Planning's spatial rebalancing act in pursuit of inclusive growth, by David Marlow

Recent columns have presented a series of arguments on changes to the economic underpinnings of strategic spatial planning in the aftermath of the European Union referendum.

My July 2016 piece highlighted the need for new urban policy focusing on "regional" as well as "core" cities. My August column proposed a place-based industrial strategy with local prioritisation of non-traditional growth sectors and areas of economic activity. And in September, the column suggested approaches to addressing "failing places" and the profound local planning implications of a return to social regeneration goals and priorities.

The interim report of the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission provides an interesting and relevant overview of this territory. Without managing to mention land-use planning at all, the commission prescribes integration of social with economic policy - creating a people-based as well as business-enabling strategy. This requires social revenue funding as well as capital infrastructure investment.

The commission concurs with earlier columns on providing solutions for regional cities and for towns in their non-metropolitan regions, along with productivity improvements in low-wage as well as hi-tech, high-value industries. It highlights the democratic renewal case for reconnecting peripheral communities - whether geographically, socially or economically isolated - with their metropolitan centres. And it recognises that inclusive growth requires a basket of indicators in addition to measures of gross value added (GVA).

The commission's report is interim. Planners now have an opportunity to engage while a final report is firmed up over the next few months. Such engagement should explore the connections between inclusive growth and spatial rebalancing. Mayoral combined authority strategic spatial plans, for instance, need to explicitly set out the balance between growth in metropolitan centres, secondary cities and peripheral communities - and explore how this will increase connectivity between these component parts of the sub-region.

Physical investment needs to be as focused on social as on economic infrastructure, going well beyond housing numbers and tenure, as important as this is. It should also meet the needs of new industries and the productivity challenges of high employment sectors,such as retail and care, as much as high-growth industrial manufacturing or science-based technological developments.

Excellent specialist innovative work on ageing communities and issues like dementia and disability needs to be radically scaled up and mainstreamed. Local plans should be explicit about their contributions to a basket of indicators - not just housing and employment numbers. Finally, planning gain needs to realise value that can contribute revenue to people-based programmes and financing of new devolved structures, recognising the continuing austerity state at national level.

All of these suggestions require a national context and reforms to empower local leadership teams to enact them - from Comnmunity Infrastructure Levy or section 106 deals to housing, planning, transport and public land and property policies. Local leadership teams must embrace and prioritise inclusive growth and spatial rebalancing alongside the dash for increased GVA.

As government flounders with its Brexit fallout and "an economy that works for everyone" sound bites, it falls, as ever, to local leadership teams - supported by planning colleagues - to actually deliver these agendas tangibly in our cities and communities.

David Marlow is managing director of consultancy Third Life Economics.


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