Will any locally led new town development corporations see the light of day?
On 16 July, the new ‘Locally Led New Towns Development Corporations’ (LLNTDC) regulations passed through parliament.
As a campaign group in north Essex, where our authorities wish to be the first in the country to receive LLNTDC status, we feel well placed to comment on what this means.
The purpose of the legislation is to allow locally-elected representatives who want to build ‘exemplary new settlements’ the devolved powers to borrow and act as master developers. The concept is intended to solve the problem of where to locate a new town, by handing powers to locally-elected people. A new town will have to be of high quality, sustainable, well designed and provide for long term stewardship.
The shadow housing minister, Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, while supportive in general of the concept, noted that there is no reference to government support for local authorities embarking on this path and nothing specific about infrastructure funding. She also made the point that it is curious to shift financial responsibility to the local authorities, who will have to borrow to finance these projects, at a time when budgets have been cut. She noted that there is no reference to access to transport or employment, or to garden city principles. There is nothing about housing affordability or how the new settlements might address climate change. The regulations have little to say about governance and giving local people a voice through the public inquiry process.
Dr Blackman-Woods is right to raise these concerns.
The sums of money and financial risks involved in getting a new town off the ground are considerable. That is certainly the case in North Essex.
Last month a Planning Inspector found that the North Essex Authorities’ viability appraisal did not deal adequately with transport infrastructure costs, land purchase and interest, or contingency allowances. The proposals were unsound and the sustainability appraisal inadequate. Local councils have now had to go back to the drawing board and incur considerable additional costs funded by the tax payer.
Neither land value capture nor compulsory purchase under current systems enable councils to deliver their infrastructure promises, and significant government subsidy will be required but is unlikely to be forthcoming. CAUSE calculates that just one of the three proposed new towns in north Essex, 24,000-home ‘West Tey’, would require £1.8bn of subsidy. Viability is what will sink large garden community proposals elsewhere, as well as in north Essex.
CAUSE considers a public inquiry process and engagement in locally-led new town development corporations to be necessary. In north Essex a very small band of people are making decisions against the wishes of local people.
There must be a rigorous public inquiry process in place in the oversight of Locally Led New Town Development Corporations to ensure that all views are heard, proper public scrutiny is applied and officials and politicians are held to account.
In the meantime, the guidance recently issued to support the LLNTDC legislation sets the bar very high. The north Essex garden communities are nowhere near the bar. We doubt others will be, either.
 Fourth Delegated Legislative Committee of the House of Commons agreed to the Draft New Towns Act 1981 (Local Authority Oversight) Regulations 2018
 Quite how this fits with the entirely different process of centralised planning under the National Infrastructure Commission in the Oxford-Cambridge ‘Arc’, remains to be seen.