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08/04/2014

What happened to the New Towns?

Nathan Renison

In 1974 the Canadian Film Board came to Runcorn to see the concrete and asphalt shoots of a New Town emerging from the green fields of North Cheshire.

Then, Runcorn New Town (RNT) was still young. It had been 10 years since the 1946 New Town Act was invoked to designate an area of 3.1 hectares around the small town of Runcorn as a site for growth.

The filmmakers saw a confident town being delivered to the principles of a master plan. This was largely the vision of architect and town planner Arthur Ling. Alongside Professor Ling, town planners and social development workers from Runcorn Development Corporation explained how the town works. Many of the characteristics of RNT are still evident: unique housing and estate designs; segregated paths for pedestrians, a rapid transit network called “the Busway” that connects home, factory and town centre; extensive green space with landscaping; a new town centre; and large dedicated planned industrial areas.

It was a town that responded to the rise of car ownership since the 1950s, but was designed with pedestrians in mind. The busway was designed in a figure-of-eight with a “shopping city” at the confluence of the two loops. Most people would live within 500 yards or a five-minute walk from the busway. “Liveability” (the magical fairy dust of place-making) defined many of the underlying principles of the master plan.

"'Liveability' (the magical fairy dust of place-making) defined many of the underlying principles of the master plan."

Initially, about 30,000 people migrated to RNT, largely from the post-war slum clearance in Liverpool. They were enthusiastic converts to this new way of living. A strong sense of community was felt by those interviewed.
More than 45,000 residents now live in RNT areas, and its heritage still shapes the policies of Halton Borough Council.

Many of the effects of these and other aspects of the New Town are felt today.

The council has addressed the New Town legacies it has inherited by extensively renewing housing and building regeneration programmes in two former new town neighbourhoods – Southgate (now called Hallwood Park) and Castlefields. At Sandymoor the major landowner remains the Homes and Communities Agency, as the successor organisation to the Commission for New Towns. The Halton Core Strategy identifies East Runcorn as a focus for growth, with 3,000 new homes and 49 hectares of new employment land by 2028.

In April/May a series of screenings of the film will mark the 50th anniversary of RNT. Keep an eye on Halton Borough Council Twitter feed.

Nathan Renison is a town planner and regeneration officer at Halton Borough Council

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