Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The Basildon Development Corporations Plans

First Master Plan

The first task of the Corporation was to work on a Master Plan of development of Basildon.
The Technical Report which accompanied that first plan in 1951 is now an historical document.

Up to the end of the 19th Century the whole of the part of Essex that contained Basildon was typical farming country. "With the coming of the direct railway from London to Shoeburyness in 1888 there was a change. People from the East end of London began to migrate here. Agriculture was depressed at this time and in 1890 Viscount Down sol Pitsea Hall Farm to the Land Company. Land divided into plots between 1901 - 1903, "Champagne Sales" were held. Then more land was divided into plots at Pitsea, Vange, Langdon Hills and Laindon. The great invasion from the East end of London started after the 1914/18 war, because of housing shortages and hunger for land. Many became Weekenders. Acute housing shortages after the 1939/49 war caused nearly all the plotland dwellings to become permanently occupied. Apart from Laindon Hills, the area was not well wooded. Many of the larger hedgerow trees had been cut down where development had taken place, while many of those remaining were Elms which had been attacked by disease. Bramble and thorn scrub had grown up in extensive areas of vacant land.

Pattern of Development

The designated area cover 7,834 acres, being less than six miles long from east to west and three miles across from north to south. Of this total area, some 4,300 acres consisted of scattered development - smallholding and wasteland which had been sold off for building but never built upon. The remaining 3,500 acres was farmland of variable quality.
The developed area of 4,300 acres contained a population of about 25,000 people, or not quite six people to an acre. This population was chiefly centred in two districts - Laindon - Langdon Hills -Lee Chapel to the west and Pitsea - Vange - Basildon to the east.

Climate - low rainfall and was one of the driest in England

Geology - Nearly the whole of the designated area was covered with London Clay, the only exceptions being small areas of Claygate beds and Bagshot sand capping the high ground (VangeHills and Langdon Hills) and an are of alluvium on Pitsea and Vange marshes.
Under this heading in the Report, specific mention was made of London Clay belt which could affect foundations of buildings constructed in the area - a fact which constantly plagued the planners in their quest to find new building methods in later years.
The London Clay, said the Report, was a stiff brown clay down to a depth of 10 feet, below which was a blue-brown clay. "This clay shrinks and cracks when dried in normal summer weather down to a depth of about three feet."
Shrinkage of the clay to greater depths was often caused by tree toots which withdrew moisture from the clay up to 10 feet from the end of their roots which normally spread to a distance equal to the height of the tree.
Sulphate concentrations were generally present in the dry clay and in the ground water in such proportions as to require the use of high alumina cement for foundations and for the sewer constructions over four feet depth. The sulphate also attacks iron pipes, said the Report.

Sewers - It was stated that of the 8,550 properties in the Basildon area, over 6,000 were not connected to the sewer. Those connected included 1,400 in Laindon and Langdon Hills; 350 in Basildon, Nevendon and part of Pitsea and 800 in Vange and part of Pitsea.

Roads - Within the designated area there were 16.5 miles of existing classified roads, 20.3 miles of adopted roads and some 78.2 miles of unmade roads.

Traffic - The Report referred to congestion at week-ends on the A.13 and A.127 roads with traffic flows being in the region of 890 and 1,600 vehicles an hour respectively. It said Police control was often necessary on the A.127 at the Laindon roundabout; the Cricketers crossroads at Nevendon and on the A.13 at the Rectory Road, Pitsea, junction.

Bus Services - Considering the Report was dated 1951, the bus services existing in the district compared most favourably with those 30 years later.
For example, five companies operated in the area and they provided from Laindon, a half-hourly service to Billericay and an hourly service to Brentwood, Chelmsford, Corringham, Clacton, Grays and Tilbury.
Buses also met trains from Laindon Station and went on a circular route round the town via the High Road, Wash Road, Pipps Hill, Basildon Road, Arterial Road and back to Laindon Station.
From Pitsea, bus travellers had a 10 minute service to Southend and Grays; a half hourly service to Wickford and an hourly service to Romford. Buses going to Basildon also met most trains from Pitsea Station.

Land Use - Rather less than half the designated area of 7,834 acres was under cultivation, according to the Report. "The farmland is not first class but is regarded by the Minister of Agriculture as of value for corn production." Some 3,128 were farmed privately and 420 came under the Essex Agricultural Committee. Another 380 acres was cultivated by smallholders.

Conditions of Dwellings - The Report disclosed that only just over 3,000 of the 8,716 properties in the designated area came up to the standards required by the Housing Acts of 1936. Of these, only 2,045 were of brick and tile construction and some 1,880 were either of bad structure or condition or derelict.

Population Density - The existing population of Basildon in 1951 - estimated at 25,000 - was spread out at about six persons to the acre. The low residential density was caused by large amounts of undeveloped land within the substantially developed areas. Also, it was due to the "great depth and wide frontages of many of the developed plots."

Problems facing the Planners

These were:

1. The awkward shape of the area (6 miles by 3 miles) bounded on the north and south by major roads.

2. The bisection of the area by a railway running from east to west; the ground to the north being undulating (40 ft to 190 ft above ordnance datum0 and the ground to the south being hilly (10 ft to 370 ft above ordnance datum); the unsuitability of much of the latter for development not only on account of the slopes but because of its landscape value over a wide area.

3. The existence of two centres of urban sprawl - Laindon in the west with a population of 12,000 and Pitsea three and a half miles to the east with a population of 13,000.

4. The existence of two considerable areas of land difficult to drain - one in the centre running out to the northern boundary and the other in the north eastern corner of the area.

5. The existence of a large number of sub-standard properties at a very low density; many miles of unmade roads without sewers and metalled roads going back to the time when the area was agricultural.

Summary of the Master Plan proposals

1. The establishment of a balanced town of 80,000 people.

2. A main road plan forming a wide letter 'H' with the two existing major roads, the A.127 and the A.13, making the two uprights.

3. The vital function of the Town Centre if it were to succeed commercially, was to be the focus of town life and of the region. It was therefore sited in the centre of the area. As the land to the north of the centre was difficult to drain, it was to be left for recreational use (eventually Gloucester Park).

4. Industry was sited in two reasonably level areas of ground alongside the Arterial Road, it being considered that good road communications were more important to industries than direct access to railway sidings. The report suggested these areas which covered about 328 acres would provide work for 16,000 people and have good communications to all parts of the town.

5. With regard to housing, three new housing neighbourhoods were planned, which together with the six existing areas of Laindon, Lee Chapel. Langdon Hills, Vange, Basildon and Pitsea would make up nine areas altogether. Each was to be provided with its own primary schools, shops and playing fields etc.

6. The existing major shopping centres of Laindon and Vange/Pitsea were to be retained but reduced from a straggle along classified roads to compact shopping areas.

7. Thirteen secondary school sites (two existing) would be sited between neighbourhoods, partly to break up the continuous flow of housing but mainly because the sites would be accessible to the catchment areas they would serve. A College of Further Education was sited in a central position north of the town centre. (N.B This was later changed from Gloucester Park to the eventual site in Nethermayne).

8. The needs of service industry were to be met by the provision of four sites, three of them next to the railway stations at Laindon, Pitsea, and the proposed new Basildon station. A fourth site north of Laindon was considered ripe for development and would be used to meet immediate needs while the others were being established.

9. Provision would be made for public open space and playing fields on a scale of 8.8 acres per 1,000 population. This would be sited throughout the developed area of the town in such a way as to preserve the best landscape features and to provide a continuous flow of unbuilt-on lands on strategic lines within the town. Over 2,000 acres would remain in agricultural use.

10. Sparsely developed plotlands to the extreme west (Dunton) North of the Arterial Road and in small areas elsewhere, was earmarked for ultimate return to agriculture.

The Report stated that owing to existing conditions, it was impossible to provide Green Belt all round the town within the designated area. The provision of this Belt therefore rested with the Essex County Council in controlling development outside the boundaries of the town.

Snippets from continuation "107 acres were set aside of the planning of the Town Centre - the land allocated included - administrative buildings 16 acres; commercial buildings 39 acres; and cultural and recreational buildings 27 acres."

Parking provision for 2,000 cars, a figure which was then way ahead of other normal towns but which due to the mushroom growth of car ownership, was to prove vastly inadequate later on.

At this time the intention was to have only 270 shops in the town centre and another 100 each at Laindon/Langdon Hills and Pitsea/Vange. A further 100 would spread around the housing neighbourhoods.

"Steps must be taken by the Development Corporation and the Planning Authority" the Report continued, "to improve the standards of design and construction of all buildings put up in the designated area and to see that they are in the right place.

"The present development is scattered haphazardly over about 4,300 acres of land. To continue and to consolidate such a sprawl can only make the creation of a New Town more difficult and more expensive" it concluded.