Planning to play key role in securing MHCLG town revival funding, says new prospectus

Councils bidding for the government's £3.6 billion Towns Fund to revive their areas will be expected to show how they can make "full use" of their planning powers in their submitted proposals, a new government prospectus has revealed.

Dundas Shopping Centre in Middlesborough town centre. Pic: Getty Images
Dundas Shopping Centre in Middlesborough town centre. Pic: Getty Images

In September, the government launched the fund and invited 100 places across England to develop proposals to invest up to £25 million each to help "transform" their "economic growth prospects".

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) today published its prospectus for the Towns Fund programme and announced £16.4 million of capacity funding to help councils draw up plans to access the money.

The prospectus states that urban regeneration, planning and land use activities will form a key part of the Town Deals the government hopes to agree with the areas concerned, which include Middlesbrough, Blackpool and Ipswich.

Towns in the programme must develop "a well-evidenced Town Investment Plan", the prospectus says, which "sets out a clear understanding of the area, focusing on its assets, opportunities and challenges".

The investment plan should set out priorities to drive economic growth, supported by "clear evidence and targeting investment into the economic infrastructure listed around the objective of the fund, as well as making full use of existing powers, particularly in planning", the prospectus says. 

They should be aligned with local plans, spatial development strategies and other plans, it adds.

Investing in cultural assets as part of an integrated regeneration strategy and using opportunities to redevelop vacant sites for new business and leisure uses are among the actions identified in the prospectus.

"Towns should explore strategies for bringing forward town centre regeneration, including making best use of brownfield sites or surplus land owned by central or local government," it says.

"Having such a strategy in place will allow places to acquire strategic sites when opportunities arise and make use of them as part of long-term regeneration plans."

It also suggests that interested areas can explore "increasing density in town centres", "site acquisition, remediation, preparation, regeneration", and "making full use of planning tools to bring strategic direction and change".

Under the funding arrangements, small towns (population 5,000-20,000) receive £140,000 of capacity funding each, medium-sized towns (population 20,000-75,000) receive £162,019 and large towns (population 75,000-225,000) receive £173,029.

The local authority receiving the most grants is Cornwall Council, which receives four grants for Penzance, St Ives, Camborne and Truro, totalling £604,038 altogether.

Ken Dytor, executive chairman of real estate firm Urban Catalyst, welcomed the funding announcement. "While they may not grab the same attention as cities, towns still play a vital role in the UK economy and the government is right to recognise that their potential is still not realised and that many are in need of further investment," he said.

"Yet new homes and businesses will be meaningless unless there is also investment into supporting social infrastructure such as schools and health centres."

Barry Lewis, the County Councils Network spokesman for economic growth and industrial strategy, and leader of Derbyshire County Council, said: "We are pleased that county authorities will be on the delivery boards of this fund.

"Counties’ role in delivering growth, transport and infrastructure to improve local economies  and connectivity will form an important part of how this funding is spent.

"Counties have a track record of working closely with their communities whilst having the capacity and size to effectively work across wider geographies in addition to immediate towns, providing strategic oversight for place-based growth." 

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