Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Town versus Country in the 1940s: Planning the Contested Space of a City Region in the Aftermath of the Second World War

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Town versus Country in the 1940s: Planning the Contested Space of a City Region in the Aftermath of the Second World War

Article excerpt

Through the detailed examination of a case study, namely Plymouth, this paper explores the reasons for the demise of the regional planning framework, originally advocated by writers such as Ebenezer Howard, Patrick Geddes, Charles Fawcett and Patrick Abercrombie, in the early post-war years. Plymouth's reconstruction plan, prepared by Abercrombie and Paton Watson in 1943, was devised as a framework for planning an entire city region of 140 square miles (36,269 hectares). In order to unpack the complex history of the development and ultimate rejection of the city-region model for planning in Britain, engagement is required with the human narrative that drives decision making and determines the paths pursued at key moments of change. This historical case study, drawing on the exceptionally full surviving archives, highlights not only the role of Patrick Abercrombie in shaping Plymouth's post-war future, but also the clash of all the individuals at the local and national level engaged in a power struggle regarding 'joint regional planning' for a city region, and the parallel quest to secure an extension to the city's boundaries.

A persistent challenge for town and country planning in Britain for much of the past century has been the need to define the most appropriate area, both in terms of geographical extent and settlement characteristics, for which plans should be devised. The emergence of a new concept of regional planning during the inter-war years reflected attempts to determine the most appropriate spatial scale for the organisation of planning in light of the rapid socio-economic and environmental change then being experienced. Planners in the early twentieth century argued that compact regions that contained both urban and rural elements would be more conducive to the achievement of effective planning for population decentralisation, industrial location, transport development, and the protection of the countryside (Abercrombie, 1959). Rebuilding badly blitzed UK cities in the aftermath of the second World War provided an unprecedented opportunity to implement these theories in practice. Although there is now a considerable body of literature that discusses the rebuilding of bomb-damaged UK cities in the post-war period (Hasegawa, 1992; Larkham and Nasr, 2004), there are very few studies that examine attempts in reconstruction schemes to plan for both town and country and thereby put into practice some of the radical thinking advanced in the pre-war period concerning regional planning. Sheail (1981) has suggested that attempts at regional planning were blighted by local suspicions, jealousies and short-term interests and, in order to examine his contention, this paper explores the pragmatic and ideological reasons for the demise of the regional planning approach in the post-war planning framework through a detailed examination of a case study, namely Plymouth. A major, but now largely forgotten, element of the city's Plan for Plymouth (1943), was that it was written as a regional plan for south-west Devon and south-east Cornwall. Attempts to implement the regional objectives through the establishment of a joint regional planning committee and an extension to the city's boundaries created extraordinary wrangles that ultimately led to the failure of this aspect of the reconstruction plan. It will be argued that an exploration of Plymouth's experience sheds important new light on the previously neglected question of why, despite the unique opportunity afforded by the need for large-scale reconstruction after the war, regional planning was never fully adopted in the UK.

An exceptionally detailed written archive, containing the letters and correspondence between the prominent actors at the time, survives in three locations - the personal papers of Lord Astor, the wartime Lord Mayor of Plymouth who was so influential in the reconstruction period, held in the library of the University of Reading; the wartime papers of Plymouth City Council held in the Plymouth and West Devon Records Office, Coxside, Plymouth; and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning reconstruction files for Plymouth held at the National Archives (Public Records Office), Kew. …

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