The Coming of the New Town 3

Sutton Hill continued

However the report did touch on a problem which had increasingly been troubling the newcomers and that was the increased cost of living at Sutton Hill. A cost of living survey undertaken on the estate during the autumn of 1968 showed that up to one third of the families there were having problems in making ends meet. (Dawley Observer, 6 November 1968).

This was caused by several factors –

  • a lack of local jobs
  • the tenants were expected to pay more rent for their new houses than for the older houses they had occupied in the Black Country and Birmingham
  • having to buy a car because of the inadequate public transport system
  • hire purchase to furnish new homes
  • incomes as yet were on the low side in comparison with the rents and prices in the shops were slightly more expensive than in the Black Country.
  • no nurseries which would allow mothers to go out to work
  • the high cost of heating the new houses

The clean air/smokeless zone policy had meant that the new houses were heated by electricity. Many residents incurred large electricity bills, which they blamed on the inefficiency of the central heating systems and poor standard of house building (ill fitting doors etc) while the Development Corporation attributed the high bills to the fact that the residents were unused to controlling this form of heating. (Dawley Observer 27 March 1968). Later in the year, the children of Sutton Hill were faced with solving the problem of how Father Christmas could visit them in their new chimney-less homes. (Dawley Observer, 25 December 1968).

Temporary respite was found by persuading the electricity company to reduce the fuel bills slightly and by the Corporation giving a rent rebate to New Town tenants. (Dawley Observer, 1 January 1969).

But it was urgent that the problem be addressed. It was feared that these problems would lead to a mass exodus from the estate and in the same six months, March — September 1968, quoted above, 105 families left Sutton Hill, mostly to buy houses in other parts of Shropshire. There was the problem too that as the area of New Town doubled to include Wellington and Oakengates at the end of 1968, that the Corporation would be subsidising twice as many newcomers. This in turn would have a knock-on effect in the rest of Shropshire which would only benefit from the new town if the new people could pay for the services provided by the county council. (Dawley Observer 1 January 1969).

The problems at Sutton Hill went to central government. They were taken on by the local MP, Jasper More. As MP for Ludlow he could see how a failing new town would affect the rest of his constituency. The Sutton Hill Residents Association wished to lobby the Minister with responsibility for new towns, Kenneth, Robinson, at Westminster but he refused to meet them. Instead he visited Sutton Hill in July 1969, met the protesters, listened to their arguments but backed the Development Corporation. The Sutton Hill residents did write to the prime minister, Harold Wilson, telling him that the estate could be ‘a swinging place’ if the government gave it more help in various areas – especially in encouraging larger industries to relocate to the new town by giving Telford development area status. (Dawley Observer, 22 January 1969).

It had always been recognised that the success of the new town depended on the ability to balance the provision of new houses for workers with the location of industries to the designated area. Two areas for industrial development were identified within the Madeley district, both to the east – at Tweedale, the site of an old canal basin and at Halesfield, the site of the which had been a productive coalmine right up to its closure in 1966. The experience at Tweedale is a poor example of the professionalism of TDC planners. It came as a surprise to developers that a disused canal crossed the site – a feature which is obvious on any old map of the area and which remains on its course in Blists Hill. ‘As perverse chance would have it, none of the site investigation trial holes had struck the line of the canal’.(Don Fenter, Chief Architect for Dawley Development Corporation – De Soissons).

At Halesfield the Development Corporation inherited the problems of taking over Coal Board land. Development here meant that the pits would never be re-opened thus denying many local miners of work, unless they travelled to Granville pit, and cutting the local community from its industrial past. Kemberton had been the last pit of the scores operating in Madeley during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Despite the problems with the canal bed, the Dawley Observer of 7 June 1967 was able to report on the number of new industries that had settled in the nursery and standard factories at Tweedale. (10 small companies had relocated or set up regional offices in the area employing some local people). Throughout the period industrial building kept pace with the building of houses. The Corporation of Wolverhampton offered to help attract businesses by sending any enquiries for industrial development that it could not satisfy to Dawley. There were no restrictions on the type of industry that could be accepted in the New Town.

Statistics were kept on the employment of the newcomers at Sutton Hill. In the same six months of March – September 1968, 29% of those newcomers were employed within the New Town, 10% were retired or unemployed and the other 61% were employed elsewhere in Shropshire or back in the Birmingham area. By January 1969, the Dawley Observer was able to produce a special supplement on the industries with units on Halesfield. Some were new companies, some had relocated from other parts of the designated area, such as Coalbrookdale, and others had relocated or expanded from the Black Country. The larger industrial units at Halesfield could attract the bigger companies and BAT and Brintons were among the first to set up factories there.

The story of Sutton Hill is one of continual development. (During the 1970’s land was sold for private house development). In 1988, several blocks of unsuccessful houses were sold to a private developer, who promptly partially demolished and rebuilt them (the former Severn Walk, know known as “Shawfield Close” after a former nearby colliery). Today Sutton Hill and Woodside have been identified for redevelopment again as the thirty-year life of the housing stock comes to an end.