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'A Plan for Plymouth' invoked widespread public interest, with the proposals for the city centre in particular, capturing the city's imagination. The Plan was launched with a public exhibition in the City's Museum and Art Gallery opening on the day of its publication, April 27 1944 when the first 3500 copies were produced and sold for a heavily subsidised 10s-6d (the cost of production being £1-9s-8d) after suffering a delay due to a shortage of paper.

A further 3350 copies were produced in 1946, such was the demand. Perspective drawings by J.D.M Harvey gave the public seductive images that went far beyond Abercrombie and Watson's plans, diagrams and explanations. James Paton Watson undertook a series of talks and lectures across the city to provide people with information about the Plan as they were 'intensely interested'. The exhibition, talks and published plan helped secure rave reviews in both the local and national press. The Plan was further promoted through the 1946 Jill Craigie film, The Way We Live, a drama-documentary capturing the process of the planning as well the campaigns for and against the Plan.

Although the Plan enjoyed widespread enthusiasm it was not universally accepted and faced a number of challenges. In order for the Plan to be implemented there was a need for the council to compulsorily purchase both bomb-damaged and non-bomb-damaged buildings and land; to control all development; and to obtain financial assistance from the Treasury. This lead to many protests from local land-owners and 'shop-keepers' who as well as objecting to the incorporation of undamaged areas, felt the centre was too large and believed that compensation levels were insufficient, particularly as many had their freehold rights replaced with a 99 year leasehold.

The council also faced criticism from neighbouring local authorities for the lack of consultation, accusing the city of trying to 'land-grab'. The replacement of the Emergency Committee with the Reconstruction Committee in 1944 came under severe criticism for being partisan. Lord Astor initially refused to have anything to do with the committee but eventually agreed to join yet criticised it for having poor leadership, low standards of debate and failure to take timely action.

Despite the many problems, reconstruction work finally began with the laying of the centre's first kerbstone in Raleigh Street on Monday 17 March 1947, four months before the Ministry of Town and Country Planning approved the Plan.

Colin Campbell, Abercrombie, Lord Astor, Paton Watson and Deputy Modley with a model of the plan for the reconstruction of Plymouth, 1944
© Western Morning News
Plymouth Reconstruction Committee
© Western Morning News