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Consortium Developments Ltd and the failure of ‘new country towns' in Mrs Thatcher's Britain

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This article examines the attempt by Britain's biggest house builders to launch a privately-initiated programme of ‘new country towns' during the 1980s. It was their response to the policy changes of the Thatcher governments, shrinking the state sector and deregulating private enterprise. Consortium Developments Ltd (CDL) was established in 1983, intending to develop up to 15 new country towns in the prosperous region around London, where housing demand was high but local planning very restrictive of developers. Each town would comprise around 5000 dwellings with social and physical infrastructure largely provided by CDL. The concept was a novel one in twentieth century Britain, where new settlements had been developed previously by philanthropic companies or by government agencies. Advised by planners associated with Milton Keynes, CDL effectively updated the Garden City–New Town tradition for the Thatcher era. However, despite pushing four proposals through the planning process, all failed. This largely reflected opposition of the government's own party supporters, who did not want Thatcherism shaping their own areas. In the face of this, Thatcher's ministers were ultimately unwilling to support CDL. Combined with the effects of the 1990s property slump, the volume builders withdrew and CDL was dissolved. Its failure partly reflects wider fracture lines in Thatcherism, compounded by the aggressive and very public campaigning style of its own operations which gave each proposal a very wide political resonance. Thatcherism gave way to a more restrictive planning climate in the 1990s. Paradoxically, a Labour government is now, from 2003, creating massive new opportunities for private house building and town development around London.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Planning, School of the Built Environment, Oxford Brookes University, Headington, Oxford, OX3 OBP, UK

Publication date: 2005-07-01

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