Town Planning Review

Balchin, Jack, "First New Town - An Autobiography of Stevenage Development Corporation 1946-1980" (Book Review)

Town Planning Review (1982), 53, (2), 215


224 BOOK REVIE\VS central-local relations which have taken place since May 1979. The book is primarily an attempt to evaluate the various strategies outlined, but the author fails to do this systematically. No clear analytical or theoretical framework is put forward and applied to each of the strategies. Instead the evaluative sections tend to consist of a summary of various commentators' views set against various themes. A more rigorous and tightly argued appraisal of each strategy would, in turn, have built the foundation for a stronger final chapter. This raises some interesting questions, but it is still largely a review of other peoples' views. In summary, then, the main strength of the book is the way it brings together a useful body of material on urban economy policy. However, it falls well short of its aim of providing a rigorous analysis of Britain's inner city problems and policies. ROBIN HAMBLETON University of Bristol First New TOlvll-All Autobiography of the Stevenage Development Corporation 19461980 by Jack Balchin, Stevenage, Stevenage Development Corporation, 1980, 361 pp., £6.95 (obtainable from the New Towns Commission, Stevenage) Harlow: The Story of a New TOlVIl by Frederick Gibberd, Ben Hyde Harvey, Len White et al., Stevenage, Publications for Companies, 1980, 414 pp., £11.90 (h/b), £5.95 (p/b) Harlow and Stevenage had the smallest initial populations of London's new towns. To match Stevenage's claim to be the first to be designated, Harlow can claim that it was the first to submit its master plan and first to get it approved by the minister. In these ways Harlow and Stevenage are archetypical of London's new towns, which are in turn archetypical of all designations under the 1946 Act. The publication of these histories can be expected therefore to cast new light on this showpiece of the postwar planning system. The subtitle of Jack Balchin's volume, 'An Autobiography of a Development Corporation', reflects the content of both of these books. They are accounts of the problems and achievements Copyright © 2010 ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved. Copyright © Liverpool University Press. of the planning of these towns, liberally decorated with details of the roles played by board and senior members of the staff of the development corporations, and adorned with glimpses of the responses of the client populations. They are both self-congratulatory and celebratory in tone, most anecdotal in style, well illustrated and, particularly in the case of Balchin's book, packed with useful detail. A major theme which emerges from both books is the power of the new town development corporation vis a vis both central government and local authorities. This theme as far as central government is concerned is neatly identified by Jane Morton (who edited the Harlow volume and wrote linking passages throughout the book, although her name does not appear on the title page), who observes 'governments sought continually to change the role and purposes of new towns [which] made it very difficult for the Corporation to pursue a consistent development policy' (p. xvii). But Harlow especially, guided throughout the new town episode of its history by Sir Frederick Gibberd, did pursue a consistent development policy in spite of the vicissitudes of central government. This consistency gives the clue to the development corporations' power in relation to the central government. The new towns represented a commitment which went beyond the time horizon of central governments and the date of the next general election. On the other hand, the corporations could commonly justify demands for ministerial approval in terms of the needs of the moment which were consistent with the long term commitment. The Harlow book records an instance when the Treasury was still arguing about approval for a new factory building in ignorance of the fact that the building was already half completed (p. 96). Balchin's book, after describing the difficulty of getting ministerial approval for expenditure on recreational facilities, confesses that 'The Corporation's formal contributions appearing in the financial accounts in no way correspond to its major financial input into recreation'. (p. 203). Central government did, however, retain effective power in the crucial area of deciding on the size of the commitment, and both these books record the anguish felt in the development corporations at the unaccustomed exercise of this power in the 1970s. Balchin refers to the 'desolating disappointment' felt when the expansion proposals of 1973 were rejected by Peter Shore in 1977 (p. 99). Morton summarises the

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Author details

Thomas, Ray