[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered challenges facing new towns.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Bailey, and to see so many colleagues from across the House here to discuss this incredibly important issue. At a time when the Government are embarking on an ambitious house building programme, it is particularly important that we consider the experiences of new towns—the successes and, in some cases, the challenges and the things that have gone less well in their history. New towns are an experiment that should inform housing policy in this country. There is much that we can learn from our different experiences in our constituencies. Although there are many issues that we share concerns about, we also have common successes that we can bring to the House.
This is a wonderful opportunity to get colleagues to think about working together collaboratively on this issue. We often hear about our coastal town colleagues, who band together successfully, our rural colleagues, who also band together successfully to lobby for some of the things they want, and our urban colleagues, but there is something very distinctive about a new town. Very often we are by nature isolated within a rural environment. New towns were created outside cities as part of a vision for fresh, clean air and to tackle overcrowding. That isolation means that we are not always welcomed by the rural communities that surround us.
Connectivity and transport issues sometimes create urban isolation both within the new town and in connection with the rest of the country. We certainly have that issue in Telford: we are isolated in many ways. People sometimes say, “Where is your constituency? Is it somewhere on the way to Wales?” No, it is not. It is a vibrant, thriving new town set in the heart of rural Shropshire, not too far from Birmingham and now easily connectible to London. I want people to think about the ways our new towns interact with the hubs across the country.
Many new towns are marking their anniversaries. Harlow celebrated 70 years this year, and Milton Keynes has had its 50th anniversary.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. This year Crawley celebrates the 70th anniversary of its designation as a new town, and it has certainly been a very successful community. One of its problems, which she touched on and no doubt will expound further, is that it was designed for about half its current population, so we must address issues such as access to health services, parking and housing as we go forward for the next 70 years.
I thank my hon. Friend for that very helpful intervention. He is absolutely right that our respective constituencies share many features.
One of the other reasons for calling this debate is that I want new towns to be recognised as distinctive areas with specific needs.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. I represent about two thirds of Cwmbran new town, in the southern part of my constituency. Unfortunately, the Government are proposing to relocate jobs away from the Cwmbran pension centre and out of the new town. Although we can certainly have policies in favour of new towns, I suggest that the Government need a coherent approach and should not be withdrawing jobs from new towns at the same time.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. I completely agree that a successful new town must have inward investment and jobs. It is about not just housing, but the whole community. We must look at new towns from that perspective.
Some years ago the Communities and Local Government Committee did some excellent work on new towns. It first looked at them in 2002, and it revisited them in the 2007-08 Session, but the Government of the day were reluctant to take on board its recommendations. The Committee visited Harlow, Corby and Telford, and did a significant amount of research. Disappointingly, there was the sense that new towns should be normalised and treated just like any other town. There was no recognition of their distinctive and specific needs, which is partly why I wanted to hold this debate.
Fortunately, the Town and Country Planning Association revisited those reports and produced some excellent work on how to use the experiences of the past to inform what we do for the future. It set up the new towns network to work with local authorities in new towns across the country and try to bring together some of these common themes. I only discovered that wonderful organisation while researching for this debate, which was fortunate, because had I come to this place without that knowledge, I would probably have been reinventing the wheel. I am grateful to it for its excellent publications, which I will happily send to any hon. Members who would like to see them. They contain a thorough analysis of the challenges. I am delighted to see that the Minister has a copy of one of them with him, and I hope that he has read it.
I have the great honour and privilege of representing the fastest growing new town in the country. Telford is a unique town. It has a specific identity and a proud industrial heritage as the birthplace of the industrial revolution. It is a collection of former mining villages on the east Shropshire coalfield. It has an enviable rural-urban mix and a fantastic quality of life, which we should seek to emulate in the house building drive that the Government are committed to. Despite the many hurdles that Telford has experienced along the way, and rural Shropshire’s considerable resistance to its development—for example, there was resistance to the building of the M54, the main link road to Birmingham, and it took many years of persistence to get that connection—it is now a dynamic, thriving centre of gravity for the entire surrounding area. Some of that was brought about by welcome Government investment in Telford. We should not ignore the part that the Government have played in their commitment to Telford, for which I am very grateful. I very much hope that, as the MP for Telford, I will be able to continue to secure such investment.
Telford is now a huge population centre and a huge business centre. It has inward investment, commerce and advanced manufacturing, and all sorts of high-tech and new economy businesses are coming to Telford, but it has never had it easy. Its success is all about its innovation and willingness to embrace change. All new towns have had to have exactly that spirit: they have had to have determination, optimism and hope to make the towns what they are today. The new town movement was conceived with the vision of hope, opportunity for all, clean air, green spaces and better living conditions, but in some cases that vision did not come to full fruition.
Telford has overcome those obstacles and is a shining example of what a successful new town can be. That is why I wanted to share its example today. It is now where all the houses are planned and all the jobs are going, so it needs to be where the schools and hospitals are built and where the infrastructure is located. I say that because we still have many battles with the surrounding rural Shropshire about what investment should come to Telford.
As I said, all new towns were based on a premise of optimism and a vision for a better future. The lessons we can learn from the past will play a fundamental part in tackling this country’s housing shortage.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is generous in giving way to me again. I entirely agree about the vision for new towns. When they were conceived by the post-war Labour Government in the late 1940s, it was not only with a vision of hope and optimism, but with the idea that things could be planned in advance, rather than only as a response to past problems. The new towns were settlements where we could plan for the future. That could be used again as a strategy for future new towns.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that important point. The long-term stewardship of the assets of new towns is fundamental to their future success. It is all too easy to say, “We have a local authority that is thinking only about the needs of today and is neglecting to look at the long-term vision.” We want the stewardship concept.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her generosity and forbearance in giving way to me a second time. Yes, it was under a Labour Government that new towns were created, but it was also under a Labour Government that, sadly, Crawley lost its hospital’s maternity and accident and emergency services in 2001 and 2005. It is therefore pertinent that we concentrate on the importance of long-term, sustainable planning.
I entirely agree.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on the importance of health services in future plans for any new town. In Redditch we have seen the unfortunate removal of A&E and children’s A&E services from the Alexandra Hospital—a temporary closure has now become permanent—and they have moved to Worcester. I will not go into the details, but they highlight the need to plan holistically for health services, and that is in addition to all the other issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) is discussing.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. In Telford we, too, have had some debate about the future of our health services. I am delighted to report that we will not lose the A&E or the women and children’s unit, as was widely touted during the election campaign. One reason is that Telford has a rapidly growing population, so the need is self-evident. However, she makes an important point.
I have talked about some of the positives and good lessons that we can learn from new towns, but this debate is about the challenges, so I will move on quickly. Colleagues will face many of the same challenges in their constituencies, such as the new build challenges. New build brings its own huge range of different complications and problems experienced by residents, including pressure on infrastructure, school places, doctors’ waiting lists and little things such as postcodes or polling stations, which we do not have in new build areas, as well as street names and bus stops. Those are some of the things that are so important to quality of life.
People move to a new town because they are buying the dream—they are buying their own home, their future and their children’s future—but some of them will end up living in part-finished estates, paying exorbitant fees to management companies that do not discharge their obligations—that is probably a matter for another day, as we cannot address it in detail in this debate, but I wish to revisit it on another occasion.
Another common challenge we face is transport connectivity. Infrastructure investment often lags behind population growth. In addition, many new towns are designed around the car, but in Telford we have low car ownership and poor public transport, because of the low density of population. Low density is a good thing and part of what new towns are all about, but there are knock-on consequences for everyday life. As for digital connectivity, I will not talk much about it because only yesterday in the main Chamber we had a very full discussion about digital shortcomings with regard to broadband. People spoke at great length about new build and deficiencies in broadband.
Low-density population also makes bus routes unprofitable, which is a difficult problem to address. Road layouts even make walking difficult and—perhaps other Members share this view—we have many roundabouts bristling with traffic lights, which hold up traffic flow completely unnecessarily. That will definitely be the subject of another debate, such is the volume of constituency letters I receive on the subject, and the frustration it causes many people in Telford.
Some hon. Members present will share some of those concerns, but all new towns share the major challenge of a maturing new town, which is renewal and regeneration. As our new towns come of age, whether they are 50 or 70, we have to look at how we deal with fading infrastructure and faded housing estates that are sometimes not fit for occupation. As has already been mentioned, the failure to plan for the long term has caused some of those difficulties.
We all have decaying housing estates in our constituencies, built 50 years ago with poor design and poor materials. Whole estates are now in need of renewal, because they have been left behind. Every time I go to one of those estates, I ask where they will be in 10 years’ time, never mind 50 years’ time, and where the plan is to make the homes fit for the next generation. Such homes are often part of the private rented sector, so I feel that no one is looking after them—the council will often wash its hands of the responsibility. Yes, selective licensing might be introduced to try to make the landlords responsible, but the issue is much bigger than that, because often whole estates are in need of renewal and regeneration.
Infrastructure, too, from local centres to bridges that have outlived their intended lifespan, affects the perception of what was once an ambitious and modern project, but which is now looking faded and tired. That can affect the whole ambience of a town. An essential part of the success of a new town is not only to keep replacing the old, but the need for a vision and that concept of long-term stewardship, as we have discussed.
I am delighted that last week the Department for Communities and Local Government announced a £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund as part of the Government’s commitment to their ambitious house building programme. It is very welcome. Telford has 17,000 new homes planned for the next 14 years, and I very much hope that it will be able to take advantage of the infrastructure fund. When the Minister responds to the debate, will he give us some steer as to whether new towns will be able to make bids to that fund in order to solve some of the problems of renewal and regeneration?
Will the Minister also recognise the fact that new towns are special? They have specific qualities and challenges. A cross-departmental approach is needed to support them. We are talking about housing, transport, business and the digital economy, so I would like to see Departments across Government focusing on the issue as a whole. We want to see the investment that we have had in Telford replicated in other new towns, which have not always benefited to the extent that we have done. Some challenges are specific to new towns, but previously Governments have wanted to normalise new towns, as if they were just like any other town. That was a mistake, so I reiterate how distinctive and special they are. Colleagues in all parts of the Chamber will agree with that.
In such a short debate we can barely scratch the surface of these issues. I would very much like to set up an all-party parliamentary group to take forward this initiative—I will definitely be knocking on the doors of those Members who are present. There are 32 new towns throughout the UK, and I will talk to the representatives of all of them to ask whether they wish to be part of an APPG.
We need to challenge the stereotype of new towns. Too often they are seen as substandard, but they are not; they are fantastically inspiring places to live, work and raise families. I could not recommend Telford more highly to anyone who wants to live the dream. Yes, there are problems and things that need to be ironed out, but Telford is definitely the place to do that. In fact, we have been very lucky; the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has been to Telford on many occasions, and I think he fully understands the issues I have raised today. I am grateful to him for his support.
Telford is special. In 2018 we will mark our 50th anniversary. Although there may be lots of events and celebrations, we must not lose sight of the need for a vision for the next 50 years. The Government may be able to help local authorities with that. The nature of the election cycle means that local authorities are not always preoccupied in the way they ought to be with long-term thinking about infrastructure needs. I want to hear from the Minister that there is cross-departmental recognition of the specific needs of new towns, that new towns can access the housing infrastructure fund, and that they will receive help to plan ahead for future challenges.
I make a final plea. We have had a housing White Paper and there is a New Towns Act, but that was passed in 1981, so there may be scope to modernise it and make it fit for purpose for the present day. The key point that I would like everyone to take away is the need for long-term stewardship to secure the future of our fantastic towns, which we are all privileged to represent.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Seven Back Benchers have indicated that they wish to speak. I hope to get everyone in. As a rough guideline, if Back Benchers confine their remarks to about five minutes, that will help me achieve that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate. Building new towns was a good idea—it was a necessity of the time, in both economic and population terms—but they failed to deliver their promise, which leaves my constituents in despair even today. We need to find a way to deliver that promise in a manner that befits the 21st century.
The new town of Skelmersdale was designated in 1961, with a target population of 80,000. Some 60 years on, it has a population of almost half that and little or no local facilities, amenities, transport links or adequate housing. It is a town built around the car, where people are driven underground and forced to use underpasses. The roads mostly have no pavements, but cars move about freely. It is a town famous for its roundabouts, like that mentioned by the hon. Lady.
Skelmersdale residents are proud of their town and work hard to put the best of themselves in the shop window. Only last year, local football coach Carl Eaton was nominated for a BBC sports personality award for his work with Skem Men-Aces, a football team that he founded for people with learning disabilities. The club has won countless trophies, and some of its players represent us at international level. There are many such impressive stories, and they are all the more impressive given that the town is deprived of an adequate town centre, a railway station, sports facilities, education opportunities and so much more. We have a shopping centre that pretends to be the town centre, but it is just a building. When the local council attempted to build a genuine town centre and a modern high street, the owners of the Concourse took out High Court injunctions and made appeals to block it. Skelmersdale is a town failed by narrow commercial interests. People are forced to spend their money elsewhere.
Although Skelmersdale became a designated new town in 1961 and a bright new future was projected, its tracks were pulled up and its train line was shut two years later. It is a town failed by a lack of foresight and that is desperately fighting to get a railway station. It is a town that has low car ownership—I concur with the hon. Lady on that point—but promises are still being broken. The Secretary of State for Transport visited during the general election campaign and told my constituents that bringing back the Burscough curves would be a quick win. I am still waiting for that announcement. Skelmersdale is so poorly served by bus services that, were it not for a planned rescue by the county council, an area of Ashurst would be without any bus service whatsoever.
All those things absolutely impact on the town’s economic prospects. It is a town where, rather than fixing the roof of a local sports centre, which was well used and generated an income, the council shut it down and it eventually burned down. It is a town failed by the council. The promised local hospital never materialised, and even education did not fare well—one high school was forced to close and its students had to relocate elsewhere in the borough. The recently built college withdrew its offer of A-level studies, forcing any student with an aspiration to progress at that level or further to study outside the town. That is an obvious difficulty considering what I said about rail connectivity and the lack of buses. It is a town failed by the education authorities. What can I say about housing? After 60 years, thousands of people still live in what was referred to as “temporary” housing. The planned development of 20,000 houses still has not happened. It is a town failed by planning authorities and developers.
I have fought really hard for Skelmersdale, which I have represented for the past 12 years, and I share local residents’ frustration. We still have not seen improvements and investments that were promised more than half a century ago. All the infrastructure has decayed at the same time and needs massive investment, of which we see little or nothing.
Before we move forward and build new towns and villages, we must ensure that we leave no one behind and we must invest in the towns that we have. We must keep our promises—promises that were made a long time ago—to people, update these towns and make them fit for the 21st century. We must help people like my constituents, who moved to our older new towns based on promises that they were given that even today we have not fulfilled. Yes, we need more new build housing, but as we look forward, we must ensure that we do not leave people like my constituents behind. If there is no future for them, what future can we tell other people that they will have in their new towns?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I add my thanks and congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing this important debate. She hit many nails on the head, particularly about the need for the Government to work on a cross-departmental basis and have a long-term strategy for new towns over the next few decades.
I should put the record straight: Milton Keynes is actually a new city, not a new town. As my hon. Friend correctly said, we celebrated our 50th birthday earlier this year. I should also say for the record that Milton Keynes has more than 900 roundabouts, which I think is more than anywhere else in the country.
Does my hon. Friend have bristling traffic lights all over his roundabouts, or are they left unfettered to let the traffic flow?
We have a mixture. Most do not have traffic lights, but a few in the centre do.
As it turns 50, Milton Keynes is at a crossroads for future development. We have reached the size envisaged when Milton Keynes was designated as a new city in the 1960s in terms of both our physical footprint and our planned population of around a quarter of a million. The issue is not whether Milton Keynes should grow at all—there is consensus that it will continue to grow—but in what way, in what direction and over what timescale it will do so.
In 2013, the council passed a core strategy that provided for more than 20,000 new homes over the following decade and a half, and we are currently meeting our five-year land and housing supply target. The difficulty is that while that core strategy bought us time—it more than meets our need for the next period—it did not set a long-term vision for the future of Milton Keynes.
After the 2015 election, I successfully argued that Milton Keynes should have that long-term future strategy. I was delighted when Milton Keynes Council took up the idea and set up a futures group, ably chaired by Sir Peter Gregson, the vice-chancellor of Cranfield University. That painted a positive, dynamic vision for the next few decades of what Milton Keynes should be, looking at having, for example, not just a standard university but one focused on the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—that our economy needs, loosely based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology model in the States. The plan was originally called MKIT, but it has morphed into Milton Keynes University. That would help not just to generate economic needs but to provide the social community buzz that a place needs to thrive.
We are looking at growth not just in ourselves but as part of the wider Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor that the National Infrastructure Commission is developing. We had the interim report a few months ago and should have the final report by the time of the autumn Budget. That is critical in looking at not just the area’s housing needs but the whole economic construct, from hard infrastructure such as the east-west railway line and the Oxford to Cambridge expressway to 5G broadband provision and all the critical infrastructure needed to support growth.
My concern is that Milton Keynes Council is now pushing ahead with what is called “Plan:MK”, its vision for the next stage of Milton Keynes’s future development. That is not in itself a problem, but my real worry is the timing. The consultation document recently put out explicitly rejected that the council could have waited until the infrastructure commission reported and until the futures commission projects were more developed. The council thinks that would result in an unacceptable delay, but I fundamentally disagree. We have the time now to pause—not to pause house building, because the core strategy provides for our needs at the immediate time—and to look ahead at the smart cities technology and all the other developments that could usefully shape vibrant new communities that are not just urban sprawl.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Telford said, neighbouring counties are fearful of ever-expansion. However, they have their needs too, and by doing this in the right way, planning small villages that are smartly connected, we could create new communities that people want, not the urban sprawl that people fear. My plea to central Government is to help give us the space to develop that long-term strategy, which will be one of the major providers of the housing supply and economic growth that the country desperately needs. We have a homeless problem in Milton Keynes and we want to build new houses, but let us do that in a properly planned way. We also need to think about the delivery mechanism. A metro-style devolution arrangement will not work in the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor, but perhaps we should look at reconvening the old Milton Keynes Development Corporation, which could be jointly owned by the authorities along that route, as an effective delivery mechanism.
Our city motto is:
“By knowledge, design and understanding.”
We could get a vibrant, new expansion for Milton Keynes and the surrounding areas. That is my plea and my hope. I support my hon. Friend’s plan to create an all-party group to help look at our shared interest and I very much look forward to being part of that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I, too, am grateful to the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for securing the debate, which provides a genuinely interesting opportunity to think not only about our own new towns, but about the problems faced by new towns holistically. Like her, I hope that this is the start of the conversation rather than the end.
Aside from the cult film “Gregory’s Girl”, the new town I represent was probably most famous for a simple but effective advertising slogan from the 1980s. If I were to ask, “What’s it called?”—
Exactly—it is Cumbernauld. I even had a student activist at one point suggest “Who’s he called? Stuart McDonald” as a possible campaign slogan, but thankfully that was ruled out of hand. That was testament at least to the fact that that slogan had imprinted itself into public consciousness so much that someone born after it was created was still very much aware of it.
The new towns were an incredible achievement in planning and building, born of an urgent need for housing after war and a baby boom, and Cumbernauld is no exception to that. Though it was designed as part of Robert Matthew’s Clyde valley regional plan to move population out of Glasgow, it has a slightly different history, being the only one of the mark 1 new towns designated during the period of the Conservative Government of the 1950s. One consequence of that is that it has a slightly different design plan. Unlike other new towns, it does not share the concept of different neighbourhoods but aimed instead for a higher density design with a single town centre accessible by foot from all other parts of the town.
In many ways, Cumbernauld remains a great place to live. It has the same sense of civic pride that other hon. Members have described as present in their new towns. It is also an extraordinarily green town, with an amazing percentage of the town’s area comprising woods and parks. It enjoys a wonderful range of local organisations and community groups, with many taking a great interest in preserving that green space and maintaining it for all to enjoy.
However, as others have said, new towns face significant challenges as well. I could mention transport and one or two others, but in the time left I will focus on two or three at most. As has already been said, all new towns will face a huge challenge because a massive part of their housing stock and infrastructure will be exactly the same age, therefore requiring significant sums of investment in renewal over a short period of time. Some of those problems of regeneration and renewal are made even more challenging by the way in which stock was transferred first from development corporation to council, and then from council to private owners. Therefore, in some parts of Cumbernauld, it is almost impossible to get agreement between all the different owners of flats in order to take action to regenerate, which is required by the title deeds.
Another challenge is jobs. I will not go on about that for too long, but one of the key challenges we face is the possible loss of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs office in Cumbernauld—I think my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) will have something to say about that as well—which we will return to in the months ahead.
If I were to survey my constituents, I think the No. 1 new town issue they would highlight would be the town centre. It is built over the dual carriageway that goes through the town and, because the bus station is also located in the structure, for many that will be their one and only recollection of Cumbernauld. It was envisaged as a solitary megastructure designed to accommodate all the retail, municipal and leisure needs of the whole population of 50,000. Originally, it also included penthouse executive apartments. At first, it was remarkable. On completion, I think it was Britain’s first indoor shopping mall, but I do not think my constituents would disagree when I say it has not stood the test of time well; in fact, it has dated badly. The building’s concrete structure makes its exterior appear unattractive, and it has been a challenge to attract major retailers, with giant superstores locating instead on nearby sites.
There are plenty of ideas on how to improve the situation. The local council has a strategy in place after public consultation. My MSP colleague Jamie Hepburn and I also did a public consultation and arranged a roundtable of local organisations and community groups in autumn last year. There is enthusiasm for improving the town centre and making it a better fit for the town in which it is based. One key challenge is the co-ordination and co-operation required to make that happen. As well as the practical challenge of dealing with a giant monolithic structure, there are problems with the fact that bits of the town centre are owned by different private companies. Even the streets and public spaces are owned by private companies. In the past year we have been trying to kick-start some action in one part of the town centre that has changed ownership, so we almost have to start again.
What should we take from all this? The new towns were a bold and necessary experiment. When I was preparing for this debate I was interested to read that some of them ended up as a revenue-generating experiment for the Treasury. However, when they were built, there was no planning for the challenges that almost certainly lay ahead. No sinking fund was put aside for a time when renewal and regeneration would become urgent. Instead, development corporations have handed over more liabilities than assets.
Perhaps in the era of city deals we should campaign for new town deals in recognition of their unique challenges and opportunities. Perhaps we need to look at a role for a more modern and accountable version of the old development corporations that existed previously. In Cumbernauld there is a sort of successor organisation, but I am not convinced it is in the right form or has the resources and powers that it needs. Perhaps that is one thing to look at. I do not know the answer to these problems. There might be completely new solutions.
The hon. Member for Telford mentioned an APPG in her opening speech. That has to be the start of the conversation. I am absolutely up for joining an APPG and I hope we can take forward our discussions and our ideas to overcome the challenges.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I give my huge congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), who initiated this debate. She is a real champion for Telford and has done much to help to improve her town since she was elected.
As has been said, Harlow is 70 this year. Our town was built as a place of aspiration, opportunity and achievement for people, mainly from east London, who lived in poor accommodation. They moved to Harlow for the chance to make their lives better. We are now a sculpture town. Harlow is the birthplace of fibre optic communications. Hon. Members may be pleased to learn we even invented the formula for Bailey’s Irish Cream in Harlow.
We have a bright future ahead of us: £400 million is being invested by the Government in Public Health England. We have an enterprise zone. We have one of the best colleges in England, which has led the way in apprenticeships and in helping to deal with the problems of youth unemployment.
I think this is common among new towns, but certainly in Harlow: although we have lower levels of economic capital, we are not as prosperous as we would like to be, and there is significant deprivation, we have incredibly high levels of social capital and community spirit. We have organisations of people looking after one another, including faith groups; charities; neighbourhood associations; residents’ groups; housing groups; and many clubs and societies. There is an extraordinary level of social capital that brings people together and makes our town more prosperous.
However, we face three challenges, and my hon. Friend the Member for Telford touched on one of them. The first is reputation. She rightly said that there is a stereotype of new towns. Whenever we have a tragedy or something terrible happens, stereotypical journalism paints Harlow and new towns in a certain way. Journalists go to the worst part of the town and say, “This is what it’s like: a place full of anti-social behaviour.” They do not go to see the art, the sculptures, or the beautiful new housing estates and the regeneration that is going on. It is incredibly frustrating because it is very damaging. Such reports are damaging because they stop aspirational people coming into new towns. Much of it, of course, involves a huge amount of snobbery.
The second problem, which has been touched on by all hon. Members who have spoken thus far, relates to infrastructure. We were built all at once and we are breaking all at the same time. A lot of money is being invested in our roads, but we do not have enough housing. We are lucky to have huge amounts of green space. Harlow is a beautiful green town, but we do not have enough housing. I am glad new council houses have been built, partly thanks to the new homes bonus from the Government, but housing remains a significant problem. It comes up again and again in my constituency. People are not able to get a house or they live in overcrowded accommodation.
Although we have a lot of investment in infrastructure and roads, there are problems. When the town was built it was imagined that everyone would have one small car with one small garage, so we do not have enough spaces for parking. People now have two cars and there is simply no room to park them, so people park on the grass verges. I hope the Government will use some of the £23 billion infrastructure fund to help new towns. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) said there should be a new towns fund, and he is right. If we have a northern powerhouse, we should have a new towns powerhouse.
Many good things are happening in Harlow. We are becoming a scientific, technological and vocational education powerhouse of the east of England. We are becoming a cultural powerhouse, too, with our sculptures and our beautiful Gibberd Gallery, but there has to be a focus on the problems that all the new towns have in common. The regeneration issue is important. Although part of our town centre is beautiful—the water gardens particularly—the other part badly needs regeneration and new builds. However, the money cannot come unless we have more housing. By the time we get more housing, it will have been a long time coming. The Government must look at where town centres badly need funding and support.
Our hospital was built a while ago and we desperately need a new one. The Health Secretary has visited Princess Alexandra Hospital three times. Its brilliant staff provide a wonderful service, even though we have had difficulties. The hospital is literally not fit for purpose—sewage gets into the operating theatres—so I urge the Minister to lobby the Health Secretary for a new hospital. He has said that if capital funding is available, Harlow will be considered as a top priority for a new hospital.
I will conclude because I know other Members wish to speak. As I have said, Harlow is very much an apprenticeship and vocational town. The Government’s investment in skills and apprenticeships is important. Anglia Ruskin University is introducing degree apprenticeships for our residents. Our schools are greatly improving, but we need to do more to make sure our children are educated even better and to ensure schools improve across the board.
I said that Harlow is a place of aspiration, opportunity and achievement. If we get continued investment from the Government, if there is a focus on new towns, and if we can use part of that £23 billion infrastructure fund to focus on the desperate needs that new towns have and to deal with the deprivation and infrastructure problems that we have, not only can we celebrate our 70th birthday, but we will easily be fit for another 70 years.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing this excellent and timely debate and on speaking so comprehensively about the importance of new towns. I welcome the debate and our focus on the challenges that new towns face. I want first to examine how we got here and why wonderful new towns such as East Kilbride in my constituency came into existence.
Housing conditions in Scotland were a major concern after the second world war. There were overcrowded tenement dwellings in Scotland’s cities. Between the two world wars there had been some tenement clearance and new building programmes, but in many cases what was built was just as inadequate as the housing it had replaced. Decentralisation would be achieved by expanding existing towns in the region, encouraging industrial growth in other parts of Scotland and building new towns. In response to the plan, the new town of East Kilbride was designated just one year later, in 1947.
As many hon. Members will be aware, I grew up in the Westwood area of East Kilbride. Aztec Camera went “from Westwood to Hollywood”; I have managed only to go from Westwood to Westminster, but it is certainly a first for my family. It is an honour to represent my new town—a town that filled my family, moving from Glasgow, with hope and provided job opportunities, new green living spaces and somewhere to bring up a family where there were education, health and other resources that we could only have dreamed of. It is amazing to think that we are now celebrating East Kilbride’s 70th anniversary. I pay tribute to all those involved in the anniversary celebrations and in making sure the new town continues to thrive.
The emphasis on foreign direct investment and trade was part of the work associated with East Kilbride Development Corporation decades ago. That, alongside housing, was very successful. It was a programme of continued development, and one that is now sadly missed by most of my constituents. It is important to recognise the success that the development corporation had. The approach adopted for areas of housing in the Stewartfield and Lindsayfield areas embraced urban green spaces, at James Hamilton heritage park. As in many other new towns, there was a focus on creating a pleasant living environment, and Calderglen country park and the National Museum of Rural Life are perfect examples of our many visitor attractions.
Today’s debate is about challenges. Over the decades East Kilbride has experienced the loss of key industries. Rolls-Royce moved out of our town just the other year, as did Motorola before that; we were previously thought of as a great semiconductor town in Scottish industry. Now, under the UK Government’s plans, we face the challenge of losing the office of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. We must invest in our new towns, create jobs there and maintain those that keep them thriving. I urge the Minister to do all he can to ensure that happens, including revisiting the plans for HMRC. An impact assessment would show that the plans could decimate the new town, and surely he does not want that to happen within his remit.
The focus of the debate is on challenges, but I believe that East Kilbride has a vibrant future, entailing, for example, a modern shopping centre complete with a new leisure hub. I would like to see a new designer outlet mall, although my husband clearly does not want such a development. The town centre needs a bit of a facelift; we are very proud of our town, so we want to make sure that happens. We also need manufacturing, jobs and livelihoods to be brought into the 21st century, so during the summer recess I shall host my day of international trade and development for East Kilbride. I hope that the new Chair—elected today—of the International Trade Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), will open the event, and that we will have representatives from many of the great trading centres of the world, including China, Hong Kong and Japan. I hope that they will speak about why it is so important to invest in our new town, and that we can continue to build such links.
In future it will be important for me to maintain my role on the newly developed East Kilbride taskforce. My key focus is on jobs, livelihood and trade. We need to focus on the town’s unique selling point, and give that the priority it deserves, across Scotland and the United Kingdom: we have excellent low-carbon ideas and aspirations, and we want to become the UK’s low-carbon town. We want new town development plans; they should be ongoing and ours should not die with the sad demise of the East Kilbride Development Corporation. The taskforce and key stakeholders across the town, including our MSP, are working hard to make sure that we regenerate and continue to build. It is important for us to retain the jobs at HMRC. The impact assessment indicates that that will be vital.
I call on the UK Government to invest in new towns, not just in new city deals. We are connected in our new town, with its multitude of roundabouts. Indeed, I will check the figures to see whether the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) is ahead of us on roundabouts —East Kilbride is widely known and loved as Polo mint city, so I need to check the veracity of that nickname.
East Kilbride is a shining example of a wonderful new town. I want to work with all key stakeholders at council, Scottish Government and UK Government level, to ensure that it will continue to shine. I will do all I can to push for investment and trade. I would like to attend the all-party group described by the hon. Member for Telford, which is a wonderful idea. There is much to be done, but we will make it our priority across the House. I could not recommend East Kilbride more highly to people throughout the UK and beyond. Come to work, live in and visit East Kilbride.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing it. I am also proud to represent the new town of Redditch. Something that we have in common with other hon. Members present is the fact that famous or notable people came from our town, including a gentleman who has just been commemorated by a blue plaque—John Bonham, the Led Zeppelin guitarist. Hon. Members may know the song “Stairway to Heaven”; I sometimes think of its lovely lines when I am climbing one of the stairways in this place.
Redditch was built as a new town in the 1960s, to accommodate people from a rapidly expanding Birmingham. Somewhat similarly to what my hon. Friend the Member for Telford described, we are a centre of gravity for Birmingham, but in the other direction. To this day, Redditch is a desirable commuter town and there is significant demand for housing, because of natural growth and migration. The concern that Redditch residents raise with me is land availability, and the need for developers to find a balance that protects and sustains the green spaces and environments that are such a distinctive feature of the town.
The purpose of creating the local plan is to locate growth, limit commuting out of Redditch, make the best use of existing highway infrastructure, and promote sustainable transport options, while also creating a place where businesses can thrive. What conversations has my hon. Friend the Minister had with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on ensuring that businesses are attracted to new towns as well as to urban centres? We in Redditch want that idea to be promoted.
There are parts of the town centre in need of regeneration, because of neglect over a period of years—something my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) raised about his constituency as well. People in our town also have a perception that there are safety issues, because of antisocial behaviour and crime. I welcome the fact that all local plans must be accompanied by sustainability appraisals. Redditch Borough Council has undertaken discussions about that, but residents are still understandably concerned about the effect, particularly on surrounding services and transport systems, of expanding developments in the area. What regular discussions has the Department had with the Department for Transport and rail operating companies to ensure that new towns such as Redditch have transport links to connect them to major urban centres such as Birmingham, so that residents who work there can get to work easily?
Webheath is a beautiful rural area of Redditch. A problem for my constituents is the fact that land there has been identified for expanding development. It is on the south-west boundary of Redditch’s urban centre, and between 400 and 600 dwellings are proposed. It is a difficult issue for residents. I welcome housing and accept the need to provide it, but residents feel that developing the land in that way will be intrusive. The development is likely to proceed, but there is a risk of flooding, and the roads are inadequate—there are lanes, not roads, and we do not have pavements. A great deal of investment is required to make the development safe.
Also, the services of Diamond Buses are inadequate; people are being let down on their daily journeys to work, and left stranded in outlying areas. Redditch has one of the lowest levels of car ownership in the country, and one in five households have no access to a vehicle, which shows how important the bus services are in people’s daily lives. I regularly meet councillors in those areas to raise constituents’ concerns, because many rely on public transport to get around.
I therefore ask the Minister to consider the overall redesign and expansion of Redditch, and to work with borough councils and neighbouring local authorities, because development is often driven by neighbouring local authorities and impinges on Redditch, which is in a different council area. We need to make sure that councils work together across the piece to mitigate the impact of those decisions strategically.
I support providing for the increasing population of Redditch, but I feel that further consideration must be given to the impact it has on services and infrastructure. I have already mentioned our hospital, and I make no apologies for mentioning it again—it is the No. 1 issue we face in Redditch. People are rightly worried that their town will grow, because it is a growing town with a young population. We want to see long-term, sustainable plans for health, not the sudden removal of services that then becomes permanent, because that has a negative effect on peoples’ perception of how they are being treated. Redditch residents feel that they deserve services in their town just as much as neighbouring Worcester does. I share those concerns, and I do not want my residents to feel that they are being unfairly overlooked in that regard. I welcome the APPG initiative and will give it my full support.
It is a great pleasure to sum up the debate on behalf of the Scottish National party. As I explained in my maiden speech—it seems a long time ago now—although my constituency is called Glenrothes, slightly more than 50% of my constituents do not live in the town of Glenrothes. I think it is disrespectful for the name of the constituency to ignore that fact. As a lot of hon. Members alluded to, many new towns were planted in the middle of established communities, which are sometimes very concerned about maintaining their own identities. I will continue to ensure that officialdom recognises the identities of the many disparate communities in the Glenrothes constituency that are not in Glenrothes.
As a long-term resident of the town itself, I will make some comments on what a wonderful place it is to live. However, let me first commend the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for securing the debate and all hon. Members who have spoken for the clear passion they have demonstrated for the new towns they represent and their pride in the people in those towns. Although we have heard a lot about roads and roundabouts, and schools and roundabouts, and houses and roundabouts, and shopping centres and roundabouts, this is about people. All of those things were supposed to have been built for people, and with hindsight I sometimes wonder what the architects and town planners thought the people were supposed to do.
A large part of the problem, certainly in Glenrothes, is legacy; the well-intentioned people who planned the town all those years ago had no idea what kind of town they needed to produce for the 21st century. I think that one difficulty is that society was a lot more paternalistic then. Glenrothes was built on precincts with a typical population of 2,000, although some were quite a bit smaller. Those precincts would often have a primary school and what was charmingly described as a tenants’ meeting room that typically held about 50 or 60 people. There was nowhere within the precincts where the community could meet. A lot of the communities did not have a polling station big enough for everybody to go and vote at on the same day. The vast majority of amenities were to be in the town centre, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) mentioned.
Another big difficulty became relevant shortly after I was first elected as a councillor in the town in 1992, because the new town development corporation was wound up in 1995-96. We expected all of its functions to be taken over by the new unitary Fife Council, but the Government of the day—as represented by Michael Forsyth, the Scotland Office Minister for everything—were keen to sell off as much as possible in order to keep it out of the hands of the elected council.
Our town centre was sold off, as were a lot of the industrial estates, such as the Whitehill industrial estate on the western edge of the town, with disastrous results. The neighbourhood shopping centres were sold off, and the Glenwood centre in Glenrothes has been in the ownership of, I think, three different bankrupt or liquidated companies. All of those facilities, which should have been maintained for the benefit of local people, have been allowed to run down because they were sold off for short-term gain, often to people with neither the capacity nor even the will to make them succeed in the longer term. I thought it interesting that the hon. Member for Telford referred to that.
Having said that, there have been several successes in the town, a lot of which are down to the people—sometimes for taking things on board for themselves, sometimes for forcing the council, the Scottish Government, the UK Government and everybody else to deliver what was needed. During my time as a councillor, we saw a new dental centre and a new health centre built at Glenwood in west Glenrothes, a new secondary school built to replace the former Auchmuty High School, the new Michael Woods sports and leisure centre built to replace the aging and almost literally collapsing 1970s sport centre.
We are also in the process of seeing a new residential care home at South Parks to replace two older homes—I give credit to the former Labour Administration in Fife Council for delivering that. We have also seen a lot of investment in a sports hub for the community at Gilvenbank in the north of the town, and there has been an excellent community initiative at Over Stenton playing fields in the south of the town to provide a home for the Glenrothes Strollers, who have previously been awarded community club of the year by the Scottish Football Association.
What is remarkable about all of that to some Members here, but is just accepted by those of us on the Scottish National party Benches, is that the total private finance initiative liability for all of those community facilities is nil. If the political will is there, all of that can be done without mortgaging future generations to the mercies of international financial conglomerates. I hope the UK Government listen to this, because there is a better way to finance large-scale public investment.
I mentioned the people of the town I am so fortunate to represent. Since the start of the general election campaign, the people have run very successful large and small community events in Macedonia, at St Ninian’s Church in Tanshall, in Collydean, Gilvanbank, Collydean again, at Over Stenton and at Woodside. All of that happened in a town that a lot of people said did not have any community spirit. It was felt that, being a new town, people tended to live their own lives and never really interact with one another. I think a lot of the credit for that community spirit belongs particularly to our primary schools, because they tend to bring families together in a way that few institutions can.
A big fillip to the town over the past 10 or 15 years has been the influx of young families from central Europe. Because Glenrothes was designated as a new town 59 years ago, the population has tended to age with the town, and a lot of our communities were in danger of growing too old. The influx of younger families from other parts of Europe has been of huge benefit, and I hope it will be allowed to continue.
If I had one ask, what my town needs, as I suspect do a lot of towns represented here, is significant public sector investment. The private sector will simply not fix this problem on its own. If the political will is there, the money can be found, and all of the towns represented here can be turned into towns that their residents desire and deserve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate, and I wish her town and the respective constituency towns of the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) a happy birthday. I also welcome the Minister to his new post in what I believe is his first outing. Is he the Minister for pubs? For the northern powerhouse? For devolution? Yes? All of the above, but not for parks, apparently, which I think his predecessor was. I think he should fight for that, given the comments today on green spaces in new towns.
Nobody listening to the debate can have failed to hear the passion and pride that all hon. Members have in their new towns—or cities, as in the case of Milton Keynes. The hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) certainly demonstrated a “Whole Lotta Love” for her town—as well as for Led Zeppelin—while recognising the challenges faced by new towns.
As the anniversaries show, many new towns no longer consider themselves new and, as hon. Members have outlined, there is now a need to look to renewal and investment. I am afraid that some of the issues raised today have only been exacerbated since 2010. As the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) and for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) said, many town centres across the UK have been starved of investment and are in desperate need of regeneration. The Government will surely have to look at the complications mentioned of dealing with multiple private companies in town centres when trying to address this. I have been looking closely at regeneration with my local authority and Departments to try to improve the situation in my constituency of Great Grimsby, so I am well aware of the difficulties and challenges that people face.
The Government, of course, commissioned Mary Portas to write a review of the future of high streets in 2011, but she slammed them just three years later for making only “token gestures” in response. Many of the things we have heard today reflect a frustration that, on the one hand, the Government say they want to support towns, new towns and house building, but on the other, as two hon. Members mentioned, there is a loss of Government jobs in these towns. Those jobs are critical for not only the local economy but individuals. The loss of HMRC jobs—really good, secure jobs—is having an impact in my constituency as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) and the hon. Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and for Redditch mentioned transport infrastructure. There was quite a strong emphasis on rail, but I was pleased also to hear a reference to buses. There is a significant issue around bus transportation, particularly for those on lower incomes. Buses are essential, but unfortunately since 2010 funding for buses across England and Wales has been cut by a third, with thousands of routes cut or downgraded as a result. Ensuring that there are good bus routes is essential for people’s ability to move around their local areas.
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind birthday wishes to Harlow on its 70th anniversary. She mentioned Government jobs, but would it be fair to say that that does not reflect the whole picture? I mentioned that the Government invested £400 million to bring Public Health England to Harlow, to make us, except for Atlanta in the United States, the public health science capital of the world. That will bring thousands of jobs, including skilled scientific jobs, to our town.
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency is benefiting from that investment. I am sure that lots of Members around the room will be hoping for something similar or the same; I certainly would not be disappointed if the Minister came to me and offered something similar.
Broadband, which I thought might come up, has not been touched on today. In 2015 we were promised ultrafast broadband to nearly all homes in the country. Maybe someone will leap from their seat and say, “It’s all absolutely fine; we’ve got ultrafast broadband,” but I know that across the board, only a handful of constituencies have more than 1% of connections receiving ultrafast broadband speeds. To make all our towns across the country successful, the Government must take that seriously and press forward on it.
I should point out that the National Infrastructure Commission, which is looking at the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor, is not just considering hard infrastructure such as roads, railways and the rest; broadband provision is very much part of its work.
Excellent. I could not agree more that soft infrastructure is an essential part of connectivity in new towns.
I would also like to comment on broadband. It came to my attention at a constituency surgery recently that there is real concern about new housing estates. If the number of homes being built does not reach a certain number, broadband does not necessarily have to be provided for residents. Residents are buying new houses, expecting broadband to be a feature of what they are buying, but there does not seem to be any legal requirement for it. Will the hon. Lady comment on that?
I certainly urge the Minister to consider that. When people purchase new build properties on those estates, modern facilities fit for the 21st century must be part and parcel of them.
Renewal and expansion of the housing stock are clearly issues that face new towns, as the right hon. Member for Harlow in particular highlighted. Under the Conservatives, we have seen the lowest level of house building since the 1920s and the lowest level of affordable house building for a quarter of a century. As rent and house prices have hugely outstripped rises in people’s incomes, we now have a generation of young people who cannot afford to buy a home—and not just in London, but right across the country, with the result being 200,000 fewer homeowners today than in 2010.
The hon. Member for Telford spoke of the specific problems for those who buy leasehold properties. Increases in ground rent charges are a particular issue that sees leaseholders being ripped off by developers or management companies and can make it impossible for individuals to sell their property. An APPG on the specific issue raised that in the previous Parliament, but perhaps her new all-party group will consider it as well.
In Scotland, we have dealt with the problem of extortionate ground rents by abolishing the feudal property system lock, stock and barrel. Might that be worth examining for other parts of the UK?
When we are considering these issues, nothing should be off the table. It has to be something workable and reasonable that protects leaseholders. That option will not necessarily be the right solution, but it certainly should be available for consideration.
Labour has proposed capping some of the charges and, in the longer term, ending the routine use of leasehold ownership in developments of new houses entirely. That is an alternative, perhaps, to the suggestion from the hon. Member for Glenrothes. The 2017 housing White Paper pledged 17 new garden towns and villages, but it came five years after the former Prime Minister announced a consultation on new garden cities in his speech to the Institution of Civil Engineers. That delay does not exactly instil confidence that the Government recognise the scale of the housing crisis facing the country today, or the importance of new towns and garden cities to tackling the crisis.
Let us compare and contrast with the Labour Government of 1945. It took the Attlee Government just one year to enact legislation for new towns and to designate Stevenage the first. A new planning system was introduced the next year. Within five years, 10 new towns had been started, with social housing for rent making up the overwhelming majority of new homes built. That shows what Government can achieve if the desire is truly there, which is exactly what the hon. Member for Glenrothes was talking about earlier. Will the Minister update us on the progress of the new garden towns and villages?
The viability of new towns and garden cities relies on the agreement of the local population. They have to be developed in a way that genuinely improves the local area by bringing the jobs and services needed for a real community. When the latest tranche of garden towns and villages was announced in January, the former Housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), said:
“What worries me about all of these announcements…is perhaps it is just a good name to tag on to more housing development rather than somewhere…you’d really want to live, bring up children, work and play.”
He went on:
“And if it is not all of those things then we will have failed to actually create new garden cities; we would have just tried to make housing sound more popular.”
Will the Minister reassure us today that these proposals are not simply spin on new housing developments but will genuinely reflect the ethos of garden cities?
We have heard today about the higher infrastructure costs faced by new towns. Labour has suggested that in future, new garden cities or towns should retain 100% of the business rates locally, to provide an income stream for those higher costs. Business rate retention was one of a large number of policies dropped in the Queen’s Speech, but perhaps the Minister will consider reviving it for new garden cities.
I also want to ask about the need to provide greater protection for those purchasing new build homes, which is of course a particular issue in new towns and villages. I spoke about the Bovis Homes scandal in my previous role as a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee. When I challenged the former housing Minister, now chief of staff to the Prime Minister, on what the Government are doing to safeguard new homeowners from this in future, he told me that a planned announcement had been put on hold when the Prime Minister called the general election. Nothing was brought forward to address the issue in the Conservative manifesto and there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech. Perhaps the Minister here today can say what this previously imminent announcement was and when we can expect it.
It is a pleasure to have my first outing under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey.
I start by saying happy 70th birthday to Harlow and happy birthday to Telford, Milton Keynes, Stevenage, Crawley and all the other new towns that have an approaching big birthday with a zero in it. I have a birthday with a zero approaching in a couple of years.
It is because we are at such an important crossroads for new towns that I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for this debate today. It gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to new towns and recognise their continuing role in delivering the Government’s house building agenda. It is important to look at the lessons to be learned from the new towns programme so that, as we move forward and build garden towns, villages and cities, we do not make the same mistakes.
I welcome the way in which new towns can now work together, and not just at local authority level. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s idea of an all-party parliamentary group, which will start an important conversation here in Parliament. The Town and Country Planning Association’s new town network is doing great work and I have a copy of its report here.
I will focus initially on the new town in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which in many ways is leading the Government’s thinking on new towns. Like all new towns, Telford is testament to the fact that place making never ends. The town has grown to be a success story as the commercial gateway to Shropshire over many years, but it faces some challenges. Parts of Telford have ageing infrastructure. The problem is not restricted to Telford and today we have heard many colleagues talking about that. The contemporaneous obsolescence test in new towns is that if everything is built at the same time, everything wears out at the same time, which poses real challenges.
In addition, the development style of many new towns, which during the ’60s and ’70s was the height of modernity, especially in our town centres, can look outdated and often does not provide the modern shopping experience that consumers demand today. Telford and other new towns have risen to the challenge and in 2016 the Government signed a unique land deal with Telford in which they committed £44.5 million from land sales to reinvest in Telford’s infrastructure. At the same time, we will deliver 2,800 new homes and create 8,500 jobs. Telford has been successful in several rounds of growth deal funding to improve its infrastructure, to build a new bus station—linking to the comments on buses—and to invest in skills. The growth deal for Telford is precisely the sort of forward-looking approach that we would welcome from all new towns up and down the country and could be progressed through the housing deal flagged in the recent White Paper.
My hon. Friend asked what we will do about the new towns legislation, which is hugely important for all our new towns. We have legislated through the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 to enable the creation of locally accountable new town development corporations to provide powerful and effective delivery options for garden towns, so that updating has already taken place.
Telford, like so many of our new towns, is a dynamic and exciting place to live. We have heard from representatives of all new towns that they all seem to be dynamic and exciting. Telford has halved its unemployment since 2010 and doubled its apprenticeships. Its business start-ups are up, its housing starts are up and even my hon. Friend’s share of the vote at the recent general election was up, which I welcome. It shows, as we have heard today, what a difference a fantastically hard-working MP, on whatever side of House they sit, can make for their town. Telford is one of the most economically successful towns in the midlands and its gross value added and employment are on a par with many areas of the south.
We have also heard from colleagues from across the Chamber. The hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) talked well about Skem. I am from the area and I know that it is not universally known as Skelmersdale; we call it Skem. Lancashire County Council and the local enterprise partnership are working on a plan for Skelmersdale railway station and I hope the hon. Lady will come forward with bids to the housing infrastructure fund. She spoke very well about some of the challenges of the infrastructure in Skelmersdale. I am pleased there is good news locally with major employers such as Flavourfresh and Huntapac reflecting the growing economy around Skelmersdale.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) spoke about the challenges, but it is clear she has real pride in her town and I know that she will be a powerhouse on the APPG. The idea of an international trade exhibition promoting a new town is excellent.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) is supporting local proposals for high-quality transformation and growth for Harlow through the Harlow and Gilston garden town proposal that he supports. New new towns, as I think we will now have to call them, must learn lessons from old new towns like Harlow. We welcome bids from Harlow and all the new towns to the infrastructure fund that he spoke so well about.
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) spoke about his town centre, which faces challenges like many other new towns.
My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) spoke about smart cities and the Opposition spokesman also spoke about the importance of embedding infrastructure, including digital infrastructure, in our new towns for their plan for the future.
On a recent visit to the new Metro Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, I was particularly interested that he is talking about a digital domesday book held locally to put on record the infrastructure as it is today. By mapping the existing infrastructure it is hoped that we can future-proof the expansion of towns to ensure that we are not repeatedly digging up our roads. I welcome his enthusiasm for the National Infrastructure Commission and agree that this is an exciting opportunity for local growth.
My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) spoke about her town. I know that she welcomed the North Worcester Engineering Centre, which was opened by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), showing that Ministers of that Department are constantly in contact with her and her town. I note that the local enterprise partnership has plans to create 2,300 new jobs in the area.
Turning to the Opposition spokesman’s comments, I will not take lectures from anyone in the Labour party about the rate of house building. The lowest house building rate anywhere in the country was in John Prescott’s proposed eco towns. The problem with them, unlike our garden city proposals, was that their direction was top down, forcing housing, often in the wrong place where people did not want it, on communities. What is so exciting about our proposals for garden towns and cities is that they are locally led. We all know from our constituency role that development is often opposed, but when there is buy-in from the community from the first day, it makes it much easier to deliver.
In Bicester, we have already had 1,000 starts. In Ebbsfleet, 350 properties have been completed. In Northants garden community, Kettering, Corby and Wellingborough, 650 homes have been built and in Aylesbury Vale there are 2,500 starts, showing that this Government are absolutely determined to deliver our promise to build more than 23,000 homes in new towns.
There is still a problem with new towns and people’s perception of them, and the APPG could work on that to ensure that towns that may previously have been associated with roundabouts, with or without traffic lights, and with decay and ageing town centres start to be the leading lights of our country. I hope and believe that, when the APPG is formed, it will invite me to address it and that I can talk about our progress under the recent housing White Paper to ensure that we build a record number of homes in this Parliament, and emphasise that new towns and new new towns continue to be a focus for this Government and a fantastic place for people to live, work, raise a family, own a car, drive round roundabouts and live their lives as happily and freely as they can.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered challenges facing new towns.