The picture above is from Watering Lane in 1972 looking North towards what is now East Hunsbury.
TOWN OR COUNTRY ?
2015 is the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the biggest expansion programme in Northampton’s history and 30 years since the wind up of Northampton Development Corporation (NDC), the body that oversaw the growth programme. The expansion programme had a big impact on the small villages around Northampton – like Collingtree.
In the 1960’s, the Government earmarked Northampton to take on a big slice of London’s overspill population. Until then, new towns were built on green field sites like Milton Keynes but planners thought it easier and cheaper to expand existing towns, rather than start from scratch.
The old Northampton County Borough had wanted to expand the town’s employment base for many years and wanted to extend its boundaries to include Duston in the east and Weston Favell in the west. This was resisted Northamptonshire County Council who would lose the rateable income, and by Duston businesses and residents.
It was all taking too long, so in 1964, following the publication of the South East Study which forecast a huge increase in London’s population, the incoming Labour Government identified several areas that could absorb this growth. On 3rd February 1965, Richard Crossman, the Minister of Housing (pictured below) told the House of Commons that Northampton, Ipswich and Peterborough had been selected for major expansion schemes and that each of them would accept induced growth of 70,000.
The body created to manage this expansion was the Northampton Development Corporation (NDC), which managed the whole process, from the original designation and acquisition of land through to the creation and building of new communities: housing estates, shopping centres, services and leisure facilities. For the next sixteen years, the Corporation actively promoted the town to new residents and relocating business and oversaw a whole range of practical matter from architectural design to community policing.
The news came as a shock to local councillors, residents and particularly landowners who would be subject to compulsory purchase. One of them speaking in 1885, recalled:
It was quite horrifying. The first thing that hit us was one nine o’clock TV news when it was announced that Northampton was to be one of the towns selected for expansion. And we were only four miles away from the borough boundary! Immediately one thought, Good grief! Where is the development to take place? Will it cover us? We learnt eventually that of our total holding of 406 acres some 60 fell into the proposed expansion area. We had already lost land through the M1 motorway running through the middle of our farm in the fifties.
Despite the initial shock, the County and Borough authorities together with the NDC, worked out a partnership approach to expansion that at that time was unique in the New Towns programme and enabled a rate of growth unprecedented in previous town expansions.
But this new approach to town planning caused dismay in the small villages all around Northampton including Collingtree: a tiny, rural parish just minding its own business; the sort of place that never made the headlines or caused a fuss.
But small though it was Collingtree was not willing to be pushed around. It began to stick up for itself in a way that still goes on today, 50 years later.
The first battle was over where the NDC would draw the boundary lines for this new expanded Northampton because within them would be built all the new roads, houses and factories. Getting agreement on this boundary took years of horse trading between the Government, County and Borough Councils.
It was made more difficult because, at the same time, the government was trying to push through the complete overhaul of Local Government. This changed the balance of power between Counties and Boroughs and swept away hundreds of small rural councils.
The Independent Inspector, appointed to recommend the new boundary lines, was well aware of how worried the villages like Collingtree were. At the Public Inquiry he said:
“ I was particularly impressed by the community spirit of the villages both inside and outside the Designated Area which was marked by the evidence of social activities, associations and local organisations, and by the attractive and sympathetic development which has preserved many of their original characteristics while accepting new development. Unless great care is taken in planning the new town, much of this will be lost”
This was what Collingtree was afraid of. In those days it was a parish of only 283 electors. Surrounded by open fields and had little to do with Northampton which was six miles away.
The Chairman of the Parish Council at the time was Jim Patrick (pictured below) and he spoke for the village when he told the Inquiry that Collingtree shouldn’t be dragged into their expansion plan.
Together with his fellow councillors, he took a leading role in protecting as much as possible of the village from Northampton’s expansion. They based their case on the village’s long history, its rural character and above all, its strong sense of community.
Everyone in the village knew each other – attended the same events – sat in the same church – met in the same pub and chatted on the same street corners. As Jim Patrick told the inquiry:
“ We are more than apprehensive that any further influx, within the parish, would stultify, if not kill off completely, the community spirit which is existing, is more than happy and which we desire to preserve
The village watched anxiously as plans were drawn up and local government was reorganised. In 1974 Northampton Borough Council lost many of its old powers – but its boundary was extended to take in all the land to be included in the expansion plans of the newly created Northampton Development Corporation
The southern boundary of Northampton Borough was drawn along the route of the M1 motorway which meant that Collingtree was no longer a rural parish and became lumped in with the urban borough. Town was taking over from country.
This was fiercely resisted. Old and new villagers joined together to argue that Collingtree was a rural community and had nothing to do with the affairs of the town.
Everyone, old village families and new arrivals, threw their weight behind the Parish Council in fighting to protect the village identity and its way of life– and to a large extent they succeeded
They argued that a real community identity is based on - common interests – a balance between new and old – a sense of ownership – places to meet – knowing who your neighbours are – and enough open space to breathe.
The Development Corporation did take note. In the final Master Plan it left the open fields and parkland around as White Land, unallocated for development. Protection Orders were placed on most of the fine trees, especially those in the old parkland created by Pickering Phipps.
The ancient High Street was designated as a Conservation Area and, most crucial of all, no road access was allowed into the village from the housing estates being built in East and West Hunsbury.
But the threat of development still remained. In the late 1970’, a new phase of Northampton’s expansion was being planned and there were proposals to bring vast new housing estates right up to the edge of the village.
In the early days the main focus for expansion had been in the Eastern District of the Designated Area with the building of large estates of mainly rented housing. In 1979/80 attention moved to the Southern District with open fields fields in what is now East and West Hunsbury, being sold to developers for private housing.
Collingtree once again organised itself. Led by the Parish Council, it argued that it had already absorbed more than its fair share of new building as well as coping with the massive increase traffic growth on the M1 and the A508.
Once again, the village voice was heard. The plans were changed to stop Collingtree being swamped and in 1987, a mini-green belt in the form of a Championship Golf Course was built.
But fifty years on, Collingtree and the south of Northampton still remains a target for development and still battles to hang on to its rural roots.See page link Planning & Development
Footnote: When it wound up in 1985, the NDC had added 40,000 to the population, built over 15,000 houses and enabled another 5,000 privately, overseen the building of 4m sq ft of factories and warehouses, provided over 400 acres of Playing Fields and open space, built 44 miles of new roads - and ten pubs!