The post-war new towns legislation in Britain stems from the appointment in 1945 of a Committee under Lord Reith, which was invited to report on:
‘The general question of the establishment, development, organisation and administration that will arise in the promotion of new towns in furtherance of the policy of planned decentralisation from congested urban areas in accordance therewith to suggest guiding principles on which such towns should be established and developed as self-contained and balance communities for work and living’.
As Minister of Town and Country Planning in the Labour Government of 1945, Lewis Silkin introduced the New Towns Act 1946, embodying Reith’s Committee proposals. Under this Act, the Government was given power to designate, by Order, any area of land on which it considered that new town development should take place in the national interest.
The statutory designation of a new town site had to be preceded by consultation with the local authorities and a right of objection for individuals concerned. Once the site had been designated, a Development Corporation was established under the Act and given special powers to discharge this remit, subject only to specific Ministerial approval at well defined junctures. These included power to acquire land (compulsorily if necessary); to draw on Exchequer finances; and to apply directly to the Minister for the equivalent of planning permission.
In 1947, Easington Rural District Council applied under this legislation for designated status for a new town – which was granted hence the creation of Peterlee. The application of Easington Rural District Council was based on the report ‘Farewell Squalor’. The author of this report was the Council’s Engineer and Surveyor at the time – Mr. C. W. Clarke.
Briefly, the case for a new town consisted of the poor quality housing in the district, miners houses were too close to the mines. The houses were substandard and lacked the basic amenities. The environmental outlook was poor. New and better housing was required and it proposed that the New Town should satisfy the housing demands of the district over a period of 20 years. Peterlee was proposed to be a social and commercial centre.
In addition to satisfying the housing needs for the District of Easington, the Development Corporation was charged with the task of attracting industry to the area, thus bringing alternative employment for those men surplus to the requirements of the mining industry, and to the women for whom at the time, very little employment was available. This position has changed dramatically since the inception of the town by virtue of the decline of the mining industry. The emphasis on attracting industry continues to be a prime objective.
The housing situation has also changed since the early 1950’s. In the early days, the Development Corporation’s directive was to satisfy the housing needs of the Easington Rural District; therefore, allocation of houses in the town was effected through the Joint Allocation Committee, consisting of representatives of Easington District Rural Council and the Peterlee Development Corporation.
Inevitably, in the early years of development, the intake of tenants contained a preponderance of people engaged in the mining industry. With the continuing development of industry and the decline of the mining industry, this situation no longer applies and the town has a much more balanced population.
From 1945 until 1956, Peterlee remained part of the parishes of Shotton, Horden and Easington because, with the exception of a few farms, there were very few dwellings and the designated area of the town was mainly farmland. Peterlee was granted parish status in 1956. It then had a population of approximately 8,590, covering an area of 2,007 acres. The target population for the new town was 30,000 upon its completion.
Peterlee Parish Council resolved to become a Town Council in 1974 under the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972. It then has an estimated population of 22,855 with 7,427 dwelling houses. Responsibility for housing matters in Peterlee transferred to Easington District Council on 1st May 1978. Peterlee Development Corporation went out of existence on 31st March 1988.