HL Deb 01 March 1967 vol 280 cc1084-101

2.46 p.m.

LORD SILKIN rose to call attention to matters relating to new towns; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I came to consider what I might say to your Lordships this afternoon I was astonished to find that there had been no general debate on new towns for many years past; indeed I think it must be quite ten years since we last discussed this matter in a general way. Therefore, on the assumption that I spoke on that occasion, I did not think it worth while to ascertain what I had said; indeed it may be best forgotten. Since then we have, of course, had a number of debates on specific aspects of new towns. For instance, in 1959 we debated the setting up of a general Commission for new towns about which I want to say a few words later we had a debate on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, which involved the passing of a Negative Resolution, where there was a substantial extension of an existing new town; and, of course, from time to time we have discussed Bills which were intended to provide more money for the erection of new towns.

We had one memorable debate arising out of one of those Bills which we devoted to the question of the extension of Stevenage. There was what many of us, I think everyone who spoke, thought was a preposterous proposal, not only to extend Stevenage to the fullest extent within its own boundaries but virtually to create a new town across the main highway. I think every single speaker in that debate spoke very strongly against it. It happened to be a pet proposal of the then Minister of Housing and Local Government—not, I am glad to say, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, but his successor—and I believe that what we then said had some effect, because I see that no further progress has been made with that proposal.

However, I think it is a good thing that we should settle down to-day to a general discussion on the progress of the new towns and of their future. We have, after all, voted £800 million towards the erection of new towns, most of which has been spent. From time to time we have Bills proposing expenditure of a further £250 million—roughly they come every three years—and they give us some opportunity of reviewing the situation. But, judging from the way things are going now, I do not think £250 million will go far enough, or even very tar, and it looks as though in the future these Bills will provide for an expenditure of at least £500 million, and possibly every two or three years.

When we first established the new towns under the New Towns Act, 1946, it was contemplated that eventually something like 20 new towns would be started, most of them completed over a period of 15 to 20 years. It is now just about 20 years since they were started, and there are now in being, or actually being erected, 21 new towns, so I think that was not bad forecasting. In addition to that, there are a substantial number in the pipeline. A substantial number are coming forward gradually. Moreover, at least two new towns are being erected by a combination of county councils and urban district councils, and there are a very large number of expansions of existing towns under the Towns Development Act. In fact, there are some 59 schemes already in being for the enlargement of existing towns. There are 26 in Greater London, 16 in Birmingham, and others for the benefit of Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, and so on.

By the time the first post-war Labour Government went out of office 15 new towns had been started. Then there was a gap. I am not complaining of this gap; it may well be it was thought desirable to see what progress they had made, and how they had got on, before any more were started. But it is a fact there was a fairly long gap and it was some ten years later that a fresh generation of new towns was started, and they have got on very quickly and are making good progress.

I think we may say to-day that the new towns are something unique in world history, and I do not think I am putting too high a claim on it, because although new towns have been built in many parts of the world, in the past there has never been building of new towns in substantial numbers as a definite policy. Of course, Washington, Canberra and various other capital cities have been erected as new towns in different parts of the world, but never have there been 21 new towns, to say nothing of the additional ones that are projected at the present time. In looking at these towns and seeing their progress, I believe we may feel proud of our achievement in this field. I have heard it described as one of the outstanding achievements of the post-war period, and that is not an exaggeration, I think. Large numbers of visitors conic specifically to see these towns, and from what I hear there is great admiration and praise for the way in which they have been developed. This debate will give us an opportunity of reviewing what we have achieved, and seeing what mistakes we have made in the past and how we can make improvements. It will also give us an opportunity for discussing some new thinking in the performance and methods of the further new towns that we are about to build.

As regards the existing new towns, it was decided, following the report of the Reith Committee, that they should be built by means of development corporations. With one exception there was a development corporation for each new town. The idea was that in that way we should get a variation of ideas and different types of new towns; different architects would be employed, and, as a result of this, we should be relieved of a sameness and monotony about them. I think that, on the whole, it has worked. Each substantially sized town has certain special features about it which distinguishes it from other new towns, and they are excellent in themselves. I only mention the industrial area of Crawley, which I think is unique as an industrial area. There is the civic centre and the shopping centre of Stevenage. Harlow is a model of development of layout, and each new town can be said to have some distinctive feature about it.

There are certain aspects that I should like to comment on as those we ought possibly to avoid in the future. The residential development is, on the whole, quite good, but there is a sameness about it, a monotony—rather long streets of much the same kind of houses. It is naturally difficult to get variation in types of houses when you are limited to an area of under 1,000 sq. ft. for a small house. There is a limit as to cost, and naturally there is inclined to be a sameness about the residential development. I think the mistake we have made is to put so many houses together without breaking them up and without getting any variety of types.

I think it arose from the planning conception in the 1940s of the neighbourhood unit. It was a very good idea, but it has been followed much too slavishly. The neighbourhood unit involved creating separate units of about 7,000 people, each unit centred on a primary school and 12 shops. This idea has been followed out quite rigidly in many of the towns, and in consequence there is this sameness about them. Indeed, if you went into any residential area in any one of the new towns, you would find it difficult to distinguish between that town and any other new town. I hope that in future we shall not follow this pattern of the neighbourhood unit too slavishly.

While it is convenient to have all the 12 or so local shops assembled at one place, it means that some people have a long way to go to do their immediate shopping. There is a good deal to be said for "the little shop around the corner", where you can go to get anything you require urgently—the newspaper shop that is not far away, or the tobacconist. That is the kind of shop to which one is constantly needing to go, but in the new towns one might have to travel quite a distance to get to it.

I think, too, that we waited too long in providing the necessary amenities. Most of the existing first generation new towns have a good many, and there is a good deal to be learned to-day from what they have provided. But in the early days living in one of the new towns without any of the vital necessities was rather hard going. We started with the schools and the churches; but there were few recreational services, meeting places, halls, concert places and so on. Only gradually have these been provided. I think some of the new towns are a model of what a town needs to be. I instance Harlow, which has a wonderful orchestra of its own, and its own concert hall. Other places have similar facilities. But they had to wait a long time, and I suggest that in future we should create these amenities side by side with the provision of housing, industrial and commercial development, churches, schools and so on. That is all I wish to say about the new towns we have created so far.

I want now to devote the rest of my remarks to the new towns of the future. Before I come to that, I should like to say one word about the machinery—that is, the New Towns Commission—which was set up in 1959 and which deals with the new towns that are substantially complete. Your Lordships will perhaps remember that under the New Towns Act the intention was that when the new towns were substantially completed they should pass to the local authorities and be managed by them, of course on the proper terms as to repayment of loan charges, and possibly some share to the Exchequer of any appreciation in the value of the new towns. That was the intention. But in 1959 the then Government introduced a measure to set up the New Towns Commission, under which new towns as they were supposed to be completed would pass to the New Towns Commission for management.

Up to now four of these towns have passed to this Commission. It is extraordinary that every one of these towns is not in fact complete at all, and that there are proposals for substantial expansion. One wonders why, if they were to be expanded and were not really complete, they should be handed over as being substantially completed. Some of the four are still proceeding with much increased populations. But, apart altogether from that, there seems to be no justification to-day for the retention of the New Towns Commission. It seems to me to be a fifth wheel on the coach; that the work that they are doing could equally well be done by retaining the development corporation, or, better still, by transferring the property, lock, stock and barrel, to the existing local authority.

I should be glad if the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, whom I welcome into the fold of new town authorities, would give us some idea of the Government's intentions as regards this New Towns Commission. While I am about it, may I say how sorry I am sure we all are that Lord Kennet, who has worked so hard in this House in recent weeks and who, I know, was looking forward to this particular debate, is not able to be with us to-day through illness. I am sure we wish him a speedy recovery.

Now I want to turn to the future and to what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, described in an earlier debate as "the third generation of new towns". We have confronting us a far graver population problem than ever before in our history. According to the forecast in the Annual Abstract of Statistics for 1965, the estimated future total population of the United Kingdom by the year 2000 is 74,660,000. This is an increase of over 20 million over the next 33 years. This increase is proceeding not in arithmetical but in geometrical progression—that is, the increase grows larger every year.

To house these 20 million of increased population we shall need some 6 million additional houses over the next 33 years. This does not take into account at all what is needed for slum clearance, for the relief of overcrowding, for the provision of what will be expected, I hope, over the years: a higher standard of housing consistent with an improved standard of living generally. These must be provided in addition to the 6 million houses we shall require over the next 33 years. Of course, in addition to the 6 million houses there will be other requirements: schools, universities, churches, shops, industrial and commercial buildings, places of recreation and entertainment, which all go with a civilised community. Even if one is afraid to look 33 years ahead and looks ahead only 23 years, which at any rate will be within the lifetime of a great many of your Lordships, we still have to face an increase in population of nearly 11 million—11 million in the next 23 years, or roughly three and three-quarter million dwellings.

That is a problem bad enough in all conscience. How is all this going to be provided? In what form, and where? We naturally want to use our land in the most economic and efficient way. We do not want to eat into the countryside; but obviously we must do so to cater for so many additional people. Fortunately, there is some room for expansion in many of our existing towns, both large and small. There is a good deal of in-filling, and as at the present time about four-fifths of the population are living in such areas, I think to a large extent we can provide these 6 million houses in existing habitations.

There is another thing we can do, if we overcome our prejudices—and they still exist—about building flats. I know that in many quarters there is a strong feeling about the idea of people living in flats, and certainly it has a number of undesirable features. In these days, only the well-to-do prefer to live in flats; the ordinary person prefers a single family house. Indeed, only the well-to-do can afford to live in a decent flat to-day, so they are being built. But I think that it would be a mistake to exaggerate the contribution which the building of flats can make to a solution of the problem. You save some land by building flats, but not a great deal. While I agree that we should be prepared to build more flats in our towns than we are doing to-day, it is still no solution. To a very large extent, and I think a major extent, the solution will have to be by way of new towns.

My own view is that over the next 30-odd years we shall have to build more than half of the 6 million dwellings we want by way of new towns. This, of course, will involve a far bigger programme of new town development than anything which has been envisaged so far. It is therefore urgently necessary that we should at once give fresh thought and clear thinking to this matter, before it is too late. I should like to see in the next few years, in as short a time as possible, a complete survey made of the whole country, such as that which has been carried out in the South-East of England, and similar to one that is proceeding in the North, in order to recommend what are the most suitable areas in which new towns may be built. The decisions would have to be tentative in the first instance, but at least we should have a picture of the kind of requirements in which we shall be involved.

One of the things which we must at all costs avoid is the haphazard extension of existing towns, many of which are already far too large. Obviously, such towns as London, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham are cases in point, and nobody would suggest that they are capable of any expansion. I know that the Government have these particular towns well in mind. I have in mind also such medium-sized towns as Sheffield, Hull, Leeds, Bristol, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham and others. Even most of these are already too large from the point of view of their traffic problems, the long journeys to and from work, the general convenience of the populace, and from the point of view of I local government, and certainly they should not be permitted to enlarge. The solution for the expansion of the population of each of these towns must lie in the provision of new towns.

But there is a further category of town which, by reason of its character, tradition, buildings, history, and so on, should not be allowed to grow beyond a certain size. One of the tragedies of the last half century has been the industrial development of Oxford. It may be too late to do anything about Oxford, although I hope not; but certainly it should not be allowed to grow any further. But Cambridge is a case in point. I was in Cambridge a few weeks ago, discussing with the authorities there the kind of facilities which must be provided for the expansion of their population. As is customary in university towns, there was by no means general agreement, and I think that every single person who came had a solution of his own. But none of them had contemplated the possibility of a new town. They were all agreed that Cambridge was large enough, and ought not to be further developed, yet they recognised that there was a need to provide for further population. That is the kind of place which I think we ought to consider for the development of new towns. Naturally, they would be smaller than the normal new town that I have in mind, but there are other places up and down the country—places like Bath, Exeter, Cheltenham, Chester—which are essentially beautiful in their character and which ought to be maintained and not allowed to develop beyond their present size. Any expansion of those places should be by way of new towns.

One of the mistakes of the first generation of new towns—that is, one more than I have already mentioned—is that they were limited in population to a maximum of 60,000. As an afterthought, one thought of the second generation of people and that one should allow for a certain expansion of the 60,000 and perhaps contemplate a maximum of 75,000 or 80,000, but it was considered that the town should not grow beyond that limit. I consider that it was a mistake, just as it was a further mistake to build London new towns so close to London—all of them. I can only plead that those of us who were responsible were timid and cautious, and we felt that it might not be acceptable to public opinion to think in terms of very large towns in the first instance. But the result is that practically every one of the first generation of new towns is being expanded beyond the limit. It is not the best way of building a town to provide facilities for, say, a town of 70,000, and then to expand it to 100,000 or 120,000. One has then to think again about the civic centre, the shopping centre, and all the rest of it.

So I hope that to-day in the new generation of new towns we shall be thinking of substantially larger towns where appropriate. I do not think we need be afraid of a new town with a population of even as many as 500,000, though I do not think we should go beyond that figure. Of course, not all new towns should be of that size: it would not be appropriate that they should be. But in certain cases I think they might go to the size of about 500,000. I believe that the Government are at any rate thinking about a town of that size in the South-East. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will be able to tell us more.

In connection with the new towns, we have to think of local government. I think that many of the new towns suffered from the fact that there was divided control. They were within the area of two or more local authorities and this made life very difficult both for the development corporation and for the inhabitants. I see that there is one projected new town which is in the area of two county councils and three urban district councils. I hate to contemplate the problems of a development corporation having to carry out consultations with all these authorities, having to deal with them, pacify them, and so on. I am glad that a Commission are sitting to review local government, because this is a clear case of the need to provide that a new town should be within the area of only one local government authority, and preferably, of course, that it should be self-contained and have within it all the services it requires. That is not practicable where the new town's population is no more than 60,000 or 70,000, but where a new town has a population of over 100,000 I think it would be right to have the area of the local authority and the area of the new town co-terminous. Incidentally, if the noble Lord can tell us, I shall be glad to hear when the Royal Commission on Local Government are going to report, because they will have a very important function in considering the new towns of the future.

I have spoken rather longer than I hope is usual for me, but I had a lot of time to make up. I have not been able to speak on this subject generally for over ten years, so there was a lot to say. I hope it will not be ten years before we discuss it again, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will be able to give us a picture of what the Government have in mind for the future, to claim that they are really facing up to the question of the 6 million houses which I think we shall need before the end of the present generation, and to say how far they think the new towns can meet the problem. I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for taking us back to-day to the new towns, and for the way in which he has shown us round again after ten years. I certainly do not think it is too soon for us to have another look at the new towns, and I would echo the noble Lord's hope that, rather before 1977 as the Founding Father of the new towns he will take us on a further tour. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, not only has a great interest in the new towns; he also has a passionate enthusiasm for them. I should like straight away to declare an interest and to confess that I share that enthusiasm. I think that anyone who has seen this great adventure at fairly close quarters—warts and all—tends to get caught up in the challenge of the new towns. I certainly was in my short period at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, as I know that my successor, my noble friend Lord Hastings, was, and as indeed I know were my two bosses of the time—one of whom is sitting beside me to-day.

This illustrates in personal terms that the new towns are not in themselves a Party matter. Nor, although I would not for a moment deny the noble Lord's paternity claim, are they a Party achievement. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, did not claim them as such, although he referred to a gap of ten years or so. I would merely remind your Lordships that less than, I think, 3,500 houses had been completed in the new towns when the Conservatives took office in 1951. In those subsequent 13 years—I am being studiously neutral; I am applying no adjective to those 13 years—dwellings for over 500,000 people were provided in the new towns. Also, it was under a Conservative Government that the first of the second generation of new towns—the first seven—were designated.

Be that as it may, I think we can all agree that the new towns represent a great and daring achievement. I would echo what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said in that respect. I think we can all take pride in this particular national creation. When one goes abroad and sees the failures—and we have had failures ourselves—of some other great industrialised nations successfully to grapple with this problem of urban growth, one realises how in this respect at least we have handled things better. One feels that when one sees the appalling clutter of contemporary Tokyo, or those ghastly conglomerations which now encircle Rome and Naples, or indeed much of the urban scatter along the whole of the Eastern seaboard of the United States from Boston to Washington. I think our new towns have been a success, not least in terms of human happiness, and they have been a success in economic terms. I would agree with the noble Lord that this is an achievement in its way rather like the creation of our 18th Century landscape, in which this century can take great pride.

Now we are at the start of a new period in new town development. As the noble Lord has explained, there is the first and the second generation and there is a third generation coming; there are the new cities already designated, such as Milton Keynes, or to be designated, as I understand it, like Leyland/Chorley in the North-West; and there are other possibilities, like Ashford. There is the relatively new concept of using the new town technique for developing existing major towns like Peterborough, and there is also the possibility of carrying the whole process a stage further and developing, between the two existing South Coast towns of Portsmouth and Southampton, what could, of course, be a major new conurbation. That being so this is, I agree, a very good moment for us to look critically at our achievements in this field in the past and at our plans and our projects and our procedures for the future.

I gave our new towns a good mark just now. That does not mean that we should not acknowledge mistakes where mistakes have been made, and I would echo much of what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said. I agree that architecturally the new towns strike on the whole a good, honest level. However, I agree with the noble Lord that some of their residential housing is monotonous, although it is terribly difficult not to make it so. I also feel that some of the larger architecture, in fact most of the larger architecture—the public buildings and so on—is not very striking and is rather unadventurous.

Again, I would not dissent from the noble Lord's view, that up till now we have not got this question of density and dispersion really right. The noble Lord spoke of the neighbourhood concept. The early new towns, like Harlow—I may dissent from him here, as I think I would include Harlow in this category—and Hemel Hempstead are really very dispersed indeed. They hardly give one an urban feeling. But after that the balance swung too far the other way, and new towns were planned and are now being built, like Cumbernauld in Scotland, which, in my opinion at least, are much too cramped. In the new generation new towns, like Skelmersdale and Washington, a better balance is probably being struck.

Another defect in the existing new towns is traffic. We have tended here rather to miss the traffic "bus". There are some good traffic ideas, of course, like the pedestrian precinct at Stevenage. But, on the whole, the provision for traffic, the segregation of fast traffic from slow traffic, of motor traffic from pedestrians, and so on, is quite inadequate; and so, in many of the new towns, are the parking facilities. Another failure—I shall not labour it—is with regard to the provision of amenities. Most of us would agree that, in the very natural desire to get houses on the ground for people who desperately needed them, the synchronisation of the provision of amenities could perhaps have been better. Again, I would tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, perhaps with hindsight, that the first generation of new towns were sited rather too close to London. I am not absolutely certain that we may not be making the same mistake with Milton Keynes, but that is by the way. Furthermore, they were not in all cases sited with that regard which I think we would now pay to all the range of regional factors, not least the provision of higher and university education.

Most of those mistakes were very understandable in the context of the time at which the crucial decisions were taken. One should remember that the first generation of new towns were planned in an age when we were conditioned to the idea of a static population. One has only to read the Barlow Report in 1940, which was based on the assumption that for the next 30 years the population of this country would remain relatively static. Such assumptions seem almost inconceivable to-day. The first generation was planned before the "explosion" of the motor car. We now read that the planning assumption for one of the new towns—and in the North-East, for that matter—is based on the fact that by the end of the century one-third of the families there will be two-car families. This, again, would have been quite inconceivable in our planning even ten years ago. Again, in the last ten or fifteen years, and especially in the last five years, we have made a great stride forward in a more regional approach to the planning of these new communities.

Turning now to the future, I should like to put just a few suggestions and a few questions to the noble Lord who will be replying. I am glad to see that the industrious noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will be replying, but equally sad that his industrious colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is not able to do so to-day. As I see it, the role of Whitehall, in dealing with new towns and with town expansion, should be to lay down the general strategy, but to leave the tactics to the people in the region or directly on the spot; and I am not absolutely certain whether this is the case at present. It is my impression that the Ministry of Housing, through the New Towns division, may try to exercise a rather too close control over the tactical details. I am sure that, if this is so, this is a tendency which should be resisted. It distracts the people at the centre from what is their primary concern, strategy, and it tends to stifle and discourage initiative outside. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to reassure us that the Ministry are determined, in so far as possible, to rid themselves of too close a concern over superfluous and detailed tactical considerations, because I believe that it is the strategy here with which Whitehall should be primarily concerned.

It is true that the present Government—and I give them credit for this—have announced important decisions in the last two and a half years regarding new town and town expansion schemes, but they have been announced rather piecemeal, and I am far from convinced that they are part and parcel of a general strategy or plan. For myself, I like Lord Silkin's idea of some form of national survey. We need to know not only what to expand but what not to expand. In any event, it is important to remember that the whole concept of new towns is now changing. Some years ago we tended to regard them as self-contained communities; as self-contained satellites, perhaps, of London. Now we are tending increasingly to regard them as an integral part of a regional or metropolitan complex. The new town of Washington, for example, placed midway between Newcastle and Sunderland, is part of the whole Tyneside complex.

Our nearest industrialised neighbours, the French, are grappling with rather similar problems to ours here, and, as I understand it, they have just decided that the best policy for them to follow in industrial and population planning is to put their major effort into seven or eight of their major population centres throughout France. It is to those cities or complexes to which they are to give priority in investment; in road, rail and air communications; in housing; in the distribution of industry; in the location of major research centres, universities and so on. I am not suggesting for one moment that we should necessarily or slavishly follow the French example, but it may be that, if we are looking upon the new towns of the future in the regional complex, this is the sort of way in which we should regard them.

It may also be desirable, in terms of making ourselves as competitive as we possibly can, to allow growth to take place more easily in places where it is self-generating and spontaneous. I am not thinking of allowing it in London, for example, because I think it is extremely important that we should build up counter-attractions elsewhere—and the new towns can play a very important part in this respect. In any event, although I should not in any way wish to prejudice this particular issue, as it goes so much wider than this debate, I am sure that we need a national policy on population distribution, and that this policy can properly be decided only at the centre in Whitehall, of course in consultation with the regions.

I should like to ask the noble Lord whether and when the Government will be able to announce their major strategic decisions. We learned in 1964, for example, I think from the present Foreign Minister, that the Labour Government, when returned to power, would scrap the South-East Plan. Is this in fact their intention, or are they reviewing it, as I understand is the position? And, if they are reviewing it, when shall we see the full results of that review? What lies behind the proposal regarding Ashford, for example? What do they plan in the Southampton/Portsmouth region? What, for that matter, are their plans regarding a new town in Wales? Do they intend to expand Warrington, as is suggested in the consultant's report, up to 200,000 or so? And when shall we learn their decision—again, a very important decision—regarding Leyland/Chorley?

My Lords, I, too, should like to refer, like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to the future of the New Towns Commission, but not in the same way—and here I part company from him. The Labour Party have told us that they propose to wind up the Commission, and I think it was suggested in another place by the Parliamentary Secretary that they would not take such action before the third Session of this Parliament. I should like to ask the Government more about their intentions there. I only hope that they have really thought this matter through, because the new towns command really enormous assets—£800 million worth of them, as we have heard to-day. I myself doubt whether it is wise that these assets should be handed over ("lock, stock and barrel", in the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Silk in) to the local authorities.

Many of these assets are, of course, represented by housing. I have some qualms about the great extension of the area of municipal ownership of housing that would be involved in a wholesale transfer. Be that as it may, I am much more concerned about a wholesale transfer of the ownership of the shops, of the offices and, not least, of the factories. There are nearly 3,000 shops in the existing new towns, there are 500 offices, and there are nearly 800 factories, with a floor space of over 30 million square feet. Have the Government really thought through the implications of municipalising these vast assets? Are they confident that the local authorities have the necessary skills, the commercial sense and the industrial know how? Above all, is it right that assets financed by the nation as a whole according to a national Plan should be given as a sort of "buckshee" offering to the local authorities, who in any event gather rating advantage from them at the moment. I would remind the House what the New Towns Commission themselves said on this point—and I quote from their most recent Report: These figures demonstrate too the wisdom of regarding the new town investments throughout the country as a single unit in which profits from the more successful towns can cushion any transitional losses in towns where land development costs are unduly heavy and the return on commercial or industrial development lower than in more favourably located towns. These are very important considerations and I hope that they will receive objective consideration from the Government. Apart from anything else, it would seem premature for the Government to commit themselves on this very important point of principle before they receive the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government. I hope that the Royal Commission will be addressing themselves to the question of these important assets.

So much for the New Towns Commission. I should like, in conclusion, to say a few words about four or five points which I hope will be considered in our planning of the next generation of new towns. The first is quality. The new towns have been pace-setters in urban design and in standards of domestic housing. I hope that they will be encouraged to keep this up in the future. They should be encouraged not only to "keep up with the Joneses" and the Parker-Morrises, but also to keep ahead of them. The second is variety and the avoidance of monotony. This can be planned for in certain respects. The Report on Washington by the noble Lord, Lord Llewelyn-Davis shows what can be done in this respect.

But variety can also be encouraged by encouraging a varied population and a good mix in types of ownership in the new towns. For example, the new town development corporations can plan from the start to make provision for old people, for the friends and relatives of the young couples who move into the new towns; fuller scope can be given to housing associations in the new towns; there is great scope for co-ownership schemes in the new towns; and, above all, encouragement can be given to owner-occupiers. I am very glad that the Government are hoping to get a fifty-fifty balance between owner-occupied and rented accommodation in the new new towns. I hope that they will be able to get the same sort of balance in the older new towns. It is up to 28 per cent. now; but that is well below the national average.

My Lords, there is one difficulty at present here which I should like to put to noble Lords opposite. My understanding is that if a new town corporation sells a house to the sitting tenant then the profit on that sale (or the difference between the cost price and the realised price of the house) goes straight back to the Exchequer and cannot therefore accrue to the housing revenue account. I should hope that it would be possible to amend the present law so that the Corporation would be permitted to credit its housing revenue account with at least that proportion of the profits of the sale which is equivilant to what they are losing in Exchequer subsidies. I hope that this suggestion can be looked at.

My third point is better amenities. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, dwelt on that, and I will not labour it. I would merely remind the noble Lord who is to reply that in May of last year the Town and Country Planning Association submitted to the Central Housing Advisory Committee some detailed and considered recommendations on this score. They recommended an increased financial provision, raising the present limit from £4 a head to £10 a head of the population in the new towns. I hope that the noble Lord can tell us that the Government endorse, in the main, these suggestions. The fourth point is research. I am not myself satisfied that we are yet studying fully the requirements of the people who really count in the new towns, the people who live there. Nor am I entirely satisfied that we have yet got arrangements by which those who are developing the next generation of new towns can draw fully on the experience that has so far been acquired.

Finally, my Lords, growth. None of us is infallible; none of us in 1967 can really foresee what the requirements of a new town will be in ten, let alone twenty, years; but it might be wise to us to admit to fallibility and to plan for the future. This means that in planning our new new towns we must allow for growth, allow for possibilities of change; and this can be done. It was done very successfully by Haussman one hundred years or so ago in re-planning the centre of Paris—and the centre of Paris has stood the test of time extremely well. This can be done if growth and change are, to some extent, allowed for from the very start.

There are other points which I should like to make, but I will not. I should merely like to express the hope that what I have said has indicated that I support this whole concept. It is a great experiment and one that should be continued, but continued within the framework of careful and well-thought-out regional and national planning, with flexibility in planning, with emphasis on variety and on the offer of an increased range of options, not least in home ownership, to those who will be living in the new towns of the future. If this is done these communities will contribute in the future, as in the past, to raising the quality of life and the quality of environment within these Islands.

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