On the 4th December Government published a consultation on amendments to the New Towns Act 1981 (Local Authority Oversight) Regulations. The consultation seeks views on draft regulations which will enable the creation, via further statutory instruments, of Locally-accountable New Town Development Corporations (NTDCs).[1]

A summary of our response is provided below and in further detail here

The TCPA strongly supports the case for the use of modernised New Town Development Corporations for larger scale new communities to ensure effective delivery and high quality placemaking. The TCPA is clear from its research that the most effective way to deliver large scale new communities is by combining the high values and placemaking principles of the Garden City movement with the highly effective delivery mechanisms of the post-war new towns, updated for the C21st, learning the lessons of what has worked and what has not.

In 2014 the TCPA published a detailed set of recommendations for reforming the New Towns legislation[2], based upon extensive research of the successes and failures of the post-war New Towns programme[3].  This recommended key amendments to the existing processes and procedures, to ensure good placemaking, including a commitment to transfer assets to a long-term stewardship body to provide the resources to look after community assets in perpetuity, and changes to enhance public participation and commitments on climate change mitigation and adaptation. It also set out how processes of designation should be led by local authorities, but enabled by government and underpinned by a robust evidence base at a national or sub-regional level. Consideration of locations should take a national strategic view, which looks beyond the South East.

Instead of comprehensive reform of the existing procedures, Government has chosen to create a new, parallel framework which sits along the existing processes as an alternative option. The parallel framework is different from the existing procedures in two distinctive ways. Firstly, designation of a New Town Development Corporation must have local authority consent. Secondly, the responsibilities once held by the Secretary of State for the operation of the Development Corporation rests with a new body (the ‘Oversight Authority’) which consists of one or more local authorities. The transfer of responsibility to an Oversight Authority is a distinctive change to the existing New Towns legislation, and the majority of the draft Regulations in this consultation will focus on how the Oversight Authority will operate. 

One of the fundamental changes necessary to modernise New Town Development Corporations is to update their objects and powers to make a strong commitment to good placemaking. The Garden City principles[4] provide an unsurpassed framework for good placemaking, and it is desirable that they are fully translated into law, to then be interpreted at the local level to reflect local circumstances. It is the view of Government that it is not possible to amend the objects and powers of New Town Development Corporations at this stage, as it is beyond the scope of the provisions for amending the New Towns Act made in the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017. This creates an unfortunate limitation on the legislative scope which means that securing good placemaking is now more complex than the TCPA had hoped for.  

While the TCPA continues to have strong concerns about placemaking standards in new communities, the Association broadly support the Government’s draft Regulations on Locally-led New Town Development Corporations. We believe they will provide a useful tool for local government in dealing strategically with the housing crisis. We particularly welcome the focus on long-term stewardship of the assets generated through the development process, to ensure they are planned for and resourced in perpetuity. However, given the TCPA’s experience there are several issues we hope government will consider when reforming the legislation, and we recommend the following amendments to the draft Regulations:

  • Removal or extension of the £100m borrowing cap: To provide flexibility for local authorities, we recommend that the £100m borrowing cap is lifted or extended to a more realistic figure.
  • Additional obligations on the Oversight Authority: The legislation should be amended to ensure that duties on the Oversight Authority reflect existing duties in the mainstream planning system on climate change mitigation and adaptation. In the absence of amendments to the objects and powers of NTDCs, the legislation should be amended to place duties on the Oversight Authority to promote elements of placemaking that are vital but missing from these regulations. Reflecting the Garden City principles, these duties should include requirements to ensure that Development Corporations emphasise the delivery of art, culture, beauty and robust public participation. Robust participation throughout the life of the DC, along with a requirement to deliver strong placemaking principles are essential to provide reassurance for all involved that these new towns will be genuinely affordable, climate resilient, vibrant, healthy and inclusive.  
  • Statement of Community Involvement: The regulations should be amended to create a duty on the Oversight Authority to ensure that the Development Corporation produces a statement of community involvement which sets out from the beginning how people will be involved in the creation of the strategic framework or masterplan, and any individual planning decisions for which the Development Corporation is responsible.
  • Strengthen long-term stewardship requirements: The requirement to create a statement on long-term stewardship on behalf of the community throughout the life of the corporation should be strengthened to a requirement to transfer sufficient resources to a stewardship body established by the Locally-led Development Corporation that is dedicated to charitable purposes for the benefit of the local community. The TCPA is concerned that as the regulations stand, it is unclear whether or not sufficient assets will be transferred to a suitable stewardship body to ensure the social, economic, and environmental benefits of the new town in perpetuity.  Either in these Regulations, or in robust policy we expect government to make clear is expectation on DCs, in terms of long-term stewardship the financial modelling necessary to understand future stewardship needs, and above all to set out the clear expectation that communities should share in the assets created by the development process.

Although outside the remit of the consultation, Government should address two further important issues for the delivery of this programme:

  • Strengthen commitment to quality through the Designation Order: Government has an opportunity in the designation of the new town to provide a further level of detail on placemaking in the designation order. To be successful, requirements for good placemaking will be set out in the Designation Order, if it is not possible in the legislation itself. This is essential for the delivery of successful new communities which recognise the importance o achieving places in which people can thrive, in healthy environments recognising the need to promote beauty in the built and natural environment.   
  • Clarify processes and procedures: Government should move urgently to clarify the wider policy context for the locally-led Garden Villages Towns and Cities initiative. Whether this is in the form of a prospectus, or national policy statement of another kind, government must clarify issues such as funding, public participation, financial responsibility, and the Garden City principles. This should also include reference to the garden city principles. This is essential if local authorities and the communities they represent are likely to have confidence in the process.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/the-new-towns-act-1981-local-authority-oversight-regulations

[2] https://www.tcpa.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=a1abf968-2127-4e0c-a04d-fbed529fb230

[3] https://www.tcpa.org.uk/research-gcnt

[4] https://www.tcpa.org.uk/garden-city-principles

For further details or to discuss the consultation please contact [email protected]