Britains 1st New Town
When WWII ended Britain faced a huge fight to rebuild infrastructure damaged by German bombing, with housing stock in London and many other major cities and towns devastated in the Blitz and the raids that continued after it. One of the strategies to address the housing shortage was the creation of New Towns.
On August 1 1946 Attlee ’s government passed the New Towns Act. The first of eight towns selected to take London’s population in need of new housing was Stevenage, designated thus on November 11 1946. As with the other candidates Stevenage was eventually to provide homes for an additional 60,000 people.
In 1901 the town had fewer than 5000 residents, and when the building programme was underway in 1951 it was only 7311 – the first newcomers arrived in 1952. By 1961 that had risen to 42,422, and today the town is home to nearly 80,000.
As ever with such changes the idea was not popular with those living in what in 1946 was a sleepy market town. There was a local campaign against the imposition of such a metamorphosis, but politicians – doubtless well aware that they were creating tens of thousands of grateful new residents balanced against a few thousand who hated the idea – stuck to their guns.
This was a time of radical change, with the NHS on the horizon, and it was so with planning: Stevenage was recreated with a pedestrianised centre; six semi-autonomous neighbourhoods were built; and industry and housing were zoned separately.
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