New Towns Heritage Research Network

Lead Research Organisation: Oxford Brookes University
Department Name: Faculty of Tech, Design and Environment


The purpose of the New Towns Heritage Network is to share research and policy on the architectural heritage value of the Post War New Towns in the UK and Mainland Europe. The Post-War New Towns are regarded as one of the most important social, cultural and architectural experiments in town planning in the 20th century founded upon principles of Modernism in design, planning and architecture. They have left a remarkable built heritage comprising road layouts, shopping centres, iconic buildings, public spaces, and public art which are often considered to be dated and controversial e.g the road grid system in Milton Keynes or the shopping centres on Harlow and Stevenage. The Network will bring together international researchers and policy makers from universities, government, and the community sector who are studying this built heritage, and are engaged in policy debates about its value.

The Research Network will meet at a critical time when many of the New Towns are reaching an age when renewal and re-invention are being considered. As they approach significant anniversaries (50 or 70 years old), they are facing difficult questions about what value to put on their Post War heritage, whether for example, to demolish 1950s shopping centres and over-ride original Master Plans. Our Research Network seminars events will be hosted by some of the towns that are celebrating their anniversaries and are undertaking this assessment; Milton Keynes, the largest and most successful of the UK New Towns is 50 years old in 2017, Harlow is 70 in 2017, Peterborough and Northampton reach 50 in 2018, and Zoetermeer in the Netherlands is 55 in 2017.

The project will organise a programme of three UK based New Town Heritage Research Seminars, one European New Towns Seminar in the Netherlands, and a Plenary Conference at the conclusion of the project to be held at the University of Northampton in 2018. The seminars will be aimed at New Town researchers and policy makers, not just from Universities but also from Government and from the community sector in New Towns which has often accumulated a significant amount of original research and data. The Plenary will provide a forum for comparisons of the heritage debates in Post War New Towns in the UK and Europe. A key output of the Network will be an agenda for further research and dissemination through a dedicated web site of the findings of the Network events.

Planned Impact

The New Towns Heritage Research Network is a cross-sectoral, multi-disciplinary project aiming at significant research impact beyond academe. It is particularly designed to generate new opportunities for collaboration and sharing of research ideas across sectors, making connections between university based research and policy communities in central and local government and the community and voluntary sector. New Town local governments and civic societies have gathered a wealth of historical information about New Town heritage including plans, posters, films, photographic archives and other evidence - and in depth knowledge - of New Town heritage. Many have in effect been monitoring the New Towns heritage and public responses to it since the inception of the New Towns. The Network seminars based as they will be in different New Towns will enable local researchers to present their assessments and their evidence to the Network, and share conclusions with other New Towns, and with academic researchers.

Similarly, because the Post War New Towns are Government-led town planning schemes, central governments in the UK and across Europe have been monitoring, and publishing periodic reports and assessments of the New Towns in their countries. Although very few of these reports have focused on architecture and heritage they contain valuable assessments of New Town town planning and economic performance. The Network aims to benefit Government researchers by bringing them into contact with civic society research communities and academic research work on New Town history and architectural heritage. Despite the efforts of organisations like the 20th Century Society in the UK and DOCOMOMO internationally the heritage of the modern movement is not universally acknowledged as such. The network will draw wider attention to New Town Heritage and benefiting from national civic organisations concerned with heritage, town planning and environment, for example, Historic England, the 20th Century Society, and the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA).

At a European level, there is an international local government New Towns network, the European New Towns and Pilot Cities Platform (ENTP). After their current pilot projects have come to a conclusion, this organisation will be looking to undertake new pilot projects and they will be invited to participate in our proposed Research Network activities.

The proposed New Town web portal that will be an outcome of the project will provide on-line open access for non-academic bodies to latest research and thinking on New Towns Heritage, and will offer a platform for sharing research and evidence from civic society and local government organisations. Ultimately the network is expected to make a significant contribution to raising awareness for the value and potential of New Towns Heritage and to help instilling pride in it as well as offering a critical evaluation.


10 25 50