Prince Charles, followed in 1993.

With this solid heritage and proven track record, why should we be concerned about the country’s ability to deliver the next generation of new towns and villages? It all comes down to politics and the lack of ability to make decisions. We seem to have lost the pioneering skills the country possessed during the Industrial Revolution, where great transformational steps were made. Today we can’t even agree on a third runway and HS2 is proving a challenge.

As a nation, we have the skillset to deliver the “Best in Class” new towns and villages, although you might not believe this if you were to look at the quality of the poorly planned, mass house building that is endemic throughout the country. The government needs to draw on the talent of our privately held development and regeneration companies to assemble consultant teams to drive these initiatives forward. You only need to look at what has been achieved at Docklands, and more recently at Kings Cross, to realise what can be delivered when people are empowered, noting Brunel and Paxton as fine examples from our industrial age.

The main challenge with the creation of new towns is the issue of the “NIMBY”, which is clearly understandable and a political hurdle that needs to be overcome. 

However, as the country clearly requires further development, we must produce a product that will have a positive impact on those whose “back yards” are likely to be affected. We have a duty to enhance our environments with developments that possess a sense of place, are designed for people and will stand the test of time.

There is much to be learnt from how towns have evolved over time; lessons that can be applied to the design of new towns. They had at their heart a commercial centre that would have been formed around established infrastructure, whether this was road, river or rail. The centres would have grown on the back of increased trade, with support facilities and a mix of uses being added as part of the evolutionary process. As the town grew, additional housing and industry would have developed outwards from the core, creating the suburban edge we see today. Most importantly, they were inclusive places that catered for all in multi-occupational buildings

However, the modern way of living has outstripped the evolutionary process with some towns finding it hard to adapt and keep up with change. The preferred modes of transport, cars, buses or delivery vehicles, do not naturally fit with an historic high street. Town centres have tried hard to adapt to cater for these new requirements through the introduction of ring roads and pedestrianisation, but in many instances the results have seen towns cut in two with the high street devoid of activity at certain times of the day.

The challenge therefore is to blend the best qualities of our historic centres with the lessons we have learnt from the masterplanning of larger successful mixed-use, retail-led developments to create state of the art vibrant towns and villages. Our understanding of how to successfully move people through these environments must not be overlooked.

The first key principle is to create a destination that has the best access for all modes of transport, with these being planned to ensure they do not impact on the vitality of the commercial heart. Incubator car parks should be distributed around the edges of the centre making it as easy as possible to park close to the centre. The commercial heart should be tenant-mixed from the outset to ensure we deliver the appropriate offer that underpins any high street. The centres should not be totally pedestrianized, and allowance must be made for vehicular access, possibly at specified times in the evening, to ensure that night time access to leisure activities, restaurants and bars is facilitated.

The centre's commercial uses must provide a rounded offer. It is not just about the retail, and we need to look at what facilities draw people in, noting that we need to differentiate from the internet’s retail offer. Most importantly, we must learn from our heritage and realise that our centres provide the social core that holds together our increasingly diverse society. The range of uses, many which can be located at upper levels, could include libraries, doctors, dentists, vets, community hospitals, opticians, funeral parlours, estate agents, offices etc. It is this rounded offer that creates the destination.

Then there is the important issue of the residential, the core reason why this new town initiative has been implemented. New housing is paramount, and this should be provided firstly at the upper levels, within the core area, and then radiate out to suburban housing and apartments set within a considered landscaped setting. Again we should learn from our past and understand what made examples such as Bournville so successful. Housing requires “fronts and backs” with private space, car parking and cycling facilities appropriately integrated into the planning. The quality of the public realm could not be of more importance because it is this element which glues the uses together, creating the overall sense of place.

The most important point is that we need to design for people whose fundamental requirements, even when taking into consideration all of modern life’s expectations, have not changed. Our historic towns were always trading centres where markets and traders, selling fresh food and other products, were filling the public spaces every day. Farmers’ markets were a regular event, and fairs and circuses would pass through. People would go to see and be seen, to socialise and to enjoy. Our challenge is to recreate this experience whilst at the same time tackling and solving the housing problem in a sustainable way.

Let’s not have party politics kill off a great initiative. The government should task those who possess the skills and passion to create the vision and deliver the experience. This is what our forefathers achieved, and there is no reason why we cannot rise to the challenge again and create environments and communities of which we can all be proud.

About the Author

Adrian Griffiths (BA (Hons) Dip Arch RIBA MA Urban Design FRSA)

Board Director, UK

Adrian joined Chapman Taylor in 1986 and was promoted to the Main Board in 1998. As an architect and urban design specialist, he is recognised internationally for his expertise in the masterplanning of major complex mixed-use developments which are key drivers in the regeneration of our town and city centres.

Adrian is conscious of the fact that the developments we build today create the societies of tomorrow, recognising the responsibility the profession has in influencing the quality of people’s lives. He regularly speaks at conferences and prepares papers which promote the benefits of mixed-use developments as a sustainable model for the long term. Adrian leads the Concept Design Team in the UK.

Areas of expertise:

Urban design /  Masterplanning /  Mixed use / Retail / Leisure

caret-down-skewed caret-down-thin caret-down caret-left-thick caret-left-white caret-left caret-right-thick caret-right-white caret-right caret-up chinese cross download english facebook grid linked-in list mail map pinterest play-button reset search-nobg search-square share twitter views wechat youtube