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A tool to help you plan for local growth

15 November 2013

Cliff Hague

In my previous blog I outlined European approaches to promoting local growth. This second blog in the USESPON project’s ESPON Week focuses on a new method that we are pioneering at a workshop in London on 15 November. It takes you through step-by-step how you can use this method.

Understanding development challenges and opportunities

Of course planners and those involved in local economic development are regularly assessing the development opportunities in their area. The “NEXUS + Growth” model helps them do this in an integrative way that focuses on the EU aims of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The European Structural and Investment Funds 2014-2020 seek an integrated approach to achieving ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’. They focus on improving issues like innovation, R&D, skills and social inclusion. A key expectation is that funded projects will be integrative – no more “stupid growth” of the kind I described in my last blog!

Of course planners and those involved in local economic development are regularly assessing the development opportunities in their area. The “NEXUS + Growth” model helps them do this in an integrative way that focuses on the EU aims of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Step 1: What are the features and legacies that will influence local growth in your area?

The model starts with posing questions about the nature of the area itself, its geographical characteristics and “legacy”: these are the inherited features that policy and practice has to work with. For example, an earlier version of the model was applied to Scotland’s Highlands and islands by the ESPON project EOSPECS. It highlighted the area’s northern and peripheral location, the significance of coasts and mountains, and the low population density.

Of course, each area is different – that’s the point of a local approach to growth. So what are the features and legacies that will influence local growth in your area? It might help to think of these in relation to the 11 investment themes in the European Structural and Investment Funds 2014-2020. These are:   

  • Strengthening research, technological development and innovation;
  • Enhancing access to and use and quality of information and communication technologies;
  • Enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs, the agricultural sector and the fisheries and aquaculture sector;
  • Supporting the shift towards a low-carbon economy in all sectors;
  • Promoting climate change adaptation and risk prevention and management;
  • Protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency;
  • Promoting sustainable transport and removing bottlenecks in key networks infrastructures;
  • Promoting employment and supporting labour mobility;
  • Promoting social inclusion and combating poverty;
  • Investing in education, skills and lifelong learning;
  • Enhancing institutional capacity and ensuring an efficient public administration.

You can brainstorm with colleagues or other stakeholders to get answers – or a more thorough and analytical approach is possible – e.g. using data to benchmark your areas’ legacies such as the skills composition of the labour force, or the potential for renewable energy, the presence of environmentally sensitive areas etc. The point is to begin to look at your area from the perspective of its potentials for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. You can use “post-it” notes or draw boxes on a flip-chart to begin to set out and group these features.

Step 2: Connect the area’s characteristics to desired outcomes

The next step is to think about what factors might impact upon these features, and how they might help or hinder the achievement of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in your area. These can be thought of as intermediate factors linking the area’s characteristics and qualities, and the desired outcomes. 

Examples might include market trends favouring or inhibiting local businesses, planned new infrastructure, vulnerability to rising energy costs, or the ways in which climate change might affect the city or region. 

These can be shown in columns either side of the “features column” (Step 1) or in post-its of a different colour from those used for the features. 

Step 3: Identify opportunities and challenges for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth

Now add two other columns – one (on the left) headed “Opportunities for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth”, and on the other side (on the right) “Challenges for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth”. 

The task now is to get from your features to the desired policy. You do this by constructing logical chains that connect your area’s features and legacy to Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth via the intermediate factors (Step 2). Connections should be made not only from those area features, but also between linked items in the “Challenges” and “Opportunities” columns – e.g. the “renewable energy potential” feature might prompt opportunities in a particular sector or location, which in turn links to job creation and/or ways to tackle fuel poverty.

Build ideas into plans and projects

The logical chains can show connections, but more importantly can be used to spot potential synergies and the scope for integrated actions that deliver on more than one of the aims, as shown in the hypothetical example in the previous paragraph. As another “for example”, a large city might need to find ways to overcome problems of traffic congestion while also decarbonising its transport system and improving safety.

Remember the ESIF 2014-2020 puts a strong emphasis on getting maximum value for money from each Euro invested in projects. Money will be withheld from projects if milestones related to Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth targets are not met. Similarly, extra funds may be steered to projects that can demonstrate that they are achieving desired results. 

In all of this the ESPON programme can provide an evidence base to help frame projects and inform plans. The message this week from the USESPON project is a simple one – Use ESPON.

About Cliff Hague

Cliff Hague leads the RTPI team that provides the UK ESPON Contact Point. He co-authored the 2010 ESPON Synthesis Report. His latest book, 'Regional and Local Economic Development', was published by Palgrave earlier this year. He is Emeritus Professor at Heriot-Watt University, and works as a freelance consultant and author. He has worked on several EU projects in programmes such as INTERREG and INTERACT. He blogs on the Planning Resource website. He is a Past President of the RTPI and of the Commonwealth Association of Planners.