Sunday, December 6, 2015

Brave New Towns (1980)

The Briefing Column from the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the New Town Acts of 1946 over a score of such towns have been designated in Britain. Its object was "to relieve congestion in the big cities and to provide pleasant and healthy conditions for people who would not have to travel elsewhere to find work". According to the Official Handbook of the Information Office, these new towns "represent a notable achievement". The handbook remarks that it was hoped to get rid of the existing slums of the big towns, although it is admitted that the high proportion of unfit houses in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow was so high that clearance would take "longer than usual".

Among the havens of hope were Harlow, Bracknell, Basildon, Crawley, Corby, East Kilbride and Cumbernauld. Nearly a million people have been moved to the new towns in the past 30 years. Are they all living in pleasant, healthy conditions away from the polluted air and poisonous canals of the old overcrowded cities? Do they find it easier to find employment without the need to travel elsewhere? Far from it; unemployment and developing slums reveal the poverty of the planners' ideas and the actual poverty of the people who put their trust in the planners. Many people are saying that they are worse off than before they moved. Those living in Basildon and Pitsea have heard their haven described as a "rural slum"; Crawley reports hundreds more unemployed; while in Corby, thousands in the British Steel Works have lost their jobs, and a great many houses are in urgent need of repair.

What about the much-lauded Milton Keynes? According to the Corporation there is prosperity in MK.
Twenty-six thousand jobs have been created since 1967. More than half of these can be described as genuine new jobs. Most of the jobs are from overseas companies and from expansion of companies already allocated. A pool of workers wooed to the area by cheap housing is now keeping pace with business expansion which is not happening in other parts of the country. Business men here are not moaning about high interest rates or traffic jams or having to lay off their workforce. They moan about shortage of hotel space to put up their numerous clients and about the delay in opening up the new helicopter service to Heathrow.
However, the new £8 million station opens soon. New firms include a domestic wireware business from London and engineers from East Grinstead, Sussex. The manager of the local job centre says that "the recession hitting other parts of the country has barely touched us. Over the next five years there will be another 5,000 jobs here".

But these startling claims leave many observers wondering. Andrew Blowers, a sociologist of the Open University, says that: "Workers here earn up to 15 per cent lower wages than in other parts of the South-East. Rents are higher than in London and quarterly central-heating bills of around £150 a year are common." He blames the Corporation for giving the new city a prestige image and attracting firms offering low wages. Most people could not afford to furnish their homes and were at the mercy of door-to-door salesmen with HP cons and inducements. While denying this poverty, the Corporation says "MK is no way isolated from normal economic and social national pressures".

That hundreds of new city children are living in poverty became clear from recent reports in the local press. "Many families were without gas or electricity. A lot of people are on the breadline." And on top of "normal" wages, high rents and the increasing dearth of jobs, they are faced with pollutants such as sulphur-dioxide and flouride emissions from the brickworks, the dangers of asbestos exposure in the Rail Works, housing cuts and large numbers of unemployed, especially among school-leavers.

Looking through the property columns, however, gives one a different picture. There's a 300-year-old cottage at Great Linford—offers in the range of £70,000. One among scores ranging from £52,000 in Hanslope to £82,000 in Towcester. Or if you are thinking of returning to London, there's a nice penthouse in Kensington at £115,000 (99-year lease) and one near Hampstead (freehold this one) at £245,000.

As the end of the 20 century approaches these glaring contradictions expose capitalism as criminally inefficient and anti-social, fit only for the end that has overtaken all previous class-divided societies.
Charles Kincaid

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