Towards a place-based industrial strategy, by David Marlow

With the government's long overdue follow up to the industrial strategy green paper imminent, the release of the final report of the Industrial Strategy Commission provides a strong scene-setting lens through which to consider the government's eventual policy and funding announcements. What are the potential implications for local planning authorities?

Firstly, if there is going to be a strong drive towards place-based industrial strategy, the commission suggests multi-layered geographies at levels well-beyond individual local authorities.

Strategic planning at city-region, Combined Authority (CA), and multi-CA levels (presumably Powerhouse, Engine etc) need to be firmed up. Mayoral CAs have some foundation for this in their devolution agreements - but elsewhere sub-regional and regional settlements of strategic planning arrangements need to be defined, firmed up and agreed to enable place-based, individual local authority approaches to be 'strategic' and coherent.

Second, the commission makes an interesting suggestion about (access to) Universal Basic Infrastructure (UBI) as a means of making the industrial strategy relevant to all places and as a means of reconciling it with inclusive growth. Perhaps unfortunately, nowhere do they suggest what levels of UBI should be specified and how this would be measured/delivered. However, this might be a concept spatial planners can explore and develop with policy, engineering, other colleagues and partners.

Third, the commission is very explicit in flagging sustainable energy, health and care integration at the forefront of industrial strategy priorities. These are important factors in contemporary strategic planning, and deserve distinctive place-based solutions varying between and possibly within areas.

At the same time, the commission is surprisingly silent on housing and construction. If this is replicated in any government white paper, the case for local areas to find synergies and alignment between housing and construction and place-based industrial strategy will remain prominent.

Finally, the commission calls for new sources of data, performance indicators, appraisal criteria and methodologies. Many sub-national visioning and strategic exercises grapple with issues of describing what success will look like and how any description will be validated. Whilst housing, employment and GVA measures, financial cost-benefit analysis remain necessary, they are insufficient for the nuances of industrial and inclusive growth ex-ante decision-making and ex-post assessment.

Many commentators expect the government strategy to leave issues of the balance between sectors, place, technologies and social innovation unresolved. And in many senses this is right as there are fundamental differences between how these play in different places. They then expect government to encourage places to formulate their local industrial strategies between now and, say, Brexit and the successor arrangements incepted in 2019.

Clarifying multi-layered strategic planning geographies, considering Universal Basic Infrastructure constructs, identifying solutions for energy, health and care (and housing and construction), and refreshing performance indicators and appraisal methodologies will be useful foundations for future local industrial strategy. And they will be essential for ensuring the strategy has traction with local spatial plans and vice-versa.

The report can be found here. 

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