The Lessons of Letchworth PDF and text (article printed in Civic Focus, Summer 2003), and a copy of Alan Spence’s own paper, originally written in February 2008: New Lanark Garden Cities and the Co-operative Commonwealth.
Alan’s presentation at the meeting:
Aneurin Bevan’s work on housing came out of the 1946 Town & Country Planning Act, and the 1947 New Towns Act, whose purpose was to build new towns. There were 32 planned, of which 27 were completed, the first one being Stevenage in 1968, and the money received from the Treasury to build Stevenage was repaid to the Treasury by the due date, and similarly for all the others, so they were essentially self-funding. The new towns were not only creating garden cities but transferring populations and businesses from overcrowded to new areas.
Letchworth Garden City, which began in 1903, was the prototype, and had been shown to be a success story by 1946. It took green land with several farms and converted it into a successful of industry and agriculture with 30,000 inhabitants. The land was in the common ownership of the Garden City, this was let off and revenue from the land and buildings was used to pay off the original debt and the cost of creating the infrastructure. The new towns were going to be treated in the same way as the Garden Cities but they conflicted with the principles of capitalism and the press always criticised the new towns, highlighting every new problem during the building process to try and destroy the vision, although underneath they had clearly been a success.
The first thing that Thatcher did was to bring the building programme to a stop. She then issued instructions that from 1979 onwards all the land and commercial assets, including from those which had not yet been completed, must be sold off to the private sector, earning billions of pounds for the Treasury – the money went into a Commission, which still exists, to handle all the assets of the new towns.
In many ways the new towns story is similar to Bevan’s National Health Service – he covered both aspects. The new towns, like the Naitonal Health Service, were accepted internationally, but there was no struggle to save them when Thatcher sold them off, unlike the NHS, where people are more aware of what’s happening. The Health & Social Care Act of 2012 represents a parallel process to what happened in 1979 with selling off the New Towns. We now have to pick up the pieces and retrieve what we can for the NHS, by cancelling the 2012 Act. In the housing area, we need to set up a new Town & Country Planning act, to include the Garden City Principles.
1945 didn’t just happen, there was a history before that, with New Lanark, Scotland, beginning in 1879, and Robert Owen, taking over management in 1806 of one of the most advanced cotton mils of its age, seeing the benefits of adding industry and agriculture by 1820, to what he called “colonies of co-operation, industry and agriculture”.
Letchworth was a direct descendant of these earlier projects, building on the previous successes and the many mistakes of the work done before and showing that Garden Cities project could succeed by converting capitalism into co-operation.
One of the real difficulties is that people have forgotten their history, these policies don’t come into being from nowhere, we need to learn the lessons of history.
Other interesting links on this topic include:
• Wikipedia’s Garden City Movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_city_movement,
• a page in the Town & Country Planning Association’s website on Garden Cities: “Creating Garden Cities and Suburbs Today”: http://www.tcpa.org.uk/pages/garden-cities.html,
• a news item on 14th April 2014 – “Three garden cities to be built, Nick Clegg announces”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27020578
• and an article in The Guardian in April 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/apr/20/garden-cities-can-green-spaces-bring-health-and-happiness.
Alan Spence: DCC 16th May 2015