Clive James, in the second article from the RTPI Cymru’s Centenary History of Wales series, discusses the pre-1947 position of planning in Wales.
The year 1947, and the passing of THE Planning Act is usually seen as the begining of town and country planning in Wales and England. Yet the RTPI was founded 33 years previously. The earliest planning legislation for Great Britain was enacted five years before that year. Confused?
Well, can you name any famous planners from Wales?
I would like to suggest four. T(homas) Alwyn Lloyd (1881-1960) was a Liverpool born architect turned town planner prominent in the interwar and early post war period. Having worked under Raymond Unwin on the Hampstead Garden Suburb, in 1913 he became the architect to the Welsh Town Planning and Housing Trust. He wrote the early planning text book ‘Planning in Town and Country’ which is dedicated to his wife with the dedication: “Hebddi nid ysgrifenasid”. In 1932 he wrote the bilingual pamphlet for the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRE) entitled ‘Brighter Welsh Villages’. Then in 1933/34 he became probably the only Welsh speaking President of the RTPI. The National Eisteddfod Medal for Architecture was endowed on him in 1954.
Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) was born in England but inherited his family’s estate in North Wales. His books ‘England and the Octopus’ and ‘Britain and the Beast’ championed the conservation of the countryside. He was a founder member of the Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales and its chairman 1928-1947. However he was not proud of being the first chairman of the Stevenage New Town Commission in 1945. His most famous legacies are at Portmeirion and Plas Brondanw.
Patrick Abercrombie (1879-1957) was not Welsh, but as Professor Civic Design at the University of Liverpool from 1915 was influential in North Wales where he sharpened his planning prowess. In 1918 he wrote ‘Mona Nova: the future development of Anglesey, with special reference to Housing after the war’ for the Welsh Housing and Development Association. His four themes were “the house itself; its exterior and garden; the village; and the island”. He notes that a joint housing committee of all the island’s local authorities was undertaking a survey for a report on housing conditions and future needs. He advocated a comprehensive regional survey of the island.
Daniel Lleufer Thomas
Daniel Lleufer Thomas (1863-1940) was a social reformer. His ‘Regional Treatment of Housing and Development Problems in South Wales’ in 1919 advocated, amongst many ideas, improved inter valley road communications. He attended the Inter-Allied Town Planning Conference in Paris in 1919. A co-founder of Cardiff Workers’ Co-operative Building Society which built Rhiwbina Garden Village and other garden suburbs. His article ‘The Welsh Countryside: its need for a development plan’ appeared in the Transactions of the Cymmrodorion for 1922-23.
These pioneers, and their contemporaries, worked within an evolving legislative framework. The first ever
legislation in these islands to include the word ‘planning’ was the Housing, Town Planning, Etc., Act 1909. It aimed to create the ‘home healthy, town pleasant, city dignified, suburb salubrious’. This was the very first time that the word ‘amenity’ appears in legislation! The following period of almost 40 years saw further planning related legislation enacted:
● The Housing and Town Planning Act, 1919
● The Local Government Act, 1929
● The Town and Country Planning Act, 1932
● The Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935
● The Special Areas Act, 1935
● The Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act, 1943
● The Town and Country Planning Act, 1944.
As time passed the emphasis changes from a social housing and voluntary approach to mandatory legislation which extended into fields such as roads and employment together with the control of all
development. How was Wales affected? The development of planning led to the establishment of the Welsh School of Social Science in 1911 by Lleufer Thomas. It concentrated mainly upon social and community issues. From 1913 onwards the work of the Welsh Town Planning and Housing Trust promoted garden villages and suburbs. The South Wales Garden Cities and Town Planning Association was founded in 1915. Then followed in 1916 the Welsh Housing and Development Association – the amalgamation of the South Wales Garden Cities and Town Planning Association and the Welsh Housing Association. It published a very interesting and informative yearbook until at least the early 1930s.
At the National Eisteddfod in Holyhead in 1927 the idea of a sister to the CPRE in Wales was first mooted at a meeting held under the auspices of the Cymmorodorion when Patrick Abercrombie was the main speaker. The CPRW was established the following year. In the interwar period the office was in London! Only he, C W E and T Alwyn Lloyd were the chairmen until 1959.
The pre-1947 period did not produce many plans as we now understand. One example was the Borough of Bangor Town Planning Scheme of 1934/35. As a result the peripheral planned suburb of Maesgeirchen came into being. In the July of 1935 the first Regional Conference of the National Housing and Town Planning Council was held in the City.
The Report of South Wales Regional Survey Committee was published in 1921. The members included T Alwyn Lloyd, Patrick Abercrombie, Lleufer Thomas and George Pepler. It followed the now classic ‘Survey – Analysis – Plan’ approach. In response to overcrowding and lack of developable land in the still thriving mining valleys of South Wales it recommended the building of between 10 and 15 grouped housing schemes around the coalfield from where miners would commute by existing rail links to the collieries. Dormitory towns, again with rail commuting to pits, were suggested at Bridgend and Pontyclun. It was recommended that four Joint Town Planning Councils centred on Swansea, Newport, Bridgend and Cardiff were set up under the under 1919 Act. Were these the first city regions proposed for Wales?
Under the 1929 Act eight Regional Planning Schemes were proposed in Wales. These were for Deeside; east Glamorgan; mid Glamorgan; Afan and Neath; west Glamorgan; north Wales; Wrexham Region; and the Wye Valley (the first ever cross border plan?).
How many were ever published? Abercrombie’s ‘North Wales Regional Planning Scheme’ was published in 1933. Then in 1936 under the Caernarvonshire Regional Planning Scheme the remainder of that county was covered by one planning scheme. There may have been an ‘Afan and Neath’ Plan as there is a reference to establishing a ‘national park’ in the Upper Neath Valley, to which higher ground in the Brecon Beacons and Carmarthenshire could be added at a later date. In 1936 H A Marquand, Professor of Industrial Relations at University College, Cardiff published ‘South Wales needs a Plan’. He called for a fully comprehensive plan for all walks of life, not just town and country planning.
In 1949, the ‘South Wales Outline Plan for the South Wales and Monmouthshire Development Area (exc. the Borough of Pembroke)’ by T Alwyn Lloyd assisted by Dewi-Prys Thomas, was published. It urged major new housing development at Cwmbran, Tonyrefail, Pontyclun and near Bridgend. There was to be a new town for 50,000 people at Mynyddislwyn.
During this period there was a total lack of comprehensive planning to benefit rural Wales. In the depression after the First World War certain nationalist and radical movements in Wales, including Plaid Cymru, were watching the success of the Tennessee Valley Authority in eastern USA. By utilising the water resources of a rural area many times larger than Wales to generate electricity, provide rural electrification, improve transport and create temporary and permanent employment the rural economy and living conditions were transformed. Yet in Wales more purely exploitive valley drownings to supply English cities were proposed, such as at Dyffryn Ceiriog, Llangynog and Dolanog. Were reservoirs the wind farms of their day? The concept of ‘national parks’ was examined by the Addison committee in 1931. While supporting the principle for Snowdonia and the Pembrokeshire Coast, it did not propose definite areas. Was the water supply lobby the reason for excluding the Brecon Beacons? The area suggested for ‘Snowdonia’ extended much further east than the eventual post war designation.
What was missing in the rural planning of rural Wales in this period was the concept in Welsh of ‘Lles Cymdeithaso’” – namely social welfare of benefit to the host area. This was the TVA approach. What happened was ‘Lles Llywodraethol’ – being the greater good for wider society, without any specific
consideration of local benefit.
What were the visible results of the first forty years of statutory planning in Wales?
Garden Villages throughout Wales are one type of inheritance from this early period of planning. The Welsh Town Planning and Housing Trust promoted Welshpool, Wrecsam Acton Park, Llanidloes, Barry and Rhiwbina. All was not doom and gloom in the south Wales coalfield. More enlightened colliery owners built superior housing for their workforce at Llwynypia, Oakdale, Markham, Wylie and Cefn Fforest. The industrial estate at Trefforest was commenced. In rural areas the drowning of agricultural communities did at least lead to new planned villages at Cwm Elan and Llanwddyn. Aluminium manufacture lead to the building of a new village at Dolgarrog. Following the opening of Wales’ first oil refinery east of Swansea,
Llandarcy village was built in the1920s. There is thus considerable visible and documentary evidence of the settlements of Wales being improved by planning under the early legislation and the vision of a few. In north Wales the City of Bangor is evidence to many small and larger developments. In south Wales the author’s native Swansea progressive actions are tended to be overlooked in favour of Cardiff.
Clive is part of a small team working on a RTPI Cymru Centenary History project .