The Government’s 2020 Spending Review provided us all with a stark reminder of the economic impact of COVID-19, which has laid bare the regional inequalities across the economies of the UK’s towns and cities.
As we approach 2021 and look towards the economic recovery from the pandemic, we must not fail to recognise that the UK’s towns, cities and industries have all been affected in different ways. Therefore, we must take a place-based approach to the UK’s recovery to ensure that our urban areas and industries receive the tailored support that they require.
The importance of infrastructure
Key Cities welcomed the announcement of a new ‘levelling up’ fund within the Spending Review to deliver vital infrastructure projects that so many of our towns and cities require. It is our hope that, alongside the formation of the new National Infrastructure Bank, this fund will take all-important steps towards rebalancing our economy through the delivery of infrastructure projects that support local communities and industries.
In the Key Cities Manifesto, we proposed the formation of National Infrastructure Action Plan, which should be natural partner in the delivery of the levelling-up fund and work of the new National Infrastructure Bank. Our plan would enable the place based delivery of the Government’s proposed infrastructure strategy, with direct input from Key Cities, Core Cities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and other interested groups to ensure local knowledge and priorities are considered carefully.
From recent examples such as Innovation Park Medway, the Forder Valley Link Road in Plymouth, and the regeneration of East Norwich, Key Cities has a strong, proven track-record in the delivery of key infrastructure projects. As a group, we stand-ready to collaborate with central Government and stakeholders to share our experiences and deliver infrastructure projects that will be pivotal to the UK economy in 2021.
Towns and Cities at the heart of a Green Recovery
Interestingly, a recent poll by Ipsos MORI found that over two-thirds of UK respondents agreed that it is important to prioritise the environment in our economic recovery from COVID-19. As a country, we must not ignore the climate emergency and any investment in infrastructure must address this challenge.
We must therefore be bolder in prioritising initiatives such as the availability and improvement of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, while also considering ways to reduce the number of cars in our towns and cities. To achieve the latter, Key Cities proposes formal flexible working practices with large employers to reduce the immediate strain on road networks and the overall carbon footprint of our towns and cities.
The devolution agenda in 2021
Whilst the funding packages announced in the 2020 Spending Review will help to solve one part of the regional inequality puzzle, devolution will also play a crucial role in addressing regional inequalities in 2021.
With their knowledge and understanding of the needs of communities and businesses, regional centres are best placed to implement policy solutions at a local level. This is why Key Cities feels passionately about granting greater powers to local authorities, and it is our hope that the forthcoming Devolution Whitepaper will strengthen the role of our towns and cities in shaping their own futures.
The future of our towns and cities
Taking into account the support outlined in the Spending Review, we cannot shy away from the uncertain future of our town centres and high streets, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with shoppers turning to online retail whilst social distancing measures are in place.
To help our high streets weather this storm and redefine their purpose, Key Cities proposes the formation of a Town and City Centre Commission – made up of political and business leaders from across the UK – to develop solutions and initiatives that reflect the changed nature of our society.
We must also remember that for many of our residents, town centres extend beyond retail, providing a space to work, socialise and visit cultural attractions. Therefore, we must take a holistic approach to town planning, which truly considers the needs of residents, businesses, and tourists across our towns and cities.
Cllr. John Merry CBE, Deputy Mayor, Salford City Council and Key Cities, Chair
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