My Favourite Plan

Redditch New Town Masterplan

Annabel Keegan

Redditch New Town Masterplan, Second Generation New Town, designated 1964

WHY I LIKE IT…

When I was invited to write this article, I thought long and hard about my favourite plan, and kept coming back to this one. Anyone reading this who knows anything about Redditch might think I have taken leave of my senses.

Redditch was designated a New Town in 1964 providing overspill accommodation for Birmingham. The New Town Masterplan was prepared by Hugh Wilson, who had extensive experience in Development Areas and as Chief Architect and Planner had been responsible for Cumbernauld New Town from 1956-62.

The vision for the masterplan was to blend the old with the new, with the aim of increasing the population of the town from 35,000 to 90,000 by 2000 (the population was actually 84,300 by mid-2011). The design was based on housing and industry clustered around ‘bead-centres’. The masterplan had an ambitious vision for transport, with Mr Wilson quoted in 1965 as keeping an open mind about what form the public transport should take: it could be buses, it might be a monorail, or something which had not yet been devised. Overall the concept proposed that although cars would be given access to all parts of the town, the pedestrian and public transport routes would be designed as the most direct and possibly the speediest method of moving about the town.

My parents moved to Redditch in 1969, my dad to take up a new job with Redditch Development Corporation as a Civil Engineer helping to deliver the masterplan, and my mum as a teacher at a brand new primary school. As a result, I have always loved this map. I grew up looking at it pinned to the wall in my dad’s office and have watched it being constructed; alas there is still no monorail.

WHAT TO LEARN FROM IT…

There are many lessons to learn from the masterplan, including how the Architects’ Department worked as three multi-disciplinary teams, each working under an assistant chief. Architecturally it has been a mixed success; some of the housing is typical of the era with now unfashionable Radburn style layouts. However, some of the public buildings delivered are successful. The Library in Market Place in the town centre is a hidden gem designed by the John Madin Group in 1974-5. The building is still well used, although the interior has been remodelled and modernised.

One element of the masterplan that has been particularly successful is the landscape strategy, prepared by Roy Winter as Chief Landscape Architect. Over three million trees were planted by the Development Corporation during the construction of the town and today the evidence of this is apparent in the mature landscape which surrounds the built form.

On the other hand, an element of the original masterplan that was less successful despite its lofty aspirations, is the vision for the transport system. Unfortunately, the masterplan was not fully realised, with areas of the town originally designated as public transport corridors remaining undeveloped. This has resulted in the car being the dominant mode of transport for getting about. However, scratch the surface of the movement network in the town and you will find a network of well-used footpaths, cyclepaths and bridleways.

Given the current requirement for the delivery of new housing I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned from looking back at our New Towns. Redditch has successfully accommodated its envisioned population growth and remains a popular place to live and work. Despite my mother’s initial reservations, my parents still live in the town 47 years later.  

URBAN DESIGN 140 Autumn 2016 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 140 Autumn 2016

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Urban Design Group Article - Redditch New Town Masterplan by Annabel Keegan

Annabel Keegan

Current position
Principal Consultant, Phil Jones Associates, Birmingham

Education
MA Urban Design, University of Central England (2007); BA (Hons) in Architecture, University of Liverpool (2001)

Specialisms
Urban design, streets and movement, masterplanning and community participation.

Ambition
To deliver well-designed streets and spaces; to ride the Redditch monorail; and, to own a sausage dog.