Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

People, Planning and Place: The Roles of Client and Consultants in Reconstructing Post-War Bilston and Dudley

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

People, Planning and Place: The Roles of Client and Consultants in Reconstructing Post-War Bilston and Dudley

Article excerpt

An ongoing reappraisal of post-war reconstruction is reviewing the contribution of the high-profile external consultants who were involved in so many reconstruction plans. This paper uses the example of Bilston and Dudley, small and unbombed towns in the English Midlands, to explore the roles of the client, the local authority, and the consultants involved in replanning. Unusually the client is represented by the Town Clerk, a lawyer, who identified and invited a wide range of eminent experts to design innovative housing areas. Principal among these was the academic architect Professor Sir Charles Reilly. The failure of these proposals results principally from the departure of the Town Clerk and the refusal of central government to sanction expenditure on ground reclamation and expensive technical innovations.

A growing critical reappraisal of the reconstruction of UK towns following the Second World War has shed new light on, inter alia, the operation of planning, the development of planning and urban conservation, the use of reconstruction plans as communication tools, and in-place promotion and competition (Larkham and Lilley, 2003; Pendlebury, 2003; Larkham, 2007). The significance of local and national politics in reconstruction has been reappraised (Tiratsoo, 1990, 1991; Hasegawa, 1992). Earlier, more simplistic notions of this vital period in UK planning are being questioned. One such reconsideration involves the engagement of prominent consultants instead of local authority employees, although the latter prepared over half of the 200 and more known plans. How and why were such 'outsiders' engaged? It is clear that they could be remarkably expensive, especially for small towns (Larkham, 2005). They have been criticised as unduly dictatorial, idealistic and intent on producing the 'new Jerusalem', although Tiratsoo (2000) refutes these myths. Recent studies have explored the commissioning of famous names such as Patrick Abercrombie and the progress of the plan making process (Jones, 1998; Lambert, 2000; Larkham, 2004a). Less is known of why particular consultants were identified and engaged (Larkham, 2004b); although Hasegawa (1999) charts the role of central government in 'persuading' the City of London to appoint consultants and take their advice, this was a special case. In most cases studied by the author, these decisions have resulted from individual circumstance, recommendations sought from professional bodies, or personal knowledge. Competitive tendering and similar processes were extremely rare. Detailed studies of the implementation of proposals are unusual as this work is labour intensive and costly (compare Gould's study of Plymouth, 2000), although it is commonly thought that most plans 'failed' owing to the fast-changing planning system (including the impact of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947) and post-war financial problems. The standard view of this period is one of a failure of plans and a waste of effort - 'no other wartime plan was so ignored or apparently ineffective', as Jones says of the Abercrombie and Lutyens plan for Hull (Jones, 1998, 301).

This paper examines the experience of Bilston and Dudley, two neighbouring small industrial towns in the 'Black Country' of the English Midlands lying between Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Bilston was significantly smaller and poorer than Dudley (Table 1). Neither had been significantly bomb damaged but both suffered from considerable industrial dereliction, poor environmental quality and substandard housing. They therefore jumped onto the reconstruction bandwagon, along with many other lightly and undamaged towns.

The roles of local authority staffand councillors are explored in detail. Political convictions and professional contacts are significant; but, unusually, the prime mover in both cases was the Town Clerk. At this time the position of Town Clerk was more significant than the lowly term 'clerk' might suggest. Town planning, as a separate profession, was still poorly represented in the departmental structures of most local authorities - particularly so with wartime stafflosses and especially so in small towns such as these. …

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