Local power is the path to recovery for our towns and cities
Towns and cities are fundamental to our wellbeing, as individuals, communities, and as a nation. After all, it is towns and cities that provide many of us with the building blocks for our lives – housing, public transport, green spaces, workspaces, public services and leisure opportunities.
If towns and cities become dilapidated, with poor housing and green spaces, limited public transport, public services, and leisure opportunities, it is inevitable that our individual and collective wellbeing will suffer.
That is why the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee decided to concentrate on the impact of the pandemic on our towns and cities, and specifically on larger towns and smaller cities – defined as cities outside London and the 11 core cities of Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
Seismic changes to our behaviour mean that we must reimagine the towns and cities of the future
Many towns and cities were already struggling pre-pandemic, and their decline has been exacerbated by changes brought about by Covid-19 - increasing home working, online shopping, and online provision of essential services - risk the future of our towns and cities.
These seismic changes to our behaviour mean that we must reimagine the towns and cities of the future, rather than pining for the urban areas of the past. Rather than looking backwards, we must all—central government, local authorities, businesses, and residents—look forwards and work together to recreate our towns and cities into the vibrant places that they can, and should, be. This is what we do in our report – Towns and Cities: Local Power is the Path to Recovery.
Underlying our proposals for the future of towns and cities is a need to empower local leaders. We want to see the UK government outlining, in its Levelling Up White Paper, its plans for further financial and legislative devolution of powers, to enable local authority leaders to deliver regeneration policies tailored to the needs of their areas.
We believe that the pandemic provides the perfect opportunity to reconsider the current business rates system and explore the potential for introducing a new hypothecated online sales tax, paid by the consumer, to balance decreasing revenue from business rates. Finally, we want the government to replace the current annual local government settlement, with a three-year rolling local government financial settlement, at an increased level.
Our most successful towns and cities have a strong blend of housing, retail, workplaces and leisure opportunities. To create this blended approach, and to increase vibrancy, we want to see the government providing financial support to local authority leaders to enable the establishment of work hubs, pop-up retail units and expand the arts and culture provision in our towns and cities.
We also want to see the government working with local authorities to ensure that regeneration, and investment, is not only concentrated on town and city centres, but also on improving housing, public services, public transport and green spaces, in those neighbourhoods that risk being left behind.
Lastly, we want to see tackling inequalities at the heart of regeneration plans, with local authorities developing a method for actively engaging with the different groups, communities and neighbourhoods within their towns and cities, and ensuring that these views are acted upon in developing their regeneration plans.
Beyond just listening to different groups, communities and neighbourhoods, we believe that local authorities should develop a process for mainstreaming the consideration of inequalities when assessing proposals for improving housing, green spaces, public transport provision and public services, and ensuring that the views, and needs, of specific groups and communities are at the heart of the decision-making process.
Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho is a crossbench peer and chair of the Lords Covid-19 Committee.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.