Levelling up: lack of planning poses a problem

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Levelling up: lack of planning poses a problem

This week the government’s highly anticipated 400-page white paper on the often name-checked but rarely defined policy of ‘Levelling Up’ was released.

The policy, which is seen as the cornerstone of the Prime Minister’s premiership, incorporates 12 “national missions” to tackle the UK’s regional inequality.

The UK is one of the world’s most geographically unequal major economies – and that has worsened over since the millennium. In fact, GDP per capita in some east German regions now exceeds that in some northern English regions.

In his speech in the Commons on Wednesday, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said that the Brexit referendum in 2016 had been “a wake-up call” from overlooked and undervalued communities to the Conservative government, giving a “clear instruction” to change the country’s economic model.

However, due to the tight fiscal situation, the government is unable to provide any new funding, instead ensuring existing capital is spent effectively on local priorities.

At the heart of the strategy is a plan to create more regional mayors, redevelop selected derelict urban sites, and improve services such as education, broadband and transport.

But, somewhat surprisingly, there was little mention of planning.

In fairness, planning isn’t going to spice-up a report that is already struggling to capture the imagination. But planning is pretty fundamental to the process of economic development and regeneration.

Since the financial crash and the subsequent cutting of local authority budgets, government resources have shifted towards development work and away from longer-term strategic thinking and policy.

As a result, we have a planning system which is creating long delays and increasing costs for developers, particularly in areas designated for regeneration.

The White Paper has committed to an increase of funding for housing outside of London and the South-East, yet ultimately these commitments will be futile given the delays and costs caused by the current system.

It will only be a matter of time before we reach a point where redevelopment in certain areas will become unviable.

After much delay, it’s heartening to see proposals finally being brought forward that will empower local people to revitalise and improve their communities.  However, the government must properly set out how they aim to do this – without the necessary reforms in place, it will be nigh on impossible for projects to move fast enough to achieve the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ goals.

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