London is overflowing and the cost of living is increasing at a frightening rate. Home ownership is beyond most and young people are finding that they’re paying a substantial proportion of their wages just to live somewhere habitable. There is virtually no social housing being built, and despite contractual stipulations affordable housing is something developers continually ‘forget’ to build. We’ve been here before. After World War II, the New Towns Act was passed in 1946, which sparked a surge in construction in order to provide housing for the overspills in major cities. Basildon was one of the first wave of new towns to be designated.
In January 1949, Lewis Silkin (Minister of Town and Country Planning) officially afforded Basildon the status of a New Town. At just over thirty miles east of central London, the largely farming community was suddenly overrun by an influx from the East End. It was pitched as a new utopia, with everything you could possibly need contained within its borders. It didn’t even have a train station, because everyone would live and work there. Christopher Ian Smith’s new documentary tells its story.
New Town Utopia tells the story of what can happen when imagination runs rife, planning control is largely secondary and almost unlimited funding is pumped into an area. We live in a period where new towns are a distinct possibility, and Smith paints a cautionary picture. In the end, the demise of Basildon is largely down to inept local councillors and central government pulling the plug on funding. Speaking to residents and artists, New Town Utopia meets those fighting against austerity and poverty through art, music and culture. It’s a fascinating portrait of the rise and fall of a community and a movement.
New Town Utopia is out in cinemas from 4th May.