Remembering My Hat

26th January 2017

New Towns Heritage Seminar: Milton Keynes

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 13:36

My usual incomplete and partial notes from a seminar. [My own thoughts and reactions in square brackets like this]. This one is slightly off my usual focus – the room is full of architects and town planners (and there are far more white older men in suits than I’m used to!)

Sabine Coady Schaebitz, Coventry Uni

The AHRC New Towns Heritage Project

[Image of MK shopping centre just as I remember it from when I first lived here, with the flat marble edged planters instead of the current benches which seat many fewer people. But this picture is from 1972 – the woman is wearing a very early 1970s hat and coat and the man is wearing a shirt and tie. To my eye, they look completely out of place with the architecture which still looks contemporary.]

Destructions of 2WW brought huge awareness of loss of heritage but also paradoxically equally great intentional destruction of (especially) Victorian architecture as part of post-war reconstruction. Betjeman setting up Victorian Society as a response.

Firestone building (1920s) destroyed over a BH weekend in 1970, allegedly in order to avoid imminent listing. Catalyst to big increase in listing of in 20th C modernist architectural heritage. Stevenage town centre one of the first to be listed.

Significance of community/cohesion and sustainability to heritage


(cc) Ian

MK train station

Stephen Ward, Oxford Brookes Uni

New towns: A European perspective

New towns are not new! Humans have always intentionally created new towns – new territories captured, replacing previous settlements that have become untenable (e.g. after natural distasters) etc.

But 30-35 yrs from 1945 are a European peak. UK, Sweden and Socialist states from 1940s, then another wave in 1960s in Netherland and France. Lots outside Europe too of course.

All relied on state sector to lead their development – belong to era of much bigger government than nowadays. Aims:

  • To relieve current or impending housing pressures (6 yrs of no building + huge destruction of housing stock + baby boom)
  • To decentralise, to not just add on to the edges of existing cities
  • To improve existing settlement and housing patterns
  • A few to colonise new lands
  • To promote regional or local economic development
  • To promote new urban ideals (urbanism)
  • Other ideological reasons

Lots of local resistance to the first UK New Town (Stevenage), especially about compulsory purchase. 1949 cartoon of planners choosing where New Towns should be situated by throwing darts at a map of south east England while blindfolded.

Stockholm played out a bit differently. UK most urbanised country in Europe (80% pop in urban areas since beginning of 20th C), Sweden very different. Advert saying ‘Don’t come to Stockholm – 21,000 people are already homeless here’. Vaellingby had advertising campaign with attractive young women ‘Miss Vaellingby’ employed as information officers.

In Socialist states big focus on moving economy from an agricultural one to an industrial one e.g. DDR Stalinstadt ‘Germany’s first socialist city’. Created with reference to Stevenage etc. – socialism can do this as well / better.

Netherlands lots of new towns were about reclaiming the Zuider Zee. Totally new territory.

France first new town 1969. Part of move from an agricultural economy. French, and especially Parisian town expansion was even more chaotic and uncontrolled than the UK pre war.

New towns contested almost everywhere [presumably less overtly in socialist states]. Also jealousies over alleged favouring of NTs over other towns. Costs. Getting what was promised e.g. a hospital for MK. Creaming off the best of local existing populations?



(cc) Tom Parnell

This mural is in MK central library

Steven Bee, Academy of Urbanism and Historic Towns Forum

How new is new? Commonality and distinctiveness among ‘new’ settlements

Romans built 6 big new cities in UK (Silchester, London). Contrast in fortunes of these two! Normans didn’t build many new settlements – added to existing ones. Georgian is next big wave – e.g. Edinburgh New Town. Then industrial revolution back-to-backs. Response from philanthropists/capitalists like Port Sunlight and New Earswick.

New influences on town building in 20C

  • Technology
  • Post-war reconstruction (1WW too)
  • Welface state
  • Municipalisation
  • Green Belts
  • Town Planning

Poundbury as reaction to New Towns

Academy of Urbanism aims and objectives on their website – better towns, in a nutshell. New book ‘Urbanism’ has lessons learned from lots of towns.

Three cities that are currently going through current huge growth (same kind of rate as MK when originally built). All old cities.


  • Long term strong leadership (popular mayor for 20 years!)
  • Clear vision for growth – not just more of the same but a specific idea (not necessarily a good one! Just an idea)
  • Investing in public assets like transport – only 300,000 residents but amazing public transport system
  • French appetite for Grands Projects
  • Faith in high-profile masterplanners
  • Antigone = neo classicalism on a grand scale in concrete (1980s) and now Parc Marianne
  • Creating a bipolar centre which eases pressure on the historic centre



(cc) David Olivari

Montpellier Antigone


  • Restored historic core (nearly all destroyed in 2WW)
  • Layout responsive to physical setting
  • Walkable suburbs – almost all within 20 mins walk of city centre
  • Good public transport
  • Culture of communal responsibility and tolerance
  • Green coalition politically – commitment to low energy lifestyle
  • Mixed tenure housing, lots of co-housing and cooperatives. City helps people form housing coops. Private sector raises it’s game because co-housing and self-building is such a good alternative. (Can also see this happening a bit around Cambridge, an audience member says)
  • Long-term leadership
  • Strong cross-border connections with France and Switzerland
  • Green space threaded throughout, lots of pedestrianised streets, corridors for fresh air from Black Forest to get into city – sense of public ownership of all space
  • City paid for basement layer to enable parking under houses which is expensive, then individuals/developers paid for the rest of the houses.


  • Prob oldest city in Europe – wonderful geographical location, which is why it’s survived so long
  • Substantial geological threats – major earthquake expected in next 10 years and 2m houses not earthquake proofed
  • Huge population growth, into areas which traditionally grow food. Huge scale of building programme.
  • History of adaption and survival
  • Investment in infrastructure

Saltaire has survived remarkably well. Bournville also still works well – 50% still rented. Newhall within Harlow is now being developed further with a focus on public spaces, live/work accommodation, good modern houses.



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