Post War Population Problems

The proximity of Redditch to Birmingham, sixteen miles from Redditch town centre had an undoubted impact upon local leaders. Severe bomb damage during the Second World War and a population ''explosion'' saw Birmingham looking for housing land outside the city boundaries.

Redditch people feared the erosion of the green belt - a ''cordon sanitaire'' between the towns. Lewis Silkin's 1946 Act designating the first New Towns was also very much in the minds of Redditch people, the majority of whom wished to see a modest and controlled expansion of their town. The Urban District Council, cognisant of post-war reconstruction plans for the West Midlands commissioned Sir Patrick Abercrombie to draw up a scheme for the expansion of Redditch and the redevelopment of the town Centre. Sir Patrick, a planner of national repute, was responsible for the Greater London and Greater Glasgow plans which resulted in the Mark 1 New Towns. He was assisted by a team led by Lionel Brett and Frederick Hill (a local architect). The ''brief'' centred on achieving a population of 50- 60,000 over the period 1947-1982. When presented in November 1948, the Brett plan proposed a much smaller population target of 35,000 undoubtedly conditioned by the overall West Midlands Plan projections in neighbouring towns.

The Brett Plan

Significantly, the Brett plan emphasised

''the replanning of the whole urban population of Redditch to accommodate a population of 35,000 with space for sufficient mixed industry to employ and sufficient amenities to attractive population and with sufficient regional and local communications.”

Prophetically it went on to say

''….any further growth can only take place by the creation of what would, in effect, be a New Town beyond the Arrow Valley, which the regional planners feel to be undesirable.''

The Brett Plan, therefore, saw expansion effected by filling in between existing areas of ribbon development at Headless Cross, Crabbs Cross, Studley Road and northwards from the Town Centre. A very imaginative reconstruction of the inadequate existing shopping centre envisaged a covered shopping precinct and modern council offices. While this proposal appealed greatly to the public, the restricted population target of 35,000 appeared unrealistic in view of population growth from 1920


In December 1948 the Urban District Council decided not to proceed with the Town Centre plan and to await ''an appropriate time'' - undoubtedly influenced by a housing waiting list of 1,500 families and current building restrictions. With hindsight, it is sad that bold resolute action was not taken in 1948 despite the punishing experiences of war and post war shortages.

Government policy diverted industrial expansion to the Development Areas and the Board of Trade saw no reason to offer new industries to the town. The Worcestershire Development Plan published in 1951 took an equally myopic view. It forecast that the population of Redditch would increase from about 29, 000 between 1951-71 to 35,000 - an influx of 6,000. The town map followed the principles of the Brett Plan.

The Town Development Act  - overspills proposals

In the meantime, it seemed that all the proposals ignored the realities of the overspill problem of the West Midlands conurbation but the new Conservative Government introduced the Town Development Act of 1952. Not committed to the New Town philosophise the previous Labour Government, its new thinking envisaged a more rapid and cheaper expansion of existing communities by financial arrangements. The word ''overspill'' became an emotive expression and evoked wordy arguments about Big Brother attitudes of neighbouring Authorities. Financial provisions were enacted to enable the payment of the then statutory rate fund contribution of £7.35 for every council house to be made by either the Ministry or the Exporting Authority. It also made possible other Exchequer grants on capital projects such as sewerage, water supply and site preparation. With a massive postwar housing need, Birmingham City Council sought help from the neighbouring counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. While the first two were prepared to offer sites, namely Tamworth and Castle Bromwich, Worcestershire refused to identify any sites other than expansion at Droitwich and Redditch to take industry with their associated population from Birmingham. With the City of Birmingham claiming to exhaust all its available residential land by 1957, the time factor became critical in the overspill issue.

Negotiations over the next few years were bedevilled by arguments over financial arrangements: such as the level of statutory rate contributions from Birmingham and the rate of house building. Irritated by delays, the Urban District Council resolved to negotiate directly with Birmingham if progress was not made. There followed a scheme for 1,000 overspill houses to be built over a period of five years under the Town Development Act. The Urban District Council insisted that key-workers in any industry transferring to Redditch should count as overspill and that nominated tenants should be a cross section of housing applicants, not simply ''slum clearance tenant's". For a time, discussions made progress until financial considerations generated discord. With interest rates remaining at 5% from their post war norm of 3%, it was calculated that an economic rent for new overspill houses would require a rent level of thirty-five pence above existing Redditch levels. A change in the Housing Subsidies Act of 1956 ended subsidies for everything except slum clearance, old persons housing and town expansion schemes. It changed statutory rate fund subsidy to an arbitrary contribution thus compounding the problem. In an attempt to resolve the deadlock, other solutions were mooted  - that the City Council would build on Redditch sites or that a pilot scheme would be launched. Local opposition and unsatisfactory financial terms however aborted the discussions. In 1961 Henry Brooke, Minister of Housing and Local Government in the Macmillan Government sought to revise the building programme in Overspill Areas. To solve Birmingham's overspill problem he proposed a programme using 600 acres of Green Belt land at Wythall and town development schemes at Daventry, Worcester and Redditch raising populations to 25,000, 100,000 and 60,000 respectively. Consideration was also given to a New Town Development at Dawley in Shropshire: (designated by Sir Keith Joseph in January 1963 the area became the Telford development embracing several urban areas).

The Redditch proposals envisaged development to the south of the existing town and housing for 25,000 people (21,000 from Birmingham and 4,000 natural growth) between 1965 and 1974. Not surprisingly fierce controversy followed. After resolute opposition in Wythall at a Public Inquiry, the Minister, Dr. Charles Hill (then Lord Hill) who had succeeded Henry Brooke in October 1961, rejected Birmingham's application to build there. In Redditch, opinion was greatly divided on the merits of the proposals. In the end the scheme foundered upon the impossibilities improving financial support to offset rising rate deficits over the ten-year period of rent levels if ancillary services were to be maintained at an acceptable level.

A further factor may well have been the rethink on policy by Dr. Hill. This kind of problem showed up the limitations of town development schemes and he recommended the New Towns programme with the designation of Skelmersdale in 1961.

On 21 January 1963, Sir Keith Joseph, Minister of Housing and Local Government, met local representatives and announced that the only way out was ''that the Government should step in to take action itself under the New Towns Act". Redditch was to be designated a New Town.

The die was cast!

The above outline of the events that lead up to Redditch being designated a New Town has be extracted from the book “The History of Redditch New Town 1964 -1985” by Gordon Anstis.

This publication is the definitive account of the work of the Redditch Development Corporation and a must read for anyone with an interest in the New Town.