Alan James Simson*
*Corresponding author: Alan James Simson, Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Forestry, Leeds Beckett University, UK. Tel: +441138124064; Email: email@example.com
Received Date: 22 December, 2017; Accepted Date: 26 January, 2018; Published Date: 02 February, 2018
Although the development of New Towns is not a phenomenon unique to the UK, they have arguably had a long-lasting influence upon some aspects of the thinking behind urban design and urban planning for a hundred years or more. This paper will briefly consider the rationale behind the new Town Movement, where multi-functional public open space was considered to be an essential part of the recipe for social, environmental and economic success. The paper reflects upon this view by focusing upon one specific new town - Telford - a 78km² town built largely upon an old, disused coalfield, but which has subsequently emerged as one of the most successful of the UK’s New Towns. The aims and objectives behind the design and early management of the town will be considered, particularly the urban forest and the open green-space network, and how this has contributed to the success of the town, which will be celebrating its 50 years anniversary in 2018.
The paper concludes by considering how the resulting “urban forest and green-space network” has evolved, matured and taken on new roles in the twenty-six years since the New Town was officially wound up and handed over to a Local Authority. Further, it will illustrate how the unique design combination of historical natural regeneration, new urban forestry and modern landscape design has resulted in a rich, multi-functional and complex post-industrial landscape that has not only been one of the key contributors to the success of the town, but which has great relevance for new settlement planning and urban expansion across Europe, and why Telford was described as one of Europe’s “rising stars”.
2. Keywords: Green-Space Network; New Town Movement; Telford; Telford and Wrekin Council; Urban Forestry
The development of New Towns is not a phenomenon unique to the United Kingdom. Such towns have been designed and built in innumerable countries throughout the world, although often for quite different reasons. Usually however, they have been promoted to accommodate the growth problems of major cities, and that was certainly the primary purpose of the UK’s Third Generation New Towns. New settlements and new ideas of habitation have long been a feature of the British landscape. Most of them have been a product of one the major periods of expansion - the early medieval period after the Norman invasion for example, or the late 18th century Industrial Revolution new settlements, or those of the 20th century Garden City/New Town Movement. The designing and building of new settlements is now back on the political agenda in the UK, in an attempt to deal with the significant increase in the country’s population. Between 1970 and 2005, a period of 35 years, the population of the UK grew by approximately 5 million people. Between 2005 and 2016 - some 11 years - the population also grew by approximately the same - 5 million people. Thus, the UK Government announced in January 2017 that it would be funding 3 new garden Towns and 14 new Garden Villages, which would provide over 200,000 new homes in quality environments . It is perhaps timely therefore to engage in some reflective research into the last of the UK New Towns - the 3rd Generation New Towns - particularly the quality of the environment they created, their public open space networks and the urban forestry that physically articulated such networks. Thus, this paper will consider the rationale behind designing and building such settlements and will specifically review one of these New Towns - Telford - which will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its inauguration in 2018.
2. New Settlements
Although the rationale behind the creation of such new settlements in the UK varied, they usually had three things in common:
· First, they were rooted in some sort of central planning agency, which provided land, building opportunities and possibly some services;
· Secondly, they each displayed a regularity of design more disciplined that that found in settlements that were the product of years of piecemeal growth and arbitrary development, and
· Thirdly, they were in the business of both attracting and retaining people, business and employment.
It could be argued therefore that to succeed, such settlements had to tread the delicate path between convention and pragmatism on the one hand and idealism and vision on the other. Not an easy task, and perhaps one reason why British people have often been deemed to be “anti-urban” in the past is because that balance between convention and vision has rarely been achieved.
The various opinions that exist with regard to the existence of new towns in the UK has been well documented [2-7], and it would be fair to say that in the UK, as indeed in many other countries, there is a polarisation of views on the subject. On one side of the argument are those who comprise what might be termed the “new town movement”, who support the design and construction of new settlements, and on the other side are those who see New Towns as essentially “anti-urban” in concept, containing more “ideology than ideas” , lacking in individual design character and hence all looking much the same. Current thinking tends to agree with Grindrod however, when he states that New Towns “sit alongside the creation of the welfare state, the NHS and the post-war revolution in education as monuments to a nation’s desire to move on, not just from the destruction of the war years, but from the inequalities and squalor inherited from the Industrial Revolution” . It is important therefore to understand a little of the background thinking behind the “new town movement,” and what it was trying to achieve, particularly in terms of whether there are any lessons that may be applied to solving some of our present day urban growth problems.
4. The Rationale Behind Designing and Building New Settlements
The new town concept expanded in the UK as a response to the industrialisation and very rapid expansion that took place in the 19th century. As an example, the City of Birmingham (the city from which Telford would eventually take the overspill) grew from a population of 71,000 in 1801 to 233,000 in 1851, and by 1901 had ballooned to 761,000, over a ten-fold increase in just a hundred years. All the major industrial towns and cities of the UK experienced a period of similar expansion at this time, leading inevitably to serious overcrowding, insanitary conditions, disease, poverty and crime.
It also led to a certain “anti-urban” feeling, certainly amongst the men of letters. William Cowper’s maxim is probably the most often quoted - “God made the country, and man made the town” , but there are very many other examples, Dicken’s novels perhaps being some of the most well known. The poet Wordsworth was also in the vanguard of this “nature verses the city” theme and, although somewhat atypically, he claimed that “earth has not anything to show more fair” than a fine London morning , poems such as “The Prelude [Book Thirteenth]” are more typical where he claimed that love cannot exist “among the close and overcrowded haunts of cities, where the human heart is sick” .
These were of course works of fiction, but whether they were true or not, it was physical health - or rather the lack of it - that became a matter of some concern for all shades of political opinion of the time. In the 1840’s, William Farr, the Registrar general, estimated that the average life expectancy in England and Wales was 41 years. As with all averages, they mask extremes. In London for example, the average life expectancy was 37 years, in Liverpool 26 and in Manchester 24 . Such figures stimulated Farr into making what have must have been one of the first attempts at a cost / benefit analysist when, in the 1870’s, he estimated that if the whole of England was brought up to the average life expectancy (by then standing at 49 years), the economic value of the population would be increased by over £1.0 billion (approximately 1.6 billion euro). Serious money, particularly in those days.
Many ideological urban reformers saw new settlements as the solution to these problems, and the activities of men such as Owen at New Lanark, Salt at Saltaire in Yorkshire, Lever at Port Sunlight and Cadbury at Bourneville, to name but a few, are well known. Although these early new settlements were wedded to the idea of producing a quality environment for their inhabitants, they did not seem to have a long-lasting influence on urban design thinking in the UK. There were several reasons for this, but the prime reason was that it was hard to convince the decision-makers - the politicians, the industrialists, the investors - to accept the financial risk of something new. According to Ashworth , the major ideological obstacle to any kind of measure for urban improvement was the zeal for economy in public administration. He quotes a late 19th century pamphlet called “The Face of the Poor or the Crowding of London’s Labourers” as saying: “It seems but idle mockery to talk about pure air and sound lungs. But try to think out a plan, and you are met with the hard, impenetrable and unclimbable wall called WILL IT PAY?” Some things never change it would seem.
This economic theme was taken up by the man who has been called the father of the New Town Movement, Ebenezer Howard, in his book “Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform”, published in 1898 . This was revised and re-published in 1902 as “Garden Cities of Tomorrow”, after Howard attended the first conference on urban futures which was held in Bourneville in 1901. It is always assumed that Howard’s book was about the development of utopias, or architecture, or sanitary reform, but it wasn’t. It did of course promote the merits of de-centralised “social cities”, as he believed that existing cities could no longer meet people’s social and environmental aspirations. However, the book was mainly about urban economics, estate management and theories on urban growth, and also how new settlement thinking might benefit the revitalisation of existing, run-down urban areas. Unlike the ideas of the 19th century urban reformers, Howard’s ideas were to have a lasting influence on urban design thinking in the UK, and he was to play a central role in establishing the First Generation New Towns of Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City.
The primary legislation that set up the 2nd and 3rd generation new towns was the New Towns Act of 1946, brought in by the new post World War 2 Labour Government of that year. This Act caused a flurry of development activity, with 15 new towns being designated between 1946 - 1955 (the 2nd generation), and a further 17 being designated between1961-1970 (the 3rd generation). The big difference between these towns and Howard’s ideal town was that these towns were destined to be considerably larger than the Garden Cities and, partially as a result of this, were under the direct planning and financial control of the national government.
5. The 3rd Generation New Towns
The general aims behind these 3rd Generation New Towns were simple and straight- forward. First, they were to provide development relief for the large, congested urban areas within the UK - London, Birmingham, Merseyside, Glasgow, etc., and secondly, they were to be designed as self-contained and balanced communities for habitation, for employment and for recreation. They were not intended to be commuter towns, and although the term “self-contained and balanced” has been open to a wide range of interpretation, by and large these towns have been successful in achieving their aims. They have turned out to be more than just a means of coping with urban overspill; they have become integrated developments, effective growth points and good at stimulating local economies; and they have produced designed environments of a high quality - particularly public green-space design.
Holley  believed that these towns were successful for three reasons.:
· First, they had a successful formula that produced integrated towns with good communications, high levels of amenities, and a higher than average physical environment - particularly the green-space and the urban forest;
· Secondly, they had a social commitment, in that people’s needs - both those of the indigenous population and those of the people who were yet to move to the new town - were as important, perhaps more important than any other factor. Public green-space and urban forestry comes in here again, and
· Thirdly, they had a design commitment, an unshakeable belief in the fact that a good physical environment was good for people, and good for business. Public green-space / urban forestry is of course central to that as well.
In spite of Holley’s views, the 3rd generation New Towns did not produce much in the way of architectural merit, but they did produce multi-functional green networks of a very high calibre, and high quality, innovative green space design. There is also much more variation between these towns than is generally recognised. Although all the towns were in a hurry to make their mark, and therefore tended to employ similar techniques to get the green-space and the urban forest established, significant variety exists. This was influenced by their regional location, the pattern of settlement that existed prior to the development of the new town, the qualities of the existing landscapes, and of course the foibles of the designers and the politicians who were involved in developing these towns. This also had an effect upon each town’s approach to its urban forestry.
Warrington for example - originally in Lancashire and now in Cheshire - had little existing woodland to extend and concentrated very much on using indigenous tree and shrub species, very akin to the Bosplantsoen techniques found in and around places like the Bijlmermeer in the Netherlands - a very ideological approach.
Milton Keynes on the other hand, a gridded town to the north of London, had a rigid policy of specific tree species in specific town zones as a means of imparting a measure of local identity. The town has red routes, blue routes and green routes, the latter being boulevards in the Central Zone, and are always lined with London Planes (Platanus x hispanica).
Telford, another 3rd generation New Town, was for the most part sited on a derelict coalfield, which had a few remnants of ancient semi-natural woodland, as well as some naturally-regenerated secondary woodland on old spoil tips. The policy here was to retain much of this legacy and expand the wooded areas using a mixture of indigenous and exotic species in a more “laissez-faire” approach to the urban trees capes.
The development of some of the 3rd generation new town green-space and urban forestry networks provided some of the UK’s most significant large-scale designed landscapes of the 20th century. These green networks had a major role to play in the success of these towns, and one town in particular - Telford - will be reviewed to illustrate and support this point of view. The reason for choosing Telford is two-fold. First, it is one of the most successful of the Third Generation New Towns, where convention and a certain vision have been melded into a new, dynamic and successful landscape. Secondly, the reasons for its success are very relevant when considering the urban, peri-urban and rural problems we are facing today. It was not a green-field site; indeed it was very much a brownfield site, and most of the area’s industrial and employment base had disappeared, leaving behind a despoiled landscape with remnant pockets of existing population.
6. Telford New Town
Telford was designated in 1968 and is located some 48 km (30 miles) to the north-west of Birmingham. It will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2018. It was originally designated as Dawley New Town in 1963, but the Designated Area was doubled in size in 1968 to cover an area of approximately 78 km² as was re-named Telford. The area covered by the enlarged New Town had an existing population of about 70,000 people, housed within a scatter of small towns, villages and hamlets set within the derelict remains of the East Shropshire Coalfield, dubbed the birth place of the Industrial Revolution in the UK. The area had been in decline since the last quarter of the 19th century, when the supply of raw materials ran out, and industry moved elsewhere 
7. Telford New Town’s Urban Forest Strategy
Telford has a variety of urban tree-scape types. These were all designed and managed for some 24 years by the New Town, but the local authority - then Wrekin District Council but now the Unitary Authority of Telford and Wrekin District Council - took over responsibility for the management of most the town’s urban forest in 1992. The exception was some 245 ha. of the hanging woodlands of the Ironbridge Gorge (which forms the southern boundary of the town), which were handed over to a charitable trust. Much of this woodland was under a Forestry Commission Woodland Grant Scheme and was one of the first of such schemes to be set up with amenity as the prime management aim.
Telford’s new urban tree-scapes were created by planting over 5 million whips and transplants (and some a bit bigger) to create over 1000 ha of new urban trees capes. These were planted usually at 1.0 metre centres (sometimes 1.2 m. centres). Some tree seeding was attempted, but this was a comparative failure. The Species List, covering the early plantations, pioneer/impact species, intermediate species, final dominant species and local intermediate species comprised over 138 different species and cultivars, perhaps justifying the “laisse-faire” comment on the tree selection policy .
On the initial handover of Telford’s urban tree-scapes to the Local Authority, there was some doubt about how economically such a broad range of species could be managed. The urban forestry manages, who were normally used to stands of 3-4 species to contend with in a new plantation, found the prospect of dealing with 10-12 species rather daunting. The reason for initially deploying so many species was that:
· It made the trees capes locally different, which was important when the new buildings, particularly the new housing areas, tended to look much the same;
· It helped to enhance bio-diversity and resilience;
· It makes it more visually stimulating for the general public, and
· Although more random planting was practised in early plantation, this quickly changed to group planting and group selection to aid future management.
The management objectives of the New Town Urban Trees capes complied with the 3 Basic Stages in the development of urban trees capes:
· Stage 1: Short-Term Impact (say 0-15 years)
· Stage 2: Mid-Term Strategy (say 10-25 years) and
· Stage 3: Long-Term Strategy (say 25-75 plus years?)
The New Town was only involved with Stages 1 and part of Stage 2, and the time-scales quoted could only be generalisations of course- so much depended on site conditions, species mixtures, uses, etc. Urban tree planting on this scale was not common in the UK at this time, and much was learned from the experience, specifically:
· Planting pioneer/ fast-growing species were very important in getting early establishment and quick “political hits”;
· Urban trees capes can enhance the quality of health and well-being of life in towns to a very high degree by providing a setting and a context for urban activity. People generally like urban tree-scapes, and they are good for wildlife too;
· Don’t try to be too silviculturally clever - you can only take so many shortcuts. The establishment of healthy and robust trees capes is the objective. It is far better to have the choice of thinning or clearing healthy, vigorous tree growth than trying to re-establish poor, weak stands;
· Design within the urban woodland is also important: (a)The logical alignment /direction of footpaths, (b) Consider the sequence of spaces (c) Attention to thinning to provide glades and areas of wider-spaced trees (engineering with light).
· Help people to understand their tree-scapes by interpretation / education;
· Plant as wide a variety of trees capes as you can, utilising a wide variety of management techniques;
· A lack of space is not always a valid reason for not planting trees - narrow belts can be very effective;
· Do not forget potential income from timber and thinnings. Modern small-scale forestry equipment made life easier for urban forestry managers, and
· Plan in the long-term. Short-term commitment, be it political, financial or managerial, will not provide the quality of urban tree-scapes that we need or the benefits that accrue from such planting.
A year after taking over responsibility for the management Telford’s urban forest in 1992, Wrekin Council produce a Woodland Management Strategy. This strategy discussed a range of possible management approaches to the inherited urban tree-scapes, and a consensus seemed to emerge that management along “community woodland” lines was the most appropriate, if the original concepts of the Telford Urban Forest were to be realised. The revised management approaches included the objectives:
· Landscape / Visual / Commercial
· Habitat / Ecological
As the Council was dealing with the later part of Stage 2 and Stage 3 of the development of the urban forest, these tended to be more complex management objectives than those originally practiced by the New Town.
8. Has the Telford Approach to Urban Trees Capes Created a Viable and Successful Urban Forest?
Citation: Simson AJ (2018) A Reflection Upon the Design and Management of Urban Forestry in The UK New Towns, Specifically Telford, and the Potential Role Urban Forestry Can Play in Future Urban Design. Curr Trends Forest Res: CTFR-106. DOI: 10.29011/CTFR-106. 100006