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Harry Steele: Looking forward to levelling up

Harry Steele is the RTPI’s Infrastructure Specialist

Over the weekend, we began to hear more about the potential details of the ‘Levelling Up’ white paper, as Michael Gove outlined plans including a £1.5 billion Brownfield Fund, the regeneration of 20 towns and cities and the expansion of mayoral powers throughout the UK. These early potential policies outline the importance of the built environment and the shift of power towards communities throughout the UK. We hope that the full White Paper continues to recognise the importance of planning in addressing regional inequalities and tackling some of the biggest challenges that local authorities face.

The recent decision to withdraw plans for the eastern leg of HS2 had raised some doubts over the government’s commitment to the levelling up agenda in recent months and reignited concerns over the north-south divide. Despite these concerns, the highly anticipated Levelling Up White Paper has the opportunity to provide some much-needed clarity and direction for the government’s ambitions.

It is no secret that Local Authorities are facing serious challenges in addressing the housing shortage, leading the post-covid recovery and combatting climate change, however amidst all of this it is expected that they will be asked to lead Levelling Up in their area. As we all know, there is no ‘magic money tree’, so Local Authorities will need to approach the challenges they face in new and inventive ways to deliver this agenda

Last year, we published a report upon Green Growth Boards, which we originally called for in our response to the planning white paper in 2020. Green Growth Boards would bring together local authorities and key stakeholders and establish collaborative and interlinked strategies to tackle the challenges that a region faces.  Whilst local authorities and stakeholders often face restrictions in funding and capacity, our research identified the significant benefits that can arise from this collaborative approach to planning and highlighted the importance of collaboration and the need to be ambitious and innovative.

If local authorities can come together within a sub region, they can begin to identify crossovers and links between their existing and planned projects, benefitting from potential economies of scale and other efficiencies throughout the planning and construction processes. If regions can show their commitment to working together and their use of innovative and creative solutions to the challenges that they face then they could position themselves positively for investment in the future.

This potential to connect across more innovative and efficient sub regions is particularly important to those that have received less funding in recent years and could help to ‘level up’ regions alongside government investment. If the white paper reveals government commitment to more mayoral authorities, I think that this could be a great way of building political will behind the Green Growth Boards we promote. 

Ultimately, we need to ‘level up’ how we approach our biggest challenges. A one-size-fits-all approach cannot help communities that are moving away from a ‘predict and provide’ model of planning towards one which allows for healthier and greener places that can sustain themselves into the future. That is why RTPI’s members work hard to reflect the needs of local communities in the way they develop, raise capital that sustain essential infrastructure and make places that people can be proud of and we hope that the ‘Levelling Up’ white paper can reflect this. On their behalf, we will continue to campaign and take action to promote the ambition and potential of planning  to incorporate the goals of ‘Levelling Up  alongside their work to tackle climate change, the housing crisis and many other challenges.

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