Post-war reconstruction and replanning

Aspects of reconstruction planning – especially focusing on the post-Second World War period – have become respectable in a number of disciplines including planning history, urban design and geography, and there has been a particular burst of activity from the early 1990s onwards. Aspects of this replanning have been studied by members of the Research Centre, individually and in collaboration with a range of scholars from other organisations and countries.

Only recently, however, has the basic work been carried out to establish the number, type and authorship of the large number of post-World War II reconstruction plans in the UK (Larkham and Lilley, 2001). It has become evident that the dynamics of reconstruction planning in this country differ significantly from other countries at the same period; and the nature of plans changed between the early 1940s and the early 1950s.

A substantial number of these plans were prepared not for those towns and cities suffering most from wartime damage; nor were the majority prepared by eminent professional planners. Instead, many were prepared for little- or un-damaged towns by the professional planning officers of those towns. Much of the critical literature has focused on the 'great planners' and their 'great plans', or on major cities at the expense of the more numerous, more minor plans and places.

Research based at Birmingham City University has gone on to explore a number of issues:

  • the agents and agencies involved in reconstruction planning
  • the costs of reconstruction planning
  • the consultation techniques used, including exhibitions and the imagery of displays and publications
  • how ideas of urban design developed in reconstruction plans
  • how ideas of conservation developed in reconstruction plans
  • reconstruction planning and place promotion

There has been a particular focus on smaller, less well-studied towns and their plans; particular places examined have included:

  • the Black Country boroughs of Bilston and Dudley
  • the South Coast resorts
  • Valletta, Malta
  • Walsall
  • Warwick
  • Wolverhampton
  • the City of London and its bombed churches

The research has been supported at various times by Leverhulme Research Fellowships awarded to Professor Peter Larkham and Dr Joe Nasr, and Professor David Chapman’s work on Malta has been facilitated through his work as a Planning Adviser to the Malta Environment and Planning Agency.

We are interested in developing further collaborative ventures and projects in this broad area.

Reconstruction and modern catastrophe

Peter Larkham was interviewed by the Oriental Morning Post on the lessons of British post-war reconstruction and how they could be applied to the 2008 Chinese earthquake: this appeared on 2 June.

The most unexpected finding from this research?

Immediately after the severe bombing of Coventry in 1940, the owner of Witley Court, a country house in Worcestershire that had burned down in the 1930s, wrote to the City Council offering to sell the surviving ornate stonework and fountains to help with the city's rebuilding. The offer was quickly rejected. The rebuilt Coventry could have looked very different!

(The surviving ruins of Witley Court are now managed by English Heritage.)