Wyndham Thomas obituary

Other lives: Garden city advocate who oversaw the development of Peterborough as a new town

My father, Wyndham Thomas, who has died aged 95, oversaw the development of Peterborough from a small Fenland city to a regional hub with a population of more than 120,000.

As director of the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) in the late 1950s, Wyndham had been a strong advocate for the “garden city” model of town planning and a supporter of the creation of more new towns to ease inner-city overcrowding. The Labour government of the mid-60s took this idea up as official policy, and in 1968 Wyndham was named general manager of the Peterborough Development Corporation.

In that position he helped to attract big companies to the city, including John Lewis, which took the largest unit in the new Queensgate shopping centre. He also presided over the planting of thousands of trees and the creation of a network of roads that connected the city to its satellite townships.

He was born in Maesteg, South Wales, to Robert, a coalminer, and his wife, Hannah (nee Davies), a domestic help. Hannah died when Wyndham was six, resulting in a childhood spent in hardship. After Maesteg grammar school, Wyndham had five years in the army, and then married Betty Hopkin, an office worker on the railways, after they met at a dance in Maesteg in 1947.

Wyndham subsequently trained as a physical education teacher at Leeds Carnegie College, and in 1951 the couple moved to a council house in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, a new town they judged to be a good place to start a family. He worked locally as a teacher for two years before studying industrial relations at the London School of Economics and then becoming director of the TCPA from 1955 until 1967.

In Hemel Hempstead, Wyndham had been elected as a Labour party member on the local council, becoming leader of the council and then mayor. He stood unsuccessfully as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the strongly Conservative South West Hertfordshire seat in 1955. In his political roles, as well as at work, he was renowned for being an adept public speaker.

In 1968 Wyndham moved from the TCPA to become general manager of the Peterborough Development Corporation, and remained in that post until 1983.

In 1992 he became vice-president of the TCPA, holding the post until his death. In 1982 he was made CBE and in 2015 he was granted the freedom of Peterborough.

An impassioned, erudite and kind man, he is survived by Betty and their four children, Sally, Jenny, Tessa and me, seven grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Gareth Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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