New approaches to urban policy for a post-Brexit Britain, by David Marlow

Amidst the aftermath of the Brexit vote, much Planning comment has focused on potential changes in housing need, reductions in infrastructure funding, property/investment slumps, and what precise appetites a new government should have for continuing devolution.

All these are legitimate and important drivers of planning policy. However, if the vote tells us anything spatially it is probably that local and regional policies in England are chronically broken. More forensically, whilst there need to be national reforms, each place needs to understand and reflect its own distinctive story of how this breakdown is addressed.

Current approaches to spatial development tend to prioritise London, Core Cities (and their city-regions), and occasionally non-metropolitan regional cities - broadly in that order of importance.
This prioritisation is well reflected in the Brexit votes.

London and all of the core cities achieved higher remain votes than the national averages. London and seven of the ten core cities voted remain. Birmingham, Nottingham and Sheffield voted for Brexit but their 49% plus remain vote was above the national average.

More worrying, turnout in all of them except Bristol was significantly below the national turnout level (with Glasgow only managing 56.2%). It is a subtle point, but, arguably, core city-based policies are yet to truly energise the imaginations and enthusiasms of their residents.

The position for 'key cities', though is of particular concern. Of the 25 members of the Key Cities Group only five voted remain. Only six achieved above national turnout levels (of which four were remainers!). And the routine diagnoses of leave decisions - immigration, low growth, poverty - do not map well on to key city voting decisions.

Latest ONS figures give England's non-UK population at 14.2% overall and 5% for EU immigrants. Yet, London, with 36.5% and 11% respectively was an enthusiastic remain. Sunderland, with 5.1% non-UK residents and 1.8% from EU was a spectacular Brexiter.

On growth, the recent Centre for Cities "Ten Years of Tax" publication had Derby, Coventry and Stoke as three of the six fastest growing cities of the last five years in GVA terms. Yet all three were solid Brexiters. Liverpool, Norwich and Leeds were three of the four slowest growing, yet voted remain.

Of course, the issue of London dominance hasn't gone away. Its £88.6bn increase in GVA over 2009-14 is more than three times that of the ten core cities put together, and 65% more than the Core and Key Cities Groups combined. And as the most welcoming of major UK cities post-Brexit, this dominance is set to continue in international profile terms.

Nationally, refreshed urban policy must continue to support agglomeration in Core City Regions, but pay much greater attention to bespoke models for key 'Regional Cities'. Locally, and especially in metro-mayoral sub-regions, Planning needs to provide spatial frameworks that grow 'regional city' as well as 'core city' centres. It needs to consider ways to do this in a context of likely lower growth, and reductions in traditional infrastructure and property investment funding.


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