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Suburbanisation: characteristics, causes and effects.

Suburbanisation can be defined as the outward growth of urban development which may engulf surrounding villages and towns into a larger urban agglomeration. Indeed, the suburbs are the outlying areas of a city which are close enough to the city centre to be accessible by commuters.

Both people and businesses can be involved in this suburbanisation process.

Essentially it is a part of urbanisation, in that it increases the proportion of people that live in towns and cities in comparison to those in rural areas. As suburbs grow they attract both people from rural areas AND from inner city and CBD areas, who are attracted by the greater amount of space within the suburb. Suburbanisation results in the physical spreading of a city into surrounding countryside areas, known as URBAN SPRAWL, and this puts pressure on greenfield sites and on nature. In Britain the suburbs are predominantly residential in nature and have often rural characteristics such as larger gardens and to tree-lined avenues.

Types of suburbs

Not all suburbs are the same, and there are several distinguishable types. Although many suburbs are populated by the urban middle class, they are not uniform in many respects. In the UK, the TIME when they were built, the planners that were involved and the physical surroundings of the environment can all influence the characteristics and layout of a suburb.

1. During the industrial revolution, richer classes fled to suburbs away from industrial areas, living in large terraced town houses (e.g. Jesmond in Newcastle is North of the city and well away from the old industrial areas south along the river).

2. During the interwar period plot sizes where ample and semi-detached and detached housing was favoured in many locations, High Heaton in Newcastle is a good example of this. Recreational facilities, local shops and low building densities were characteristic features.

3. More recently land prices have risen, and land is at a premium as population grows in Britain, so building densities have increased and many modern suburbs include flats and taller town houses with smaller gardens. Cunning developers can also market detached houses with little space between the buildings.

4. Councils also built social housing estates at the edge of cities, such as Kenton in Newcastle.

Causes of suburbanisation
1. Suburban house building has also been affected by transport and communication innovations - continuing improvements of routes to the city centre, the development of underground railways, tram lines, etc. have all affected the suburbs and their development. 1
2. The development of telecommunications including the internet allows people to home work
3. High housing prices in the centre of cities forces people to look elsewhere
4. Push factors from the inner city could also be a cause, with populations seeking to escape possible crime and perceptions of low quality environments. 2

All of these factors mean that suburbs may actually be quite varied in their size and type of housing. Newcastle Great Park, for example, is perfectly placed alongside the A1 in Newcastle. These patterns are further complicated in Britain because we have huge social housing projects (council housing) that have provided affordable housing for people generally on lower incomes, also in suburban locations. In addition, it should be considered that suburbs in Britain are not the same as suburbs in other European cities and suburbs in the USA and Australia. These tend to be much lower density and increase dependency upon the car.

Positives and negatives of suburbanisation: 
Positives and negatives of suburbanisation


The housing and suburbanisation issue

Suburbanisation is a big issue in the UK because it is a reasonably small country in terms of surface area which has a large and growing population (the ONS thinks we could hit 70 million people in 2033)3. This gives Britain a high population density, particularly in the South of the country. The result of this is housing shortages and high property prices. The number of households has risen by 30% in the UK since 1971 and in part this is because more and more people live on their own. This is coupled with rising life expectancies and high levels of immigration, all combining to produce a housing shortage. The UK has a housing crisis, the National Housing Federation released a report in 2019 stating that “the country needed 340,000 new homes every year, including 145,000 social homes, to meet the housing demand” 4

WHERE SHOULD THESE HOUSES BE BUILT? There are 2 possibilities, on brownfield sites or on greenfield sites.

Greenfield site– a term used to describe any area of land that has not been developed previously.

Brownfield site – an old industrial or inner city site that is cleared for a new building development.

Unfortunately, many greenfield sites are in the green belt. The greenbelt is a tract of open land consisting of farmland woodland, and open recreational areas surrounding urban areas. They are protected by law from new building, unless the government deems it necessary to build there.

Advantages of building on Greenfield sites Advantages of building on Brownfield sites

1) There is no need to clean up the site from previous land uses therefore can work out cheaper.

2) Existing road networks are not in place so don't restrict planning

3) They are often on the edges of cities where land is cheaper

4) Planners and architects have a blank canvas to work with

5) More space is available for gardens

6) The edge of city countryside environment can appeal to buyers and businesses.

7) Sites on the edge of the city are often close to major motorways providing great access

1) It is more sustainable as existing developed land is being used

2) They stop city expansion as they are already within the city - this stops the loss of countryside and reduces journey times as the city is more compact

3) Road networks already exist, as do electricity and gas networks, although these may need updating

4) It is easier to gain planning permission as councils are keen to reuse the brownfield sites.

5) The sites are closer to the CBD for shopping and job opportunities

Building in the green belt on undeveloped green field sites is a very controversial and contentious issue. The fact that land is cheaper and often more accessible at the edge of the city has meant that Light industry (e.g. Atmel at Silverlink), High Tech Industry (e.g. Sage at Newcastle Great Park) and retail (e.g. the Metro Centre) like to locate there. One such controversial scheme was developed at the Northern Edge of Newcastle upon Tyne, at Newcastle Great Park.

Case study of Urban Sprawl and the Brownfield versus Greenfield debate – Newcastle Great Park (greenbelt) and Scotswood (inner city)

Newcastle Great Park is controversial housing and high-tech industrial scheme developed at the Northern edge of the city within the greenbelt. Building of the suburb started in 2001. It is located in the north of Newcastle next to Gosforth and the government gave special permission for this development to go ahead.

Newcastle Great Park regional Map NGP land use

There are many different interest groups who think the development should go ahead including the developers (Persimmons homes), the government and the council and some homeowners. Conservationists and environmentalists, some homeowners and some urban planners think the scheme is a bad idea. Newcastle Great Park (NGP) is also close to the A1 road.

Homes at Newcastle Great Park

It is a major development with land allocated for:

  • A Business Park
  • Housing
  • Town Centre
  • Schools
  • Nursery Provision
  • Community Facilities
  • Open Space
  • Play Areas and Outdoor Sport

The scheme is being delivered by the Great Park Consortium, which includes the house builders Persimmon Homes, and Taylor Wimpey. Parts of the development have also been built by Barratt.

Arguments for NGP Arguments against NGP

1. Originally 2,500 new homes in a parkland setting of 442 hectares have been completed. An extra 1,200 homes were announced to be built from 2018.

2. There will be 80 hectares of commercial development which could generate jobs. Newcastle computer group Sage have their £50m headquarters there. The software firm's 575,000 sq ft building headquarters provides jobs for 1,500 workers.

3. Income has been generated for the developers

4. There is an integrated transport plan which will see every home not more than 400 metres from a bus stop, 27km of cycle routes in and around NGP, a discount cycle purchase scheme for residents and a car share database on the Internet. 5

5. A full-time ranger will be employed to manage the country park to ensure local wildlife conservation.

6. The development lies adjacent to the A1, which will be widened and improved, and is within easy reach of the airport, providing excellent opportunities for national and international travel.

7. Originally, it was hoped that the scheme will slow down the net loss of 1,500 people per year who migrate from Newcastle.

8. There has been money put into landscaping and Sustainable urban drainage in the park, wetland and reed bed areas designed to reduce the amount of flooding.


9. Brunton First School opened in September 2009 and there are plans for a 1,200 pupil secondary school.

1. The three-storey properties priced from £200,000 are well beyond the average wage of people in Newcastle.

2. Environmentalists are concerned about the impact upon Red Squirrel (an endangered species) and deer populations which inhabit this area North of Newcastle.

3. The NGP housing plans contradict the principles of no/little development in the Green Belt. The greenbelt was designed to prevent urban sprawl into countryside areas which have recreation and agricultural uses.

4. There is space for around 20,000 high quality homes on brownfield sites near to the city centre in the East and West end of the city. These areas (e.g. Scotswood, Benwell and Walker) are in decline since the loss of the shipping industry and are in need of a boost.

5. There is no guarantee of job creation. Sage opened there in 2004 but in 2019 announced they will move to another part of the city at Cobalt business park.

6. Traffic volumes in Gosforth and Newcastle city centre will increase.

7. Improving inner-city areas could slow down out migration.

8. Over 8,000 people signed a petition against the 2018 extension, with Save Newcastle wildlife arguing that there would be massive impacts on red squirrel populations

9. There is still no town centre! According to the Great Park Action Group – “For the past 10 years, the Great Park Consortium has promised all current and prospective residents 18 retail units, a supermarket, a pub and a beautiful landscaped area. As of yet NONE of this has been delivered.6

10. The areas being built on since 2018 are prone to flooding.

NEXT TOPIC - Counterurbanisation


1 – Author unknown (2002), MSU - Factors Contributing to Suburbanization - accessed 28th December 2019 from

2 – Lumen, Urban Problems and Policy, accessed 28th December 2019 from

3 – BBC (2009), UK population may top 70 million – Accessed 28th December 2019 from

4 – BBC NEWS (2019), Housing crisis affects estimated 8.4 million in England. Accessed 29th December 2019 from

5 – Newcastle Great Park – accessed December 2019 at

6 - Newcastle Great Park Action group– accessed December 2019 at

Published April 2020 by Rob Gamesby



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