Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Monorail City

The first plan for the new city was developed by Buckinghamshire County Council and was known as the "Monorail City". It was the brainchild of Fred Pooley, then the County Architect. He envisioned a series of residential districts, each of about 5000 people. Each district would have its own shops and primary schools, and the whole would be connected by a monorail light railway, which would continuously loop the new city. It was very futuristic.

‘The envisaged city is based on a free public travel monorail system, as it becomes even clearer that traditional cities and streets are now showing themselves incapable of handling the car. A new town must look beyond car saturation point and deal with the problem of alternative means of transport. The plan brings a new lease of life to North Bucks which has for long been regarded as the frozen and forgotten north, and has come about because the south of the county has almost reached saturation point.’

The Pooley Plan was called ‘A City for the 70s’. Housing and industry was to be planned around the Monorail routes. No dwellings would be more than five minutes walk away from work and amenities, and high density housing areas, each of 5,000 people, would be developed around the Monorail stations. Between these areas light industry was to be accommodated with - in order to considerably minimise travel - heavy industry situated within its own areas. Open space would be enclosed by the monorail routes as an amenity, and also to provide sites for schools, clinics and hospitals. No dwelling would be in excess of a 10 minute walk from the school by which it was served, and these areas would be completely free from vehicular traffic. The monorail system would be free to passengers, with 15 minutes as the maximum journey time from outer terminus to city centre. Shopping facilities and the city centre would be built both over the main lines of communication and at the interchange point of the monorail system, and to offer the maximum choice all shops, except housing area corner shops, would be built in the city centre. 

In the 1960s dense high rise housing was seen to be the answer to England's housing problems. What could possibly be wrong with multi-storey buildings? Most cities were affected by this idea. Old 19th century streets were bulldozed to be replaced by high rise flats. Even Wolverton and Bletchley were not immune from this concept and it was about this time that the Little Streets were flattened to make way for high rise buildings.

We have since learned to our cost that this type of housing is socially disastrous and about 30 years after they were built these new blocks of flats were themselves demolished.

Perhaps we should also remember that car ownership (although increasing at the time) was nowhere near as common as it is today and much of society was still geared to walking to work or taking the bus.

When the Milton Keynes Development Corporation was formed Bucks County Council and the local councils were sidelined. MKDC brought in some top town planners and they quickly jettisoned the Pooley Plan - and a good thing too.

One wonders also how Bletchley and Wolverton, which were left out of this plan, would have fared as satellites of the new city. Hmmmm!

Frank Atter, a leading councillor in Wolverton at the time was scornful of the Pooley Plan.

“They (monorail systems) have never proved to be an economic proposition anywhere,” being only acceptable to “a government of architectural maniacs.” Of Fred Pooley’s three schemes he described the city proposal as “fantastic” whilst the option of a regional centre with ‘satellite housing-only towns’ “really gets my back up.”

As to what to preserve in the area, he said that frankly there wasn’t much worth preserving in Wolverton or New Bradwell. 

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