British Planning Films

Here are some links to British films related to post-war reconstruction planning or the New Towns developed under the 1946 New Towns Act.

The Way We Live, 1945

This film is an hour in length and, using both documentary and dramatized scenes, tells the story of the re-planning of Plymouth, a major and historic naval port in a dramatic and beautiful physical setting, which was one of the most badly bombed of British cities. Directed by Jill Craigie, the film features many of the local political and professional personalities involved in the plan, including the great British wartime planner of London, Patrick Abercrombie, brought into work with the local City Engineer, James Paton Watson. Also featured is a young local Labour politician, Michael Foot, a well-known left-wing journalist, writer and orator who briefly (and unsuccessfully) led the Labour Party during the Thatcher era in the 1980s (and also married the film’s director). The dramatized sections of the film portray the lives and loves of a local family with a British and American sailor providing romantic diversion for the daughter and her friend. The YouTube clip was obviously recorded from commercial TV and there is a short break in the middle.

Proud City, 1946

This film is called ‘Proud City’. It was released in 1946 and tells the story of the 1943 County of London Plan prepared by the renowned British planner Patrick Abercrombie and John H. Forshaw, Chief Architect of the County of London. Both feature in the film, Abercrombie with his monocle. Their plan echoed the original villages of the area over which the metropolitan city of London grew and conceptualised London as a series of neighbourhoods, averaging 10,000 people. The physical planning was designed to reflect and promote these neighbourhoods and this concept is explained in some detail by a young Arthur Ling, by then head of the town planning section of the Architect’s department (and a prominent Communist who played a key role in British planning and architecture links with the Soviet Union). Other aspects of the plan, including the creation of a modern road system, are briefly shown.

Charley in New Town, 1948

This is a cartoon film made for showing in cinemas to promote the New Town programme launched in 1946. It was the first of a series featuring the ‘Charley’ character that were designed to promote the great social reforms of the post-war Labour Government. It was created by the studio of John Halas and Joy Batchelor, the nearest British equivalent of Walt Disney. Slow progress with the whole New Town programme resulted in complaints about Charley’s final request to audiences to ‘try it’, as very few initially could.

East Kilbride – Town of Tomorrow, 1954

Encouraged by government, virtually all the Development Corporations recorded their particular New Town’s development in film and at some point many produced documentary films specifically about their own work. East Kilbride was a New Town developed to cater for the overspill of population from Glasgow, the most overcrowded city in Britain. It was the first Scottish New Town, designated in 1947, and proved successful because it quickly attracted employment. This was a key consideration that often shaped the pace at which New Towns could grow. Within a short time there was, unusually, some net-commuting from Glasgow out to jobs in East Kilbride.

Cumbernauld: Town for Tomorrow, 1970

Cumbernauld was Scotland’s third New Town, designated in 1955 also to cater for population overspill from Glasgow. It was the only New Town in the UK to be designated in the 1950s at a time when the national Conservative Government did not wish to expand the programme. It was only the acute nature of Glasgow’s housing problems that allowed this exception. The plan itself was markedly different from earlier New Towns in that it acknowledged the fact of rising car ownership, responding by adopting on a very large scale the Radburn principle of vehicle/pedestrian segregation across the whole town. Instead of the neighbourhood unit principle with local shops etc. within each neighbourhood, Cumbernauld’s residential areas were created at high densities clustered around the town centre and it was expected that residents would walk to use services there. Car use would be confined to the ‘outer’ side of the residential areas, linking to an external ring road surrounding the town. The town centre was developed as Britain’s most complete example of a mega-structure and is now a historic monument though it did not prove popular or successful as a retailing space.

British New Towns – Runcorn, 1973

Runcorn was designated in 1964 as the second New Town (the first was Skelmersdale) to cater for Merseyside’s needs. The existing town of Runcorn already had almost 30,000 inhabitants so the proposal to increase it to around 100,000 was a major expansion rather than a completely ‘new’ New Town. The film, which appears to be clipped, in that it starts very abruptly, outlines the key principles of the plan. Its planner, Arthur Ling (formerly of the London County Council and Coventry) reappears as an older man after his cameo in the ‘Proud City’ film. The central planning concept of Runcorn involved the use of a ‘Figure of 8’ dedicated bus way system which carried no other traffic, linking all the residential areas (which were built at a relatively high density compared to the first generation of New Towns from the 1940s) to the central shopping city. Like Cumbernauld, Runcorn was a city that also acknowledged high motor vehicle use and a very efficient and high-capacity road network was provided.