If the locally led New Town Development Corporations are to be successful, then the final guidance must meet key tests for people, quality, stewardship and finance, all within a national policy framework enabling authorities to deliver.

On Monday 4th June 2018 government laid out in parliament regulations to amend the New Towns Act to create a new, parallel route for the creation of ‘locally accountable' New Town Development Corporations. Alongside it is a response to the consultation on the draft regulations (read it here).

It cites two key changes which will be made; one in relation to long-term stewardship, and another lifting the borrowing restrictions on Development Corporations, both of which formed part of the TCPA’s response to the consultation.

The TCPA is a strong advocate of using modernised New Town Development Corporations to drive the delivery of highly sustainable new communities.  We have also spent the last eight years exploring the lessons of what worked and what didn’t when the New Towns Act was last used (read our research here). The key message is the need to focus on quality, meaningful public participation and above all the long-term stewardship of assets for the benefit of the whole community.

These lessons should be at the heart of government’s locally led approach to New Towns, but it is not yet clear whether all these lessons have been learnt. The regulations strengthen the requirements for long-term stewardship of assets but stop short of requiring that assets are transferred to a stewardship body working on behalf of the community, and do not set out a legal purpose around quality or environmental standards. Changes have already been made to remove the requirement for a public inquiry before designation.

Much of this could be addressed in the supporting guidance that MHCLG has promised to supplement the regulations. The guidance will be the vital handbook to form the flesh on the bones of this legislation.

If the locally led New Town Development Corporations are to be successful, then the final guidance must meet the following key tests:

  • The people test: The process of designation and delivery – from identifying need and location, to design and stewardship, must have genuine public participation at its heart. This includes a policy expectation that a public inquiry will be held before designation;
  • The quality test: The guidance must set clear place-making standards – ensuring the creation of high-quality, affordable, resilient and inclusive places which enable the capturing and sharing of land value uplift, high environmental standards, and provide for the long-term stewardship of assets for the local community, including a commitment to all the Garden City principles;
  • The stewardship test: There should be a policy expectation that assets will be transferred to a long-term stewardship body acting on behalf of the community, as part of an ongoing process of public participation and stewardship developed from the outset;
  • The money test: The Regs and guidance must be accompanied by a new approach to government investment in new development, channelling new and existing funds to support up-front infrastructure and affordable homes;
  • The policy test: The Regs and Guidance must be accompanied by clear strategic national policy providing a framework of support for local authorities to identify need, location, and support delivery.

A new generation of New Towns could be transformational in enabling the delivery of high quality and genuinely affordable places.  

We would not have started from here but the TCPA will continue to advocate the opportunities of this approach and support those with the ambition to deliver better outcomes for people and the environment.

But this new opportunity will not be effective unless government plays a stronger enabling role in making this happen. This means providing clarity on financial support as well as setting out the very high standards which these and all other new development should be expected to meet. All these need to fit within a strategic vision for England which can help guide where these new places should go.