Reinventing the British New Town for the 21st Century

Research project

  • Screen Shots Town & Country Planning, ABCA 1946

As part of an Architecture Foundation-supported project Helena Rivera, founder of A Small Studio, is currently undertaking her final year of a Collaborative Doctorate Award at the Bartlett School of Planning and UCL Urban Lab.

Collaborative Doctoral Awards (also known as CASE awards) are intended to encourage and develop collaboration and partnerships between Higher Education Institution (HEI) departments and non-academic organisations and businesses.

Rivera’s thesis, titled ‘Reinventing the British New Town for the 21st Century’ offers a critical appraisal of sustainability issues embedded in the British New Towns built under the 1946 act and analyses what transferable lessons there may be for future developments of towns and cities.

The discourse of building new planned towns in England has a rich history that can be dated back to the mid nineteenth century with industrialist experiments such as Saltaire and forward to the more recent plans of building eco-towns for 2020. However, the time between 1944 and 1968 saw a singularly intense (re-)building period Britain under the auspices of the 1946 New Towns Act. During this time, 22 new towns were built across England with the specific aims of creating self-contained towns with balanced communities. This was a period of experimental town planning and bold visions.

Disputably the new towns have not flourished into what they were originally planned to be. Not as a consequence of flawed implementation, but rather because the original notion--the idea that a community can be built from scratch overnight--is intrinsically flawed. For this reason, recent government plans to create new sustainable communities under the guise of eco-towns for 2020 will inevitably repeat mistakes made during the new towns era.

Rivera’s thesis will try to unpick the complex issues of community perceptions and public participation at the heart of new towns with the aim of drawing conclusions that may be practicable for future policy in town planning and community-building, especially for self-contained models such as eco-cities.

For more information on Helena Rivera and A Small Studio please visit:

Supported by


In partnership with

The Bartlett School of Planning and UCL Urban Plan