Another New Town Doomed to fail?

As the promotion of Mayfield Market Towns rumbles on, it is easy to forget that Sussex already has a ‘New Town’; just 12 miles up the road.

This New Town is arguably not as ‘new’ as it was a generation ago; but it was at its concept, exactly the sort of visionary place described in Mayfields’ rhetoric.

Crap TownsSadly, the same town now has the County’s highest crime rate, highest number of drugs offences and highest rate of racist crimes. It also has worse than average unemployment and last year it was voted the UK’s 19th worst place to live. The publication, ‘Crap Towns Returns’, (by Jordison and Keiran) likened it to a “dull, outer London suburb that had been dropped onto some fields in Sussex.”



This ‘New Town’ is, of course, Crawley; built as a post war initiative more than half a Century ago around a quaint Sussex market town in a near perfect location.

Developers’ promises of green spaces never seem to last.

In June 1949, Anthony Minoprio proudly presented his Crawley New Town Master Plan to the Crawley Development Corporation as an aspirational blueprint which was, he said, “the framework of a beautiful and efficient town”.

In common with Mayfields Director, Peter Freeman, Mr Minoprio painted an idyllic picture of socially balanced neighbourhoods; built in sympathy with the surrounding countryside, around friendly village greens, a short bus ride from a vibrant town centre.

Crawley today is a distant memory of Minoprio’s aspirational blueprint for a beautiful and efficient town.

Mr Minoprio suggested, “The provision of small socially mixed residential areas, each with its own individuality and its own centre, in order to promote neighbourliness and the social development of the town. Practically all homes are within one-third of a mile (536metres) of their neighbourhood shops and within one and a quarter miles of the town centre. “The character of the individual neighbourhood centres will vary and the design will spring from the natural features of the area,” he continued. “Local place names have been retained for the neighbourhoods in all cases and the affix ‘Green’, which is common in the Crawley area, has suggested the creation of a typical English Green at the centre of each neighbourhood.”

[highlight]So what went wrong?[/highlight]

It is well documented that Mayfields’ master plan for Sussex is a scaled down version of a Garden City; very similar to those being promoted by this government, and in particular by Lord Matthew Taylor, the man behind the UK’s planning reforms (the NPPF). It is also well documented that Lord Taylor is one of Mayfield Market Towns’ Directors, and has been widely criticised for having a perceived conflict of interest.

Will Peter Freeman’s fantasy plan for a new garden city suffer the same fate as Crawley and end up as a dull, outer London suburb that had been dropped onto some fields in Sussex?

[box type=”alert”]David Rudlin’s proposal for garden cities to be built on the green belt surrounding 40 British towns wins the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014. Ministers should drop the idea of creating new ‘Garden Cities’ and instead focus on letting up to 40 existing towns balloon in size, according to the winner of this year’s £250,000 Wolfson Economics Prize. Today many urban planners believe that the ‘New Towns’ lack sufficient scale to support a vibrant cultural and economic life. Mr Rudlin argued in his submission that they were “at best mediocre and at worst a complete disaster. For further information see: Wolfson Economics Prize 2014, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times. (Thursday 4th Sept 2014)[/box]

[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]We all love villages[/quote]Earlier this year his fellow director, Peter Freeman entered the Wolfson Prize for a new garden city. What is most unsettling about Mr Freeman’s submission, titled ‘A Shared Vision’ is that it bears an uncanny resemblance to Minoprio’s “visionary” Master Plan for Crawley New Town.

“We all love villages,” Mr Freeman begins, enthusiastically. “Our Garden City comprises a series of walkable neighbourhoods within a radius of 500 metres (exactly the same size as Minoprio’s). Enough people would live in each neighbourhood to populate a two form entry primary school and to support a viable cluster of shops, restaurants, hairdressers… We envisage that Village Green would be on a main route through the neighbourhood to boost customer support for local traders and bus services.”

And in common with Mr Minoprio, Mr Freeman is also keen to embrace the countryside in his design; which he says would include, “at least one linear park running through the town (incorporating landscape features like a stream or ancient woodland).”

Both plans extol the virtues of public transport (despite the fact that Mayfields would have no railway line) and both envisage the town becoming so successful that local people will be happy to live, work and play within its parameters.

“Crawley is to be a self-contained and economically balanced town,” stated Mr Minoprio. “Not a dormitory town to London”.

Once again, Mr Freeman agrees with his predecessor;

“The New Market Town is not designed to be a commuter town to serve London, but rather a town which concentrates on keeping travel local”.

(It goes without saying that without a railway line, residents would have little choice).

In 1950 rents on homes in Crawley New Town were already beyond the reach of the average wage earner.

But perhaps the most worrying thing about this comparison is that Crawley was already failing in its promises just months after the first brick was laid. Despite pledging, like Mayfields, to provide adequate affordable housing for young families, this vision was never realised, even for its very first residents. Crawley’s location in an affluent part of Sussex made this promise impossible. In May 1950 Hansard reported that rents on homes in Crawley New Town were already “beyond the reach of the average wage earner” (475).
It is too late to go back and correct the mistakes made in Crawley, but we can at least do our best to prevent a repeat. The NPPF promises to allow local people more say in housing decisions because they know the needs of their area best of all. However, in reality these decisions all go before a Government Inspector and are ultimately still made at a national level.

Sir Patrick Abercrombie: architect of post-war plans for London

Three years ago the Prime Minister, David Cameron cited planners like Minoprio and his contemporary, Patrick Abercrombie as an inspiration, saying;
“It seems to me that our Post War predecessors had the right idea, embodied in a visionary plan prepared by Patrick Abercrombie in 1944. His plan underpinned the South East’s economic success by proposing well-planned and well-located new towns…”

Maybe Mr Cameron was unaware at the time that Mr Abercrombie was also a founding member of the CPRE; an organisation which is bitterly opposed to lack of protection offered to the countryside by the NPPF and is fighting hard against Mayfield’s proposals.

One thing that we can be sure of is that Crawley has fallen rather short of Abercrombie’s vision for a “beautiful and efficient” new town… and Mayfields (should it ever be built) looks to be heading for the same fate.

[box type=”info”]David Cameron’s speech on infrastructure | Institute of Civil Engineering | 19 March 2012[/box]
[box type=”alert”]The editors of Crap Towns Returns are now asking for nominations for their next publication. If you would like to suggest Mayfield Market Towns (Crawley Mark II) as a Crap Town of the future then please visit[/box]

1947 map of Crawley and surrounding area before work started on the new town.
2014 map of Twineham and Wineham. Could a similar urban sprawl be dropped here onto some Sussex fields?




Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

  1. Kenneth McIntosh

    The question we have answered time and again with a resolute NO is that we do NOT need another new town in West Sussex. Why would we when we have one already.

    It is a pity that Crawley gets such bad press. Much of the original vision was a legacy of the “Homes for Heroes” Act and the need to reinvigorate manufacturing industries post WW2. It was, in my view, delivered. At least at the beginning life was good and for many, it still is. Many new tenants or house owners came from the bombed out east end of London. Manor Royal coalesced industries which created local employment. First generation residents that I interviewed in the mid 80’s were indeed most grateful for the well maintained green and leisure spaces and with their houses which had generously sized rooms with their front and back gardens and indoor plumbed-in toilets and bathrooms. Local abundant employment fitted very well as people did not have to commute if they did not wish to. Nobody was more than 25 minutes’ walk from the town centre and an even shorter walk to their local parade of shops, pub or church. However it was not planned for the town to expand to the extent that it has. That it became a magnet to service what is the second busiest Airport in the UK, Gatwick, was not in the equation then. Neither were the relocated government and insurance services offices centred in Croydon or the explosive financial services in London. Neither were the needs for families to double their income, or the high increase in peoples coming from oversea foreseen. These have attracted unintended social issues associated with unsociable working hours, long commutes to work, absent partners and parenting and different cultural and religious needs. These problems are not confined to or created by new towns.

    Back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s the political consensus, the public financial instruments and the culture within the main public statutory bodies all combined to deliver their interpretation of what a garden city needed to be without personal or organisational financial gain being key drivers. With relative success what was delivered has indeed enabled Crawley to double its population in the last 50 years by “grafting new neighbourhoods on to the root stock of the original town rather than growing it from seed”.

    It is my view that Mayfields proposals lack important attributes to those present in the late 1940’s. Their submissions do not warrant consideration and no more so when it is simply not the wish of the peoples that live in West Sussex and it is simply not needed.

  2. s draper

    This gradual erosion of our countryside is unacceptable and irreversible. We have plenty of brownfield sites that could be utilised and, as this area is already over populated, I feel we need to spread the load of accommodating all these houses further afield. Areas of the north are depressed and desperately need a boost.
    This could go some way to redressing the balance, providing employment as well as
    affordable housing. In our overcrowded country the last thing we need to be doing is
    squashing in yet more people in the most congested areas!
    Seems to me this is all about profit – the perception that the south is ‘rich’ and
    would pay the premium price for property.
    Both I and my partner Mr L Rigden wish to register our STRONG objection to
    any plans to build a new town in the Sussex countryside. We are both local residents who use this area regularly.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *