At the turn of the last century, cities were densely populated, overcrowded and unhealthy. Dispersal was a remedy advanced by the garden city movement, adopted in the building of the New Towns and continued on a massive scale by the unplanned migration of millions of people from major cities to country towns and villages. At the turn of this century, dispersal is castigated as wasteful of land and resources, and the compact city is being promoted as the most sustainable of urban forms. The case has been made for the supply of housing land to be increased in metropolitan areas but high levels of demand persist in small towns and villages throughout rural Britain. A vast potential for growth has been built into the economic and demographic structure of the Shires, particularly in southern and central England. New manufacturing and service industries, a highly skilled and well educated labour force, high levels of prosperity, expanding services and improved accessibility will induce further growth outside the metropolitan areas. This is recognised by recent projections of employment and population and in regional planning guidance issued by the Government. Any significant shift in housing and industry towards metropolitan locations would require a level of economic and planning intervention far greater than is proposed by any political party. Yet to accept the projected development of the Shires would be to leave many metropolitan areas bereft of development and would seriously inhibit progress towards the major compact city.
At the end of the Second World War, in 1945, the majority of people still lived in fairly compact cities in high density housing close to factories, shops, schools, churches, hospitals and cinemas. Public transport was cheap and frequent, car ownership was low and only a minority travelled far to work. Many facilities were within walking distance of home. Communities remained close knit, but outside the largely middle-class suburbs standards of accommodation and service