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

publication icon
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.
Exploitation Route We intend to produce a detailed research agenda by the time of our final plenary conference in Oxford in July 2018. This agenda will be of use to academics, policy makers, research funders and practitioners,
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.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Title New Towns Heritage Network Portal 
Description The Network is creating a web site attached to the Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre (one of our Network partners) web site. It will act as a Research and Information Portal for New Town Heritage, and a Forum for exchange of ideas and information among Network participants and others accessing the website. The website will be live in March 2018 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
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 project team partners from Milton Keynes Council, Peterborough Vivacity, and Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre and the International New Towns Institute (INTI) have so far organised and funded from AHRC grant four Heritage Network Research Seminars. 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 have been held so far in Milton Keynes in January 2017; Harlow in March 2017; Peterborough in November 2017; and has planned and organised with our European partner (INTI) a forthcoming seminar in Rotterdam on March 2018, and is planning a final plenary Conference at Oxford Brookes in July 2018. Each seminar has been 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 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.
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 have been been involved through project team meetings and participation in the seminars in all aspects of the planning, organisation and intellectual contribution to the three Research Network Seminars; and planning for the seminar in Rotterdam and the Plenary event at Oxford Brookes. Milton Keynes Council also match-funded the Milton Keynes seminar; Peterborough Vivacity have 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 funding MKCDC received for Network seminar organisation. INTI our European partner has taken the lead in organising a high profile international seminar/workshop in Rotterdam on March 22/23rd 2018. This event includes presentations by experts on Dutch New Towns architecture, history and policy and a study tour of new towns around the city of Rotterdam.
Impact So far three Research Network seminar/workshops have been delivered; with two more seminar/workshops planned. Two journal articles have been published. A web site for the Network has been designed by Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre for the Network, which is due to go live before the Rotterdam seminar (see above). A research network of academics and practitioners of approximately 150 people has been created which is active and engaged in the project. Professor David Fee of the University of Paris has joined the network and is proposing a follow up Research Network seminar in Paris in 2018 funded from the University of Paris exploring debates around French New Town heritage. The 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 
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; and a further two are organised for 2018. The aim of the events is to bring together academics, local government and civic society organisations concerned with researching, evaluating and developing policy for post war New Towns Heritage. The project has a strong European outlook with one of the five 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, post graduate students, local civic society representatives, local government planning officers and museum curators.The events have stimulated local debates on heritage with one participant from the University of Paris offering to organise a follow up event in Paris is 2018. Written reports of our Peterborough seminar has been produced while for the Milton Keynes seminar; a professionally made video of our first event in Milton Keynes in 2017 was funded from AHRC grant and is posted on line on The New Towns Heritage Network website hosted by Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre (see below)..
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018