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Orders of the Day — New Towns Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1957.

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Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead 12:00 am, 28th November 1957

The hon. Gentleman really is incorrect. I am giving the latest figure which I would be prepared to stand by. I think that he and I would probably agree that anything must be an estimate; that nobody can forecast the future with certainty, the population trends or natural migration, or anything like that. I put it to the House that if we take the figure of 1,100,000 as the overspill figure from the big cities of England and Wales, we shall not be far out.

That figure was given about a couple of years ago and it would be somewhat smaller today. I think that anyone who goes around the new towns and sees them for himself, as I have done, will be struck more than anything else by their fascinating variety. Here we have a number of sites chosen for new towns, and certainly the sites differ in some respects, sometimes undulating, sometimes flat, sometimes the population virtually non-existent and sometimes, as at Hemel Hempstead, there is a borough there already with a substantial population. Nevertheless, they have all developed in their individual ways, and they owe that greatly to the initiative and imagination of members of the corporations and the chief officials of the corporations who have been responsible for their development.

Almost without exception, one can be impressed by the excellence of the master plan originally drawn up, according to which they have all been developed, and the interesting architectural treatment throughout the new towns. I know that the House will support me—because this has already been said from both sides—when I say that we should not close this Second Reading debate without my having an opportunity, on behalf of the Government and, I hope, the whole House, of expressing heartfelt thanks to the members of the corporations, to their staffs, senior and junior, and to all those who have had a hand in this intensely interesting development.

I should like to mention to the House, so far as the new towns in England and Wales are concerned, the need to establish a system by which members of the new town corporations are appointed for a period of two years at a time. I know that at one time there were complaints that the appointments were not sufficiently continuous and that there was too great an element of uncertainty. I hope that the House will approve that this two years' basis of appointment should be general. In one sense, we are half-way through. In another sense we are near the end in some cases and near the beginning in others. Aycliffe and Crawley are within striking distance of completion according to present figures. Hemel Hempstead is going on that way. At the other end, so far as England is concerned. Basildon and Peterlee have still a very long way to go and it will take many years. The same, I understand, is true of the Scottish new towns.

This Bill will provide for an increase from £250 million to £300 million in the advances that can be made from the Exchequer towards new towns' expenditure. It looks to me as though, before the present new towns are completed, the total expenditure required will be of the order of £375 million, so I think that there is no doubt at all that this is an interim new towns finance Bill, and that, apart from everything else, the House will have another opportunity before the end of this Parliament of looking at the financial provision for the new towns.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said, in answer to a question, that the Government had decided—I can speak only for England and Wales and I will not trespass on his ground—that no more new towns should be started. It is the view of the Government that an investment of about £375 million is approximately the maximum amount that should be devoted at present to this new town purpose. When the hon. and learned Member for Kettering says that it is unreasonable to propose that new towns should be built by any agency other than the Government because the New Towns Act is on the Statute Book, I must remind him that the Housing Subsidies Act, 1956, is also on the Statute Book and that it gives statutory authority for the payment of Exchequer subsidies at, broadly speaking, the new town rate to local authorities who decide to go ahead with new towns themselves.