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From the archive: 125 Years of the TCPA

The TCPA’s Osborn Research Assistant, Charlotte Llewellyn, explores the Association’s fascinating 125-year history

As part of our 125th anniversary celebrations, I have taken the chance to explore the history of the TCPA through our archives and recent journal publications.  From the founding of Letchworth and Welwyn to the New Town Programme, from the Environmental Education Bulletin to the Eco-Towns, the TCPA has a rich history of campaigning for socially just and thriving places.  

In this blog, I touch on some of the key milestones, such as the TCPA’s involvement at Letchworth and Welwyn, our work championing New Towns, our community-based projects of the late 20th century, and our campaigns for high-quality and thriving new communities in the 21st century.  

The early years of the Garden City Association  

Figure 1 Minutes from the First Meeting of the Garden City Association from The Town and Country Planning (50th Anniversary Article) in January 1949 

On 10 June 1899, the Garden City Association (GCA) hosted its first meeting. Founded following the publication of Ebenezer Howard’s book “To-morrow: A peaceful path to real reform” the previous year, the GCA worked to make Garden Cities a reality. Consequently, the early years of the Association focused on the development of Letchworth Garden City.  

In the aftermath of the First World War, the project to create a second garden city began and would become known as Welwyn Garden City. Despite chronic housing shortages and poor-quality accommodation, the state played a limited role in the earlier years of the Garden City movement, but this was about to change. 

Explore our archives: 

Notice on the Garden City Association – January 1908 

Progress on the Garden City Estate (Letchworth) – October 1904 

The Genesis of Second Garden City – October 1919 

The Town and Country Planning Association (50th Anniversary Article) – January 1949 

The New Town Years 

Figure 2: Stevenage Town Centre – cover image of the January 1963 edition of Town and Country Planning 

The mid-20th century was a period of immense change for the Association. In 1941, it underwent a major revamp and was renamed the Town and Country Planning Association.  

Following the Barlow Report (1937), the New Towns Committee (1945-46), and the passage of the New Towns Act (1946), the state was about to undertake the most ambitious housing programme in recent British history: the New Towns Programme. Under the influence of Sir Fredric Osborn (FJO), the TCPA had worked tirelessly to lobby for and influence the creation of New Towns. It is worth noting that FJO, Sir Anderson Montague-Barlow, and Elizabeth Mitchell were awarded the Ebenezer Howard Memorial Medal in recognition of their work making New Towns a reality.  

The New Towns Programme led to the delivery of 32 New Towns across the United Kingdom, which today provide homes for over 2.8 million people.1 New Towns remain an integral part of the TCPA’s work, not only campaigning for their regeneration and renewal but also sharing the lessons from the New Towns Programme to inform the creation of future new communities.  

Explore our archives:  

FJO’s argument for changing our name to TCPA – Feb 1941 

New Towns: The Act and The Reith Report – Summer 1946 

New Town Data Sheets – 1950s-1990s 

Town and Country Planning: “New Towns: Centres and Activities” Special Issue – January 1963 

Putting people back at the heart of planning 

Figure 2 Image of the Mobile Planning Aid Unit from “But the Emperor has no clothes” – December 1987 

The TCPA’s work in the latter half of the 20th century emphasised putting people back at the heart of the planning system. Under the guidance of TCPA’s Director David Hall, two of the TCPA’s most radical initiatives, environmental education and planning aid, emerged.  

In 1971, the TCPA’s environmental education unit, led by Colin Ward and Tony Fyson, was established. One of the unit’s most well-known outputs was the Bulletin of Environmental Education, beloved by teachers and students. The Bulletin acted as an aid for teachers, providing updates on the latest developments in the field as well as study ideas.  

At the end of 1973, Planning Aid, led by David Lock, was established to help local communities participate in the planning process. In 1983, the Planning Aid unit went on the road after winning grant funding from the Department of the Environment to purchase a VW campervan in a move to deliver planning advice to communities across the country2.  

Communities and education remain at the heart of much of the TCPA’s work today, including on issues like long-term stewardship, culture, and climate change. Our role in Planning Aid has also returned, since 2020 the TCPA, funded by the Trust for London, has been working with Planning Aid for London to reinstate and revitalise its services.  

Explore our archive: 

The TCPA and Environmental Education – March 1971 

Planning Aid: which way ahead? – April 1976 

But the Emperor has no clothes – December 1987 

New Communities and the 21st Century  

Figure 3 Image from NCG Study Tour to Wokingham in 2013 

The start of the 21st Century saw large-scale development back on the government’s agenda. In 2007, the Labour Government announced their Eco-towns programme, for which the TCPA drafted the Government’s Planning Policy Statement and produced a series of guidance/worksheets on the standards of the Eco-towns3. Ten years later, the Conservative Government announced its commitment to a new generation of garden towns and villages.  

In 2012, the Garden City Principles were incorporated into the National Planning Policy Framework for the first time. When the Garden City Principles were removed from the draft revised NPPF in March 2018, the TCPA launched a campaign for them to be reinstated, which received widespread support. Consequently, the Garden City Principles were reincorporated into the NPPF in July 2018.  

New Towns and New Communities have been a consistent theme in the TCPA’s work in the 21st Century. The TCPA’s New Communities Group, established in 2009, and the APPG on New Towns, for which the TCPA was secretariat, are key vehicles for disseminating the wealth of knowledge the TCPA has accumulated on New Communities and New Towns.  

With the Liberal Democrat and Labour Party having committed to Garden Cities and New Towns in the lead-up to the General Election, new communities remain high on the political agenda. The TCPA will remain at the forefront of this debate and will surely be campaigning for flourishing and high-quality new communities for years to come.  

Explore our publications: 

From the archive: 'Letchworth Garden City as a Health Centre' (January 1911)