Health, Housing and Climate Change and the UK New Towns

7 April 2022
Thu 7,  9h00
      Apr 7,  17h30

In the Post-Covid world there is a lot we can learn about planning and designing for Health, Housing and Climate change/sustainability from the experience of the UK New Towns and recent experiments in building Garden Towns and Villages.

In association with the New Towns Heritage Research Network and ENSAG-Université Grenoble Alpes, the Centre for British Studies of the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris (a member of the Sorbonne Nouvelle research centre on the English-speaking world) is organising a conference/study day in April 2022 on Health and Housing and the challenge of designing for climate change using the example of the British New Towns.

The conference is aimed at a French and European audience and will be conducted in English but other participants are welcome. It will consider the positive lessons to be learned for the planning and design of the New Towns and the challenges of re-design they now face. It will be a multi-disciplinary and cross-sector conference.

 

Background

The UK New Towns were built in three waves after the war to disperse British population away from the bid cities and reorganise the UK urban regions. They were an attempt at planning whole new communities in reaction to the interwar urban sprawl and suburbia. These new towns were planned in a holistic way as mixed, self-standing and sufficient communities; residents were meant to feel a sense of identity and benefit from good local facilities and services at the neighbourhood level and enjoy healthy public and personal environments. Above all, these new communities were meant to provide modern housing conditions to the millions of new residents that were to leave behind their inner city Victorian homes because of national economic policies or local slum clearance. (Fee, Colenutt, Coady Schaebitz, 2021).

Seventy years later, the 32 New Towns have become homes to some 2 million people but have faced multiple criticisms for their post-war modernist architecture, mass production building techniques, ageing town centres or top down planning principles. Some of the dwelling stock has even been demolished (such as Laindon estate in Basildon) and the design of some of estates has sometimes been profoundly altered (such as the Three hills estate in Harlow) to meet modern standards and residents’ needs and requests. A new wave of redesigns may well be needed to meet the challenges of climate change.

Yet, the UK New Towns could be said to be “ideally equipped to pioneer the move to sustainability” (Alexander, 160) today in 2021 and meet the challenges of modern times.  At the time when the United Nations calls for fairer, greener and healthier cities, and underlines that the health pandemic has mostly affected dense urban areas (UN, 2021), New Towns can boast lower densities than older cities and extensive green spaces. When public transport is being shunned by weary commuters and remote working has become the new normal, they offer carefully designed inclusive neighbourhoods that can locally provide all the necessary community facilities and services to residents.

Besides, it could be argued that their planning principles can also help meet the UK’s current housing crisis that is partly caused by the decade-long gap between housing output and requirements (Bowie, 2017). However, resolving the housing crisis is highly contested in England, and now made even more complicated by further proposed planning reforms and controversial proposals for ‘levelling up’ declining regions. Thus, the role of the existing New Towns and proposed Garden Towns and so-called Healthy Towns in meeting housing needs for the 21st century is uncertain.

Finally, it can be argued that New Towns can help provide lessons, both positive and negative about how planning can address climate change and health issues. The first generation New Towns offer examples of extensive networks of cycling lanes, footpaths and car free pedestrian areas that could be revived and provide a blueprint for low-carbon neighbourhoods in new communities. Good design and place-making in the form of master-planning based on these New Town principles can provide unique opportunities (TCPA, 2021). However, the second generation New Towns abandoned this approach and were planned specifically around accommodating the motor car with a consequent decline in city centre viability and neighbourhood shopping.

In spite of this, some New Towns particularly Milton Keynes have been at the forefront of innovation to turn around their car based designs to make their city more sustainable in transport and housing.

For all these reasons, the growing concern for sustainability at the global and UK level warrants a reflection on the potential contribution of New Towns (past and present) to the issue as well as the relevance of their planning and housing heritage in meeting contemporary challenges.

Programme :
9.00       Welcome

9.15        Key note: Katy Lock (Town and Country Planning Association)

9.45         Questions and Answers session

 

Panel 1 : The New Towns in the past: valuable radical innovations?

10.00              Jonny Matfin (Birbeck College): Innovation in Heath, Housing and Well-being in Stevenage

10.15              Alison Davies (University of Nottingham): Public Spaces in Peterlee Pasmore’s Unique Atomic System

10.30              Alina Congreve: New Jerusalem’s- Post-war New Towns Archives in Britain and Ireland

10.45              Q+A session

11.15              Break

 

Panel 2 : The New Towns 80 years on: did it go according to plan?

11.45              John Mckendrick (Glasgow Caledonian University): Poverty and Progress in New Towns in Scotland

12.00              Lynn Abrams and Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow): Balanced communities? Home ownership, aspiration, and well-being in Scotland’s New Towns

12.15              Chik Collins (University of the Faroe Islands): Unintended Consequences of New Towns on Glasgow’s mortality

12.30              Q+A session

 

13.00     Lunch

 

Panel 3 : The Future and the New Towns: addressing challenges

14.00              Andrew Smith (University of Hertfordshire), John Sturzaker (University of Hertfordshire): Addressing Mobility Challenges in Hertfordshire New Towns

14.15              Susan Parham (University of Hertfordshire), Matthew Hardy (The Prince’s Foundation), Stéphane Sadoux (ENSAG-AE&CC, Université Grenoble Alpes): Poundbury and sustainability: what can we learn from it?

14.30              Emma Street and Victor Nicholls (University of Reading): Learning from ‘the Lexicon’: Planning and delivering comprehensive town centre regeneration in a context of (future) crisis in Bracknell

14.45             Q+A session

15.15             Break

 

Panel 4 : The New Towns and their residents in 2021

15.45              Andy Routledge, Sabine Coady Schäbitz : 60 MILES – An Arts and Heritage Engagement Project with Northampton Expansion New Town

16.00              Shane Dower (Milton Keynes NT): Heritage, culture and people in Milton Keynes

16.15             Graeme Bell (Welwyn New Town): Learning from living in Welwyn New Town

16.30             Q+A session

17.00             Discussion and concluding remarks

17.30            End

 

Organization
David Fée (CREW – Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Stéphane Sadoux (ENSAG – Université Grenoble Alpes)

Cet événement bénéficie d’une aide de l’Etat gérée par l’Agence Nationale de la Recherche au titre du programme Investissements d’Avenir portant la référence ANR-10-LABX-0078

Location
Maison de la Recherche de la Sorbonne Nouvelle
4, rue des irlandais
75005 PARIS

 

Partenaires
Unité de Recherche (LabEx) AE&CC, ENSAG, Université Grenoble Alpes
New Towns Heritage Research Network

 

To attend, please register at david.fee@sorbonne-nouvelle. fr

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