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Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability

For a Special Issue on

The UK New Towns in the face of Health, Housing and Climate Challenges

Manuscript deadline
31 August 2024

Cover image - Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability

Special Issue Editor(s)

David Fée, Sorbonne Nouvelle
[email protected]

Stéphane Sadoux, École Nationale Supérieure d'architecture de Grenoble
[email protected]

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The UK New Towns in the face of Health, Housing and Climate Challenges

In 2023, there is a lot we can learn about planning and designing for better health and housing conditions, and more widely for climate change and sustainability from the experience of the UK New Towns.

The UK New Towns were built in three waves after the war to disperse the British population away from the largest UK cities and reorganise urban regions. They were an attempt at planning whole new communities in reaction to interwar urban sprawl and private developers’ suburbia. These new towns were planned in a holistic way as mixed, self-standing and self-sufficient communities: residents were meant to feel a sense of identity and benefit from good local facilities and services at the neighbourhood level and enjoy healthy public and personal environments. Above all, these new communities were meant to provide modern housing conditions to the millions of new residents that were to leave behind their inner city Victorian homes because of national or local ‘slum clearance’ policies.

Seventy years later, the 32 New Towns have become home to some 2 million people but have faced multiple criticisms for their post-war modernist architecture, mass production building techniques, ageing town centres or top down planning principles. Some of the dwelling stock has even been demolished, such as Laindon estate in Basildon, and the design of some of estates has sometimes been profoundly altered - for instance the Three hills estate in Harlow - to meet modern standards and residents’ needs and requests. A new wave of redesign may well be needed to meet the challenges of climate change. Yet, it could be argued that the UK New Towns can meet the challenges of modern times.

At a time when the United Nations calls for fairer, greener and healthier cities, New Towns can boast lower densities than older cities and extensive green spaces. When the use of private cars is increasingly being discouraged and remote working has become widespread, they offer carefully designed and inclusive neighbourhoods that can locally provide all the necessary community facilities and services to residents. They also provide a useful research perspective for studying the dynamic relationships between people and places, having aged along with their original residents. In England more specifically, following the Healthy New Towns programme in 10 major housing developments announced by NHS England and Public Health England in 2016, they can provide further lessons about how to improve opportunities for healthy living by building healthy principles into the environment.

Besides, it could be argued that New Towns can also help meet the UK’s current housing crisis, that is partly caused by the decades-long gap between housing output and requirements, and provide the 340,000 new homes needed every year in England alone (according to Heriot Watt university). Not only do they possess vast amounts of undeveloped land where they can expand and where new housing can be built following their original founding principles as in Harlow, but their planning principles could help build the new communities that the government has committed to for growth areas in its National Planning Framework. By hardwiring infrastructure into a master plan as New Towns did, these new communities could help meet housing needs in a zero-carbon and sustainable way and reinforce the self-sufficient dream of the original planners.

Last, it can be argued that New Towns can help provide lessons, both positive and negative, about how planning can address climate change. The first generation New Towns offer examples of extensive networks of cycling lanes, footpaths and car free pedestrian areas that could be revived and provide a blueprint for low-carbon neighbourhoods in new communities. Although, the second generation New Towns abandoned this approach and were planned specifically around accommodating the motor car, some like Milton Keynes have been at the forefront of innovation to turn around their car-based designs to make their city more sustainable. Since 2013, the city has been devising a walking and cycling strategy that will feed into an infrastructure plan. Finally, although the millions of homes built in the New Towns in the post-war years provide a challenge for comfortable and zero carbon living, they can also offer lessons in retrofitting old buildings.

The growing concern for healthy living, housing supply, and sustainability in the UK warrants a reflection on the potential contribution of New Towns (past and present) in the form of a special issue of the Journal of Urbanism. The issue will address the relationship between these contemporary challenges and the planning and housing heritage and identities of New Towns in the UK. More generally, it will focus on how the New Towns can help towards achieving sustainable development as defined by the Sustainable Development Goals set in the UN 2030 Agenda (UN, 2016):  ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages (Goal 3) by making cities inclusive, sustainable and resilient (Goal 11), among other sensitive goals.

Submission Instructions

Submission Contents:

The special issue editors welcome papers that could focus on, for instance:

  • The housing crisis and UK New Towns;
  • Health questions, healthy living and UK New Towns;
  • The evolution of New Town planning principles in the face of modern sustainability- related challenges;
  • The expansion or regeneration of New Towns;
  • Dealing with the New Towns legacy in the four nations in the face of modern challenges


Submission Process:

Papers which are submitted as part of a special issue call go through the normal peer-review process. They need to be submitted through the journal's online system ( ) with each noted as part of the special issue on The UK New Towns in the face of Health, Housing and Climate Challenges.


The papers selected following a double-blind peer review process will be published in a special issue of the Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability.

Most of the papers included in a special issue are research papers. These will need to fit into the journal's aims and scope, which are clearly set out on this page:

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article