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.


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Bob Colenutt (2018) "Post War New Towns Heritage - Debates, Tension, and Prospects" in Occasional Papers on the Historic Built Environment, Kellogg College, Oxford University

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Colenutt B (2017) New Towns Heritage Research Network in Planning Perspectives

Description The Network is investigating the heritage value of the post war new towns in the UK and Europe. As these towns reach the age of 50 to 70 years since their creation many people from residents to local politicians, policy makers, planning practitioners and academics are looking again at the New Towns trying the assess the heritage value of the master plans, architecture, urban design and landscape of New Towns. Our seminars located in case study New Towns have demonstrated that there is significant public and academic interest, and differing opinions about the value of New Town heritage. On the one hand, there are those who have a great of affection for the New Town idea and its architectural and town planning heritage and wish to see it protected as far as is possible and practical. Others take the view that this inheritance is difficult to adapt to 21st century urban living and commercial reality and that rigid conservation of this heritage is not practical or desirable except in exceptional circumstances. All New Towns are faced with this dilemma with local governments faced with difficult choices. We have found that this issue has strong local and international resonance, and there is an appetite for further research to inform these choices. However, one of the biggest challenges to assessment of New Town Heritage is the large demographic change in the New Towns since they were built. The views and attachments of new residents, particularly young people, of the New Towns are different from those of the older or pioneer New Town families.
Exploitation Route The central finding of our work so far is that there is an appetite for conservation of New Town Heritage among older New Town residents and built environment professionals but that these views may not be shared by new residents of the New Towns. The Network believes that the views of these "Next Generation" communities are critical to making a more comprehensive assessment of the value of New Town heritage and the implications for its adaptation and conservation. Thus, we are intending to submit an AHRC Follow up Grant application in 2019 to hold workshops (New Town labs) with Next Generation residents in New Towns in the UK and mainland Europe.
Sectors Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description Our seminars have engaged an enthusiastic audience of academics, practitioners and civic society organisations. Local New Town organisations in Milton Keynes, Harlow and Peterborough have contributed to the seminars and potentially our seminars and network activities are a stimulus for developing a creating local New Town heritage registers for example in Peterborough and Milton Keynes. A New Town Heritage Manifesto developed by the Network was adopted by five New Towns in the Netherlands in 2018.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

Title New Towns Heritage Network Portal 
Description The Network has created a web site attached to the Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre (one of our Network partners) web site. It acts as a Research and Information Portal for New Town Heritage; allows access to all New Town Research Network seminar presentations; and provides a Forum for exchange of ideas and information among Network participants and others accessing the website. The website went live in March 2018 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Not yet known 
Description Network Seminar/Workshops 
Organisation Coventry University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The Research Network principal investigators at Oxford Brookes and Coventry University with our project team partners from Milton Keynes Council, Peterborough Vivacity, and Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre and the International New Towns Institute (INTI) organised and funded from AHRC grant five Heritage Network Research Seminars over an 18 month period. The seminars have attracted participation from academic specialists in New Town Research, local government officers and members, and New Town civic society organisations. Each seminar has included a conducted study tour of local New Town heritage by local civic societies and experts. The principal investigators for the project have led the project team, taken responsibility for all of the financial aspects of the project, contributed papers to the seminars and for research publications, and have chaired and led discussions at the seminars. Seminar/workshops on New Town heritage were held in Milton Keynes in January 2017; Harlow in March 2017; Peterborough in November 2017; and with our European partner (INTI) a New Town heritage seminar in Rotterdam on March 2018, and a final plenary Conference at Coventry University in July 2018. Each seminar was addressed by one or more well-known national or international experts in New Town Heritage followed by presentations of local New Town heritage, exploring issues of New Town Heritage value, and adaptation of the New Town master plan, building form and character, to economic, social and policy changes over the last 50-70 years of the life of the New Town. The main impact of these activities has been to build a network of academic, local government and civic society individuals and organisations both in the UK and Europe concerned with all aspects of New Towns Heritage including town planning, heritage valuation, conservation and regeneration. This complex project was expertly managed so that the project came in exactly on budget and on time.
Collaborator Contribution The principal partner (as Co-Investigator) in the research Network is Coventry University but other partners are actively involved in the project organising team (Milton Keynes Council, Peterborough Vivacity, Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre, International New Towns Institute, with Dr Alina Congreve formerly of the University of Hertfordshire). The Network project team was involved in project team meetings and participation in the seminars in all aspects of the planning, organisation and intellectual contribution to the five Research Network Seminars. Milton Keynes Council also match-funded (£5000) the Milton Keynes seminar; Peterborough Vivacity contributed significant local government officer time to the Peterborough seminar; the director of the Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre (MKCDC) has also contributed significant time to the project over and above the AHRC funding MKCDC received; INTI our European partner took the lead in organising the high profile international seminar/workshop in Rotterdam on March 22/23rd 2018. This event included presentations by national experts on Dutch New Towns architecture, history and policy and a study tour of new towns around the city of Rotterdam.
Impact Five Research Network seminar/workshops were delivered; with presentations by the Network to three further New Town seminars in Paris, Rotterdam, and Milton Keynes in late 2018 and in 2019. . Two journal articles have been published. A web site for the Network was designed by Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre for the Network.. A research network of academics and practitioners of approximately 150 people has been created which is active and continues to be engaged in the Network. . A New Town Heritage Manifesto arising from the work of the Network was presented to and agreed at the Plenary event at the University of Coventy. This Manifesto was adopted by five Dutch New Towns at the International New Towns Day Conference in November 2018. A further important international outcome was that Professor David Fee of the University of Paris has joined the network. He organised in collaboration with the Research Network a Research Network seminar in Paris in September 2018 funded by the University of Paris, exploring debates around French and UK New Town heritage. A video film was made of the Milton Keynes seminar which is posted on our web site. An invited presentation was made at the screening in London of an acclaimed film about Basildon New Town in 2018. The PI and the Co-I are collaborating, with Professor Fee of the University of Paris, on a book comparing UK and French New Towns due for publication in 2020 The Network collaboration is cross-sectoral (universities, local government, civic societies) and multi-disciplinary involving planners, architects, historians, cultural specialists, urbanists and geographers.
Start Year 2017
Description Research Network Seminar/workshops and presentations at invited events about New Towns 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The AHRC New Towns Heritage Network has organised five network events; three have taken place in 2017; two in 2018. There have been three further events not funded through AHRC in Paris, Rotterdam and Milton Keynes. The aim of all of the events is to bring together academics, local government and civic society organisations concerned with researching, evaluating and developing heritage policy for post war New Towns in the UK and mainland Europe. The project has a strong European outlook with one of the five AHRC funded events taking place in March 2018 in Rotterdam. The Network is focusing on regional and international comparisons of New Town Heritage research, data and policy. Events so far have attracted 50-80 people for one day seminars and local New Town study tours. Attendees have included architectural historians, landscape historians, town planners, artists, community workers, archivists, local civic society representatives, local government officers and museum curators.The events have stimulated local debates on heritage with one participant from the University of Paris organising a further event on French New Towns which has held in Paris is 2018. Milton Keynes Council organised a further event in Milton Keynes in 2019.
Written reports of seminars have been posted on our Website hosted by Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre (see below for details) plus copies of all presentations. A professionally made video of our first event in Milton Keynes in 2017 was funded from AHRC grant and is also posted on line on The New Towns Heritage Network website. In 2018, the Network made a presentation at the launch of a film called New Town Utopia an acclaimed film about Basildon New Town. A book has been commissioned by Emerald Press on a comparison of French and UK New Towns which is edited by the AHRC PI and Co-I with Professor David Fee of the University of Paris. An AHRC Follow up Grant is being applied for the explore the views of next generation New Town residents on New Town Heritage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019