The implications of new deprivation data for public policy

Newly published figures highlight the need for fresh approaches to economic development and renewal in England's major cities and coastal communities, according to planning practitioners.

Liverpool: home to one of five most deprived parliamentary constituencies in England
Liverpool: home to one of five most deprived parliamentary constituencies in England

The English Indices of Deprivation 2015 were published by the government last month, revealing detailed results for multiple deprivation across the nation’s communities. While commentators have welcomed the data as an important tool for planners, they have also highlighted the challenges that the figures pose to practitioners in areas that are suffering from concentrations of deprivation.

The publication shows the changes in relative deprivation over time and pinpoints the type of deprivation present in very small communities with populations of around 1,500, known in the jargon as "lower-layer super output areas". This level of analysis is intended to give policy-makers a detailed picture of the drivers of deprivation in such neighbourhoods, through the use of different "domains" showing combinations of indices relating to factors such as income, employment and living environment.

Among the cities highlighted as showing the highest incidence of relative deprivation are Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Nottingham, all listed as having the highest proportion of deprived neighbourhoods in their boundaries. The five most deprived parliamentary constituencies in England are all in Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Liverpool or Nottingham. Coastal towns such as Blackpool, Great Yarmouth and Hastings also feature a high proportion of deprived communities in their areas.

"The highest number of areas among the most deprived are in the north of England. This supports, but also poses a challenge for, the government’s Northern Powerhouse proposals," said Jon Guest, economic planner at consultancy Atkins. "Many of these areas have already been recipients of government investment and physical change, suggesting that new ways of approaching economic development and renewal are needed to change the fortunes of these areas."

Victoria Pinoncely, research officer at the Royal Town Planning Institute, agreed that new approaches are needed to tackle poverty and deprivation. She suggested in particular that local economic partnerships (LEPs) could offer a key opportunity. "A local approach would be better, and the LEPs have a much bigger role to play in poverty reduction," she said. "Our analysis of their strategic economic plans suggests that tackling poverty has not been a big factor so far and that it could have a bigger role in the future."

Dr Steve Norris, partner at consultants Carter Jonas, agreed that LEPs have a major role in regenerating deprived areas, in particular through the Growth Fund that local planning authorities can tap into to help deliver infrastructure schemes. Norris, who is currently working on a masterplan for Great Yarmouth, said many coastal communities are suffering from "a cycle of decline" and that action is "focused on trying to break that and transform perceptions of towns to make them seen as places to invest".

Lorna O’Carroll, planning consultant at Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, said the importance of the figures is that they allow planners to identify areas most in need of regeneration, formulate an evidence base justifying the need for development, provide a baseline for the assessment of development impacts and help make cases for the allocation of government funding. O’Carroll said local authorities frequently use the indices in drawing up joint strategic needs assessments and in justifying bids for regeneration grants.

But commentators also highlighted limitations in the indices. Pinoncely said the figures are not sufficiently wide-ranging to help planners in drawing up place-based strategies. She said their value for planners would be enhanced if they contained more information about issues such as access to public transport, open space and other social and physical infrastructure.

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