New towns in the United Kingdom

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The new towns in the United Kingdom were planned under the powers of the New Towns Act 1946 and later acts to relocate populations in poor or bombed-out housing following the Second World War. They were developed in three waves. Later developments included the expanded towns: existing towns which were substantially expanded to accommodate what was called the "overspill" population from densely populated areas of deprivation.

Designated new towns were removed from local authority control and placed under the supervision of a development corporation. These corporations were later disbanded and their assets split between local authorities and, in England, the Commission for New Towns (later English Partnerships).

Historical precedents[edit]

Welwyn Garden City, one of the two Garden Cities that was later designated a New Town

Garden cities[edit]

The concept of the "garden city" was first envisaged by Ebenezer Howard in his 1898 book To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, as an alternative to the pollution and overcrowding in Britain's growing urban areas.[1] Taking inspiration from the model villages of Port Sunlight and Bournville, he saw garden cities as the "joyous union" of town and country, providing a much better quality of life for those who lived there.[2]

Two garden cities were built – Letchworth, Hertfordshire in 1903, and Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire in 1920.[3]

The underlying principles of garden cities (including community engagement, well designed housing, easily accessible recreational and shopping facilities, and an integrated transport network) were influential in the development of the post-war new towns movement.[2]

Overspill estates[edit]

An "overspill estate" is a housing estate planned and built for the housing of excess population in urban areas, both from the natural increase of population and often in order to rehouse people from decaying inner city areas, usually as part of the process of slum clearance.[4][5] They were created on the outskirts of most large British towns and during most of the 20th century, with new towns being an alternative approach outside London after World War II.[5] The objective of this was to bring more economic activity to these smaller communities, whilst relieving pressure on overpopulated areas of major cities.[4]


First wave[edit]

Animated film by the Central Office of Information about postwar new towns and their planning

The first wave of independent new towns was intended to help alleviate the housing shortages following the Second World War, beyond the green belt around London. A couple of sites in County Durham were also designated. These designations were made under the New Towns Act 1946.

Second wave[edit]

The town of Telford (formerly Dawley New Town) was created from a number of towns which were joined around a central service area.

The second wave (1961–64) was likewise initiated to alleviate housing shortfalls. Two of the locations below (Redditch and Dawley New Town – later renamed Telford) are near the West Midlands conurbation and were designed for Birmingham and Wolverhampton overspill; another two (Runcorn and Skelmersdale) are near Merseyside and were intended as overspill for the city of Liverpool.

Telford Centre

Third wave[edit]

New Town architecture in Peterborough

The third and last wave of new towns (1967–70) allowed for additional growth, chiefly further north from the previous London new towns, with a few developments between Liverpool and Manchester, namely "Central Lancashire New Town" and Warrington. Dawley New Town was redesignated as Telford New Town, with a much larger area, as overspill for Birmingham and nearby towns including Wolverhampton. With a target population of 250,000 and a planning brief to become the first "new city", the largest of these was Milton Keynes at the northern edge of the South East, about halfway between Birmingham and London. In the East Midlands, the existing town of Northampton was expanded. In East Anglia, the city of Peterborough was designated as a new town to accommodate overspill from London.[citation needed]

  • Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire (designated 23 January 1967)[22]
  • Peterborough, Cambridgeshire (designated 21 July 1967)[23]
  • Northampton, Northamptonshire (designated 14 February 1968)[24]
  • Warrington, Cheshire (designated 26 April 1968),[25] resulting in the Birchwood development
  • Telford, Shropshire (designated 29 November 1968)[26]
  • Central Lancashire New Town, Lancashire (designated 26 March 1970)[27]



Six new towns in Scotland were designated between 1947 and 1973, mostly for the overspill population of Glasgow.

Other major developments[edit]

Future developments[edit]

  • Forestmill: new settlement proposed in Clackmannanshire in close proximity to the Fife Council administrative boundary
  • Owenstown: new settlement proposed in the South Lanarkshire area to the south of Lanark

Northern Ireland[edit]

The New Towns Act (Northern Ireland) 1965 gave the Minister of Development of the Government of Northern Ireland the power to designate an area as a new town, and to appoint a development commission. An order could be made to transfer municipal functions of all or part of any existing local authorities to the commission, which took the additional title of urban district council, although unelected. This was done in the case of Craigavon.

The New Towns Amendment Act 1968 was passed to enable the establishment of the Londonderry Development Commission to replace the County Borough and rural district of Londonderry, and implement the Londonderry Area Plan. On 3 April 1969, the development commission took over the municipal functions of the two councils, the area becoming Londonderry Urban District.[38]

Other 'overspill' developments[edit]

During the same period as the new town scheme, several other towns underwent local authority led expansion as 'overspills' to larger urban areas, but were not officially designated as new towns, among these were:

Subsequent town expansion schemes[edit]

No new towns have been formally designated in England since 1970 (and Scotland since 1973), but several new large scale developments have been founded:[citation needed]

Poundbury is an experimental new town or urban extension on the outskirts of Dorchester. The development is built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. It is built according to the principles of (then) Prince Charles, who was known for holding strong views challenging the post-war trends in town planning that were suburban in character.

Future developments[edit]

On 13 May 2007, chancellor Gordon Brown, who became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom the following month, announced he would designate 10 new "eco-towns" to ease demand for low-cost housing. The towns, around 20,000 population each—at least 5,000 homes—are planned to be "carbon neutral" and will use locally generated sustainable-energy sources. Only one site was identified in the announcement: the former Oakington Barracks in Cambridgeshire—the already planned Northstowe development. Local councils will be invited to provide sites for the remaining four towns.[41]

The Town and Country Planning Association is advising the government on the criteria and best practice in developing the eco-towns by producing a series of "worksheets" for developers.

In September 2014 the CBI called for all political parties to commit to building 10 new towns and garden cities to get to grips with the country's housing shortage.[42]

South East Faversham is a new settlement proposed by the Duchy of Cornwall adjacent to the M2 in Kent expected to undergo the planning process in 2023.[43]


In July 2002 the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions assessed the effectiveness of the new towns and concluded that:

While many New Towns have been economically successful, most now are experiencing major problems. Their design is inappropriate to the 21st Century. Their infrastructure is ageing at the same rate and many have social and economic problems. Many are small local authorities which do not have the capacity to resolve their problems. Their attempts to manage the towns are complicated by the role played by English Partnerships which still has major landholdings and other outstanding interests.[44]

The new towns are no longer new and many of the quickly built houses have reached the end of their design life. The masterplans dictated low density development with large amounts of open space, and housing segregated from jobs, shopping and business services. These created a car dependency and are now not considered sustainable. Low density developments are expensive to maintain. Roads and sewers are in need of expensive upgrades.[45]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Oliver Wainwright (17 March 2014). "The garden city movement: from Ebenezer to Ebbsfleet". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  2. ^ a b "A Brief Introduction to Garden Cities". Historic England blog. 18 February 2016. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  3. ^ Susan Parham (18 January 2016). "What is a garden city – and why is money being spent on building them?". The Conversation. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  4. ^ a b Cullingworth, J. B. (1960). Housing needs and planning policy : a restatement of the problems of housing need and "overspill" in England and Wales. London: Routledge. pp. 50–157. ISBN 0-415-17717-0. OCLC 897352574.
  5. ^ a b Paice, L. "Overspill Policy and the Glasgow Slum Clearance Project in the Twentieth Century: From One Nightmare to Another?". Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  6. ^ "Seacroft, West Yorkshire | England | United Kingdom (UK) | Parish | Village | Community | Seacroft". Retrieved 22 June 2010.
  7. ^ "No. 37785". The London Gazette. 12 November 1946. p. 5536.
  8. ^ "No. 37849". The London Gazette. 10 January 1947. p. 231.
  9. ^ "No. 37875". The London Gazette. 7 February 1947. p. 664.
  10. ^ "No. 37918". The London Gazette. 28 March 1947. p. 1451.
  11. ^ "No. 37940". The London Gazette. 25 April 1947. p. 1858.
  12. ^ "No. 38235". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 March 1948. p. 1819.
  13. ^ "No. 38299". The London Gazette. 25 May 1948. p. 3136.
  14. ^ "No. 38507". The London Gazette. 7 January 1949. p. 145.
  15. ^ "No. 38647". The London Gazette. 21 June 1949. p. 3078.
  16. ^ "No. 38878". The London Gazette. 4 April 1950. p. 1671.
  17. ^ "No. 42484". The London Gazette. 10 October 1961. p. 7296.
  18. ^ "No. 42898". The London Gazette. 18 January 1963. p. 589.
  19. ^ "No. 43296". The London Gazette. 14 April 1964. p. 3202.
  20. ^ "No. 43296". The London Gazette. 14 April 1964. p. 3201.
  21. ^ "No. 43394". The London Gazette. 28 July 1964. p. 6416.
  22. ^ "No. 44233". The London Gazette. 24 January 1967. p. 827.
  23. ^ "No. 44377". The London Gazette. 1 August 1967. p. 8515.
  24. ^ "No. 44529". The London Gazette. 20 February 1968. pp. 2088–2089.
  25. ^ "No. 44576". The London Gazette. 30 April 1968. p. 4907.
  26. ^ "No. 44735". The London Gazette. 13 December 1968. p. 13433.
  27. ^ "No. 45079". The London Gazette. 14 April 1970. p. 4187.
  28. ^ "No. 38756". The London Gazette. 8 November 1949. p. 5318.
  29. ^ "No. 44482". The London Gazette. 28 December 1967. p. 14168.
  30. ^ "No. 16436". The Edinburgh Gazette. 9 May 1947. p. 189.
  31. ^ "No. 16556". The Edinburgh Gazette. 2 July 1948. pp. 299–300.
  32. ^ "No. 17351". The Edinburgh Gazette. 13 December 1955. p. 746.
  33. ^ "No. 19218". The Edinburgh Gazette. 19 March 1973. p. 398.
  34. ^ "No. 18025". The Edinburgh Gazette. 17 April 1962. pp. 236–237.
  35. ^ "No. 18509". The Edinburgh Gazette. 11 November 1966. p. 846.
  36. ^ "No. 19294". The Edinburgh Gazette. 14 August 1973. p. 951.
  37. ^ Fair, Alistair (2022). "Stonehouse: Scotland's last new town, c. 1967–1977". Urban History: 1–22. doi:10.1017/S0963926822000281. hdl:20.500.11820/b9193e80-2c38-41d1-a321-b78e4f9dce54. S2CID 248881443.
  38. ^ a b Cameron Report 1969, Appendix para.33.
  39. ^ "No. 2317". The Belfast Gazette. 6 August 1965. p. 274.
  40. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-11-29. Retrieved 2016-11-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  41. ^ "The Times & The Sunday Times". Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  42. ^ CBI Calls For 10 New Towns and Garden Cities
  43. ^ Wright, Joe (19 October 2022). "Prince William continuing with Duchy of Cornwall's plan for 2,500-home development in Faversham". KM Group. Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  44. ^ Regions Nineteenth Report 2002, para.2.
  45. ^ Regions Nineteenth Report 2002, para.13,14.

Further reading[edit]