Towns are important as the homes of millions of people in the UK: two in five of the population live in towns. This is an opportune time to be looking at what works to support innovative policy and practice for towns.
At a national level, towns have been neglected. They have suffered either from a lack of investment or lack of attention from national and devolved governments for a long time. The towns that saw their traditional economic bases disappear in the 1980s still persist as major locations of disadvantage. The abolition of the regional development agencies and the national regeneration agency (English Partnerships) in 2010 curtailed funding to English regions and blocked an important channel of communication into Whitehall.
Towns still face challenges in being represented in policy and gaining access to appropriate development funding. This is now critical because there are so many upcoming funding and structural changes happening where the voice of towns needs to be heard.
Funds for towns as a whole, or regions of towns, have been lacking, but there are developments that we would like to see become opportunities – such as the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) and the Local Industrial Strategies (LIS), which contain a ‘place foundation’, the Stronger Towns Fund and the Future High Street Fund (in England).
Another opportunity for towns is the devolution framework for England, currently in development and likely to be released after Brexit in 2019.
We are working with other organisations to support towns and regional bodies to develop strategies to improve the wellbeing of their places. Towns will thrive if we focus on developing community wellbeing, where neighbourhoods can live well together, now, and in the future.