UK Housing Wiki

New towns are towns or cities that were designed and grew to the plan given for each one. These are not areas that have developed over time, but a conglomerate of estates and quarters that were constructed in a time period with one sole aim.


Following World War II, a number of towns were designated under the 1946 Act as New Towns, and were developed partly to house the large numbers of people who had lost homes during the War. New Towns policy was also informed by a series of wartime commissions, including:

  • the Barlow Commission (1940) into the distribution of industrial population,
  • the Scott Committee into rural land use (1941)
  • the Uthwatt Committee into compensation and betterment (1942)
  • (later) the Reith Report into New Towns (1947).

The first of a ring of such "first generation" New Towns around London (1946) was Stevenage in Hertfordshire. Two new towns were also planned in Scotland at East Kilbride (1947), and Glenrothes (1948). Later a scatter of "second-generation" towns were built to meet specific problems, such as the development of the Corby steelworks. Finally, five "third-generation" towns were launched in the late 1960s: these were larger, some of them based on substantial existing settlements such as Peterborough, and the most famous was probably the new town of Milton Keynes, midway between London and Birmingham, known for its huge central park and shopping centre, and its Concrete Cows. Other towns, such as Ashford, Basingstoke and Swindon, were designated "Expanded Towns" and share many characteristics with the new towns. Scotland also gained three more new towns, Cumbernauld in 1956, famous for its enclosed 'town centre', Livingston (1962) and Irvine (1966).

All the new towns featured a car-oriented layout with many roundabouts and a grid-based road system unusual in the old world. The earlier new towns, where construction was often rushed and whose inhabitants were generally plucked out of their established communities with little ceremony, rapidly got a poor press reputation as the home of "new town blues". These issues were systematically addressed in the later towns, with the third generation towns in particular devoting substantial resources to cycle routes, public transport and community facilities, as well as employing teams of officers for social development work.

The financing of the UK new towns was creative. Land within the designated area was acquired at agricultural use value by the development corporation for each town, and infrastructure and building funds borrowed on 60-year terms from the UK Treasury. Interest on these loans was rolled up, in the expectation that the growth in land values caused by the development of the town would eventually allow the loans to be repaid in full. However, the high levels of retail price inflation experienced in the developed world in the 1970s and 1980s fed through into interest rates and frustrated this expectation, so that substantial parts of the loans had ultimately to be written off.

From the 1970s the first generation towns began to reach their initial growth targets. As they did so, their development corporations were wound up and the assets disposed of: rented housing to the local authority, and other assets to the Commission for the New Towns (in England; but alternative arrangements were made in Scotland and Wales). The Thatcher Government, from 1979, saw the new towns as a socialist experiment to be discontinued, and all the development corporations were dissolved by 1990, even for the third generation towns whose growth targets were still far from being achieved. Ultimately the Commission for the New Towns was also dissolved and its assets - still including a lot of undeveloped land - passed to the English Industrial Estates Corporation (later known as English Partnerships).

Many of the New Towns attempted to incorporate public art and cultural programmes but with mixed methods and results. In Harlow the development corporation endowed the 'Harlow Arts Trust' that purchased works by leading contemporary sculptors who had limited connection to the town. In Peterlee the abstract artist Victor Pasmore was appointed part of the design team resulting in the Apollo Pavilion. Washington New Town was provided with a community theatre and art gallery. The concrete cows in Milton Keynes resulted from another 'town artist' commission and have gone on to become a recognised landmark. Glenrothes led the way in Scotland being the first new town to appoint a town artist in 1968. A massive range of artworks (around 132 in total) ranging from concrete hippos to bronze statues, dancing children, giant flowers, a dinosaur, a horse and chariot and crocodiles, to name but a few, were created. Town artists appointed in Glenrothes include David Harding and Malcolm Roberston.

In the 1990s an experimental "new town" developed by The Prince of Wales to use very traditional or vernacular architectural styles was started at Poundbury in Dorset.

In Northern Ireland, Craigavon in County Armagh was a successful town commenced and built in 1966 outside of Belfast, although entire blocks of flats and shops laid empty, and later derelict, before eventually being bulldozed. The area, which now has a population exceeding 50,000 is mostly a dormitory town for Belfast.


  • First Wave (1946-50)
    • Basildon, Essex (designated 4 January, 1949) [1]
    • Bracknell (designated 17 June, 1949) [2]
    • Corby (designated 1 April, 1950)[3]
    • Crawley (designated 9 January, 1947) [4]
    • Harlow (designated 25 March, 1947) [5]
    • Hemel Hempstead (designated 4 February, 1947) [6]
    • Newton Aycliffe (designated 19 April, 1947 as 'Aycliffe New Town') [7]
    • Peterlee (designated 10 March, 1948, as 'Easington New Town') [8]
    • Stevenage (designated 1 November, 1946) [9]
    • Welwyn and Hatfield (both designated 20 May, 1948) [10]
  • Second Wave (1961-64)
    • Redditch (designated April 10, 1964) [11]
    • Runcorn (designated April 10, 1964) [12]
    • Skelmersdale (designated October 9, 1961) [13]
    • Washington (designated July 24, 1964) [14]



Northern Ireland[]

The New Towns Act (Northern Ireland) 1965 gave the Minister of Development of the Government of Northern Ireland the power to designate an area as a New Town, and to appoint a Development Commission. An order could be made to transfer municipal functions of all or part of any existing local authorities to the commission, which took the additional title of urban district council, although unelected. This was done in the case of Craigavon.

The New Towns Amendment Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 was passed to enable the establishment of the Londonderry Development Commission to replace the County Borough and rural district of Londonderry, and implement the Londonderry Area Plan. On April 3, 1969 the development commission took over the municipal functions of the two councils, the area becoming Londonderry Urban District.

  • Craigavon (designated July 26, 1965) [23]
  • Londonderry (designated February 5, 1969) (see above) [24]


  1. London Gazette, January 7, 1949
  2. London Gazette, June 21, 1949
  3. London Gazette. April 4, 1950
  4. London Gazette. January 10, 1947
  5. London Gazette. March 28, 1947
  6. London Gazette. February 7, 1947
  7. London Gazette. April 25, 1947
  8. London Gazette. March 12, 1948
  9. London Gazette. November 12, 1946
  10. London Gazette. May 25, 1948
  11. London Gazette. April 14, 1964
  12. London Gazette, April 14, 1964
  13. London Gazette, October 10, 1961
  14. London Gazette, July 28, 1964
  15. London Gazette. April 14, 1970.
  16. London Gazette. January 24, 1967
  17. London Gazette. February 20, 1968
  18. London Gazette. August 1, 1967
  19. London Gazette, December 13, 1964
  20. London Gazette. April 30, 1968
  21. London Gazette. November 8, 1949
  22. London Gazette. December 28, 1967
  23. Belfast Gazette, August 6, 1965
  24. A commentary by the Government of Northern Ireland to accompany the Cameron Report incorporating an account of progress and a programme of action (CAIN web service)