by Jim Hubbard, Policy and Networks Manager, RTPI
As the UK faces growing pressure to tackle a sluggish economy, build additional homes and create jobs, local areas are facing a number of challenges when taking steps to address these problems. There are many examples of local communities attempting to promote growth only to be held back by issues such as financing.
Communities face these challenges whilst under pressure to deliver growth – rightly so – but with fewer resources available including funds and skilled staff. The lack of resources make growth that much more difficult to achieve. During times like these it is appropriate for the private sector to step in and offer ways to help.
The RTPI is proud to have joined the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in formally launching Local Infrastructure Demonstrators Partnership, a private sector led initiative focusing on unlocking local infrastructure projects across England.
What makes this different from past pilot programmes is that it is privately-led with support from BIS. If the five projects identified for the pilot programme including Northamptonshire, Norwich, Grantham, Blackpool and Swindon are ultimately successful it could lead to more than 100,000 new homes being built in addition to thousands of new jobs. Each pilot area is experiencing its own unique opportunities and challenges, but has been assisted from experts from private partners.
The RTPI and other partners such as CECA have helped identify stakeholders who have been able to offer free advice and consultation depending upon individual needs of the pilots. RTPI President Dr Peter Geraghty has said he is delighted the RTPI has been able to help contribute by bringing planners’ expertise to the process of unblocking stalled sites. He hopes the partnership serves as an example of what can be possible to other parts of the country with similarly delayed developments.
I was pleased to first become involved with the partnership after receiving an update from the vice chair of RTPI’s Regeneration Network Dr Angus Kennedy who as been involved in the programme from the beginning. In May I visited Swindon for a scoping meeting where Business Minister Michael Fallon MP and RTPI Chief Executive Trudi Elliott received an in-person update on the progress of work there. During that meeting which included local councillors and planners there was a huge amount of enthusiasm and hope as to what may be possible when working together.
Swindon hopes to continue its record of growth and attract skilled industry by unlocking an unused site for B2 development and an adjacent site for new homes. One of the major obstacles standing in the way is the need for substantial infrastructure investment.
Michael Fallon was so impressed with the potential of the programme after his visit to Swindon that he agreed to attend a briefing in London involving all the pilots earlier this month. He noted unlocking new developments is crucial to achieving growth. He said industry advice can make a big difference in getting there as industry is experienced in finding solutions and avoiding costly delays.
At the London briefing the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) announced funding of the programme through its Growth Fund to ensure the continuation of the partnership and free specialist support is available.
The hope is that by business, Government and local partners working together to promote growth success will be achieved more quickly than what would be possible for local areas to do on their own.
The five different areas have made good progress in a short amount of time. However, the challenges still faced range from difficulty working with a number of different interests, to navigating the number of available Government funding opportunities and their different application processes. The hope is that by business, Government and local partners working together to promote growth success will be achieved more quickly than what would be possible for local areas to do on their own. If the pilot programme continues to be successful there may be the scope to expand it to additional areas.
The programme could not be successful without members offering their support on a pro bono basis. If you are interested in becoming involved in this programme or have any questions please contact me and I can be sure to put you in touch with the right people.
About Jim Hubbard
Jim Hubbard is Policy and Networks Manager at the RTPI focusing on economic growth and regeneration. His interests include politics, community engagement and how planning can be used to more effectively contribute to sustainable economic growth. Before moving to London to earn an MSc in Sustainable Urbanism from University College London he worked in Washington, DC as a Congressional aide. You can follow Jim on Twitter: @hubrd