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Preparing for economic challenges requires long term planning

12 November 2014

Jim Hubbard

This week the CBI welcomed the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and the changing dynamic of the world’s economy was front and centre of the discussions.

The world is more interconnected than ever, and places are increasingly competing with one another for skilled people and investment. Changes in demographics, rapid urbanisation, and technology in particular pose major challenges for policy-makers, with many questioning whether our leaders and planners are prepared for these changes which are coming faster than ever before.

According to news reports, David Cameron used the opportunity to denounce the free flow of people within Europe, but the business community appears to be at odds with him on this particular issue. The CBI has warned of the importance of immigration to address skills shortages, and has suggested that those calling for the UK to leave the EU are going “against the grain of an increasingly connected world”.

43 per cent of people think that national leaders are unprepared for the economic challenges facing their communities, while 41 per cent think that local politicians are unprepared.

The public have their own views on leaders’ preparedness for the major economic challenges ahead. This week, the RTPI publishes the results of a poll which asked the public what they think is important in their local communities and whether their needs and concerns are being effectively addressed. In the poll, 43 per cent of people said that they think that national leaders are unprepared for the economic challenges facing their communities, while 41 per cent think that local politicians are unprepared.

Long-term thinking across all political parties is sorely needed as we respond to global economic challenges. There needs to be a stronger understanding of the impotance of issues that, while they may not appear to be immediately economic, actually are closely related to a strong functioning economy particularly when it comes to places, such as: quality of life; labour, talent and skills; entrepreneurship; connectivity and interactions; and ensuring viable communities.

The RTPI has also published its latest Planning Horizons report on Creating Economically Successful Places, which explores the major challenges facing the world’s economy, how planners and others have begun responding to these challenges – ranging from population change, globalisation and competition, technological change, inequality and social cohesion, to the increased scarcity of natural resources such as water and food supplies – and what more needs to be done.

For instance, the report acknowledges that as the global economy becomes more competitive, attracting people with the right skills to places is likely to be increasingly difficult. National governments may determine immigration policies, but it is for places - our towns and cities - to promote themselves as liveable, attractive, dynamic places in which to live and work.

The report identifies case studies from around the world which are relevant to the challenges facing places, for example how Barcelona is seeking to attract innovation and talent through its knowledge hub ‘22@Barcelona’, and how Johannesburg is attempting to bring economic opportunities to formerly segregated communities through its 'Corridors of Freedom’ initiative.

Alongside other professions, planners are vital to attractive, liveable, accessible, connected, vibrant places that are able to attract people and investment that will be crucial to healthy economies that meet people’s needs.

In the report, we argue that successful places require certain key ingredients that go beyond the immediately economic, including connectivity, opportunity and pleasant environments, underpinned by bold but flexible visions for the future. From this, it's obvious that planners have critical role to play in creating successful places - and so a successful economy. Alongside other professions, planners are vital to attractive, liveable, accessible, connected, vibrant places that are able to attract people and investment that will be crucial to healthy economies that meet people’s needs. In the twenty-first century, it is because of the uncertainties of the future rather than in spite of them that places need to have a vision of their own future, and maximise the contribution that planners can make to developing and delivering such visions.

As we note in the report, this has implications for policy and practice at the local and national levels including: better use and coordination of intelligence and information; rethinking institutions; and the capabilities of leaders and planners.

Creating Economically Successful Places concludes by recommending that in order to create more economically and socially successful places, policy- and decision-makers need to work with planners and communities to:

  • set a broad national vision which identifies areas with different potential, taking into account a wide range of economic factors;
  • encourage places at the neighbourhood, local and regional level to work cooperatively with one another, by offering adequate resources and incentives to do so, to enable strategic planning to take place across functional economic areas;
  • try to avoid operating within departmental silos, which often lead to inefficiencies and missed economic opportunities.

In these ways and others, planners then need to be at the forefront of a much broader approach to the ‘economic development’ of places, helping policy- and decision-makers, and communities themselves, to avoid complacency and prepare for a fast-changing world.

Creating Economically Successful Places is part of a series of reports called Planning Horizons, published by the RTPI in its centenary year, which have addressed major economic, social and environmental challenges facing society in the twenty-first century, and how planning can play an important role in responding to these issues.

The poll results noted here are based on a nationally-representative survey of 2,083 UK adults conducted on behalf of the RTPI by Populus, 22nd-23rd October 2014. More results from the poll can be found here.

About Jim Hubbard

Jim Hubbard is Policy and Networks Manager at the RTPI. In addition to Creating Economically Successful Places, Jim wrote a policy paper in June of this year on Fostering Growth: Understanding and Strengthening the Economic Benefits of Planning. On Twitter you can follow him @hubrd.