New New Town: What the past can teach the future

20-21 February 2008

The UK is currently seeing the growth of new settlements at a large scale, both under construction and proposed, in response to a need for new homes identified by government as running into the millions. But these new settlements raise as yet unanswered questions: how can new communities be created from scratch? What is the role of architecture and planning in shaping new settlements? The consequences of the hugely ambitious British New Towns programme, launched by the New Towns Act of 1946, will also be examined alongside exemplars in continental Europe today.

For the first time in nearly half a century,' Gordon Brown told his party conference last year, 'we will show the imagination to build new towns.' This was indeed a dramatic announcement. The last time it was seriously tried was during the post-war new town programme. It is now clear that the creation of Milton Keynes, a thriving city of 200,000 in only forty years, was an exceptional achievement. The question now is: what can we learn from the great experiment of the post-war years, especially now that centralized government decision making and planning has shrunk? Back then planners could confidently map out new towns. Now it is left to the private sector to deliver. This time around new towns will certainly be different. The key word in Brown's announcement was imagination. A town has to be imagined before it is built, and it has to engage the imagination once it is there. It needs an idea, a myth, an image and an identity, as well as calculations and statistics. The challenge is how you create this from zero. This is a huge subject, which will keep us all talking and exploring for years to come. New New Town is just a start.


Organised in partnership with


Sponsored by


Media Partner