Today (March 23rd) the Chancellor George Osborne announced with great fanfare his (second) Plan for Growth since the Coalition Government came to power. The budget continues the view held at the Treasury since Barker II that the planning system stands in the way of growth and competitiveness.
In this post, I try to summarise some of the main impacts of the budget and the Plan for Growth on planning, housing, regionaleconomicdevelopment. Will the revolution in the planning system result in a pro-growth system, or are we just careering towards a ‘any growth is good growth’ dogma?
… was one of the key findings of the recent Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook 2011 report launched in London’s living room at City Hall. This may seem blindingly obvious, but it is something which the Government’s current approach to regional development seems hopelessly positioned to address. The report points to five cities of potential and five vulnerable cities potential winners and losers (see below).
Cities of potential and Vulnerable cities 2011
There are some familiar and some perhaps surprising winners and losers, but what they are not is of one single type or region. The problems facing each are instead varied and complex. The Government’s Regional Growth Fund, aside from being a smokescreen to distract from Government’s essential exit from regional development, essentially focusses on the might of the private sector to stimulate growth, but the private sector is not equally distributed and capable of bouncing back to fill in the void left by the public sector.
The essence of constraint and opportunity – cyclical versus structural recessions?
A fascinating point was made from the floor at the Cities Outlook 2011 launch about the nature of the recession we’ve just experienced which has profound implications for understanding its effects and which cities are likely to perform well, and which ones are going to need the greatest degree of public support. A distinction was drawn between cities experiencing cyclical (will recover in line with the broad economy) and structural (need significant and often painful change – think deindustrialisation and transition to a tertiary economy) recessions.
This is very interesting because most major recession are characterised by the need for significant structural reform in order for the recovery to work its way fully through the economy. However, it was argued that cities such as London and Manchester were well placed to grow in tandem with an improving national and global economy. The Birminghams of the world have been experiencing a structural recession and there is a need for them to reposition their economies. This transition is naturally more painful and suggests that focussing investment in supporting the private sector, and re-skilling the labour force should be disproportionately focussed on those cities which have been undergoing a structural recession.
Capacity and leadership – familiar stories
Here we get to an issue which the Localism and Recentralisation agenda has failed spectacularly to address. Some cities are hopelessly served by their business and political leadership, and are burdened with unfocussed local and sub-regional (are we still allowed to use that term?).
Performance in 2011 will be highly attuned to the level of coherent political and organisational leadership and capacity. Whatever their weaknesses, one of the positives of the regional tier (especially in the North), was that they masked some very ‘local’ differences which stopped places working effectively together. The shambolic LEP process has seen some places focus more on who they can bear to work with at the moment, rather than any sense of strategic coherence. Think of the unsightly squabble in Lancashire or the 5/6 LEPs originally proposed for the North East, and compare that to the coherence and strength of the Manchester and Leeds arrangements. Who will be best placed to capitalise on whatever public funding – my money would be on the already stronger players (though political leadership and organisational are not restricted to the big cities).
Lessons learnt? What should the Government be doing?
The last Government took a very, very, very long time to recognise that cities and regions are different (think of the housing market and the Goverment’s (ref: Kate Barker) obsession with growth in the south east – a meaningful policy position for the Midlands and North was a long time coming.
Winners – In this recent recession (assuming we avoid a double-dip), those cities that will perform well are those which have experienced a cyclical recession and whose companies will begin to hire as the recovery gains momentum and where the skills of the labour force match the jobs coming on stream. Those cities with clear coherent leadership and a competent local government machine will fare marginally better.
Losers – Those cities which are experiencing a structural recession will take longer to see the benefits of a recovery. Those that are cursed by weak leadership and local government will suffer longer than is necessary.
This has huge ramifications for the Government’s investment plans. Investment should not simply be targetted where it will have the greatest simple return – the Government is not in the business of replacing the capitalist system all on its own. Government should invest where there is the greatest need and/or a significant degree of market failure.
I would suggest the following focus:
a. general investment (including housing/place) are labour intensive and should be focussed on those cities which have the highest levels of unemployment and deprivation;
b. transformational investment (including the Regional Growth Fund) should concentrate on those cities in need of structural change (the Birminghams) where the focus must be on re-skilling the labour market and thus facilitating the private sector in growing sectors.
Dave Smith (Chief Executive, Sunderland City Council) summed it up nicely. He argued that cities, like Sunderland, risked being left behind because of the severity and pace of change underway. He called for a genuine partnership with Central Government to focus on supporting their manufacturing base, switching to a low carbon economy, and assisting ‘lifestyle businesses’ transition to medium sized enterprises. In this way he argued Sunderland could play its part in the national economy while making a transition to a more sustainable local economy.
Letting the Sunderlands fail is not an option (except for Policy Exchange) and we must not forget the cost of failing places. Let’s hope the Government hears Mr. Smith’s reasonable call for a genuine partnership and are willing to commit real resources to regional economic development.
And finally … contributions required
I’ve had a go at populating the graph below – the ones with question marks are based on a reading of another Centre for Cities report (onPrivate Sector Cities) for the structural versus cyclical discussion and on the rumour and gossip mill for the leadership element. I stand open to correction on any all assertions – this is not the result of any independent research.
Where do you think your city would lie?Add a commentand I’ll update the chart below!
Well, the Big Society roller coaster of policy releases and media soundbites continues apace, with barely a day going by without David Cameron, Eric Pickles or Grant Schapps telling us about some radical policy ambitions – the Big Society, The Decentralisation and Localism bill, Right to Build – the news room at CLG is averaging an impressive two press releases a day. With such a volume of material being released, you’d think we’d be closer to understanding some of the details of this radical transformation, this “liberation –the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street.” (David’s words, not mine). Alas, the details are still being worked out and we must wait with bated breath to see what localism might mean from a Government perspective. In this post, we remind ourselves of some of the challenges for localism to face, and also a pragmatic example of what localism might mean for communities, local authorities and the professionals supporting them.
The Big Society at its heart is either a cynical mask for cost cutting measures, or a genuine political ideology, one which holds that the power of the state has been choking you the people, stifling innovation, fostering a nanny state, and promoting an individualistic society. It may surprise some that I suspect that as much as it is a convenient veil for the former, the ideology is real and potentially very powerful (for good or ill).
Open Source planning is the oh so 21st century title given to the Coalition Government’s commitment to reform the planning system. Based on the Tories’ policy green paper, this new “solution” for the “failing planning system” eschews the virtues of decentralisation, localism and community empowerment. This “radical reboot” promises nothing short of complete overhaul of the planning system, with a move from a centralised, corporatist attitude, to a system rooted in civic engagement and collaborative democracy.
Residential Futures was the title given to a major study looking at the role of housing and places in the context of city region economies. This research, for the Northern Way, has demonstrated new and creative ways of thinking about places, their role and function, and how strategists align housing strategies to help create the sorts of places needed by the economy.
Though the current recession has had a devastating effect on our ability to deliver housing targets, numbers are only part of the story. Understanding the role of existing places, how many places of a given type exist, and how they interact brings us closer to ensuring that we: a) make the most of our existing places; and b) ensure that the new places we’re building fill gaps in the whole market.
Today (Weds, October 21st), Martin Crookston will be giving a speech on the Residential Futures research programme.
To facilitate ongoing discussion, we’ve set up this blog to allow interested parties both learn about the project, and submit questions / comments to the research team in an open format.
Click on any of the tabs above to learn about different elements of the research programme. At the bottom of every page, there’s a facility to leave a “comment”. Please feel free to add comments, observations, and questions, which the research team will pick up and respond to.
We hope that this provides a useful forum for engaging a wider audience in the residential futures approach and its application across the UK.
Place Futures offers strategic consultancy advice and research support across the interlinked themes of planning, regeneration, housing and the economy.
Using the site
The main page is a blog with news and commentary from the world of planning, housing and economic development. To find out about our services, including the residential futures toolkit and the place quality assessment (PQA), please click on the tabs above.