Towns and Cities: Local Power is the Path to Recovery Contents

Executive summary

Towns and cities are vital to the social and economic wellbeing of the UK, as they provide many of us with the building blocks for our lives—housing, public transport, green spaces, workspaces, public services, 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 people’s wellbeing will suffer. If towns and cities are vibrant, with a plentiful supply of high-quality housing and green spaces, reliable and affordable public transport, and a wide range of public services, workspaces and leisure opportunities, people’s wellbeing will tend to improve and people may feel better about themselves and their lives.

Towns and cities are at the very heart of our country, with approximately 55% of the population living in these urban areas, and these areas representing approximately 60% of the economy on a jobs and output measure.1 This is why our inquiry has concentrated on 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.2

The importance of towns and cities to re-building and reimaging our country in light of the pandemic, is fundamental. We heard time and again that the most successful towns and cities blend housing, retail, workplaces, and leisure, and this is at the heart of our proposals for towns and cities. While we acknowledge that towns, smaller cities and larger cities will all require a different approach, we hope that our report, and its recommendations, will provide a proposal for the vibrant, sustainable towns and cities of the future that can help improve social and economic wellbeing.

Underlying our plan for the future of towns and cities is a need to empower town and city leadership. 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 specific areas;
  • The Treasury Select Committee and Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee undertaking a detailed inquiry into the potential for introducing a new hypothecated online sales tax, paid by the consumer, to balance decreasing revenue from business rates;
  • The UK Government introducing three-year rolling local government financial settlement, at an increased level; and
  • The UK Government agreeing with the Local Government Association to create an improved resource equalisation scheme.

As we noted above, our most successful towns and cities have a strong blend of housing, retail, workplaces and leisure opportunities. To bring about this blended approach in all our towns and cities, we want to see:

  • The UK Government providing financial support to local authority leaders to enable the establishment of work hubs, pop-up retail units and arts and culture provision in our towns and cities;
  • The UK Government working with local authorities to develop a blended approach to housing in our towns and cities; and
  • The UK Government working with local authorities to develop a blended approach to public service provision in our towns and cities.

We want to see tackling inequalities at the heart of local authorities’ regeneration plans by:

  • 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;
  • Ensuring that investment in housing, public transport, public services and green spaces in town and city centres, is matched by the same investment in housing, public transport, public services and green spaces in those neighbourhoods that risk being left behind; and
  • Developing 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.

Our inquiry has explored the impact of COVID-19 on towns and cities, and how it has changed our relationship with, and the dynamic within, those urban areas. It has concentrated on the long-term impact of the pandemic on large towns and smaller cities, focussing particularly on housing and green spaces, the changing nature of employment and public transport provision. Building on the evidence received from businesses, town planners, transport providers, think tanks and academics, we then explored, with local authority leaders, the potential to develop and implement an innovative proposal for the future of our towns and cities.

As with our previous work, policies relating to many of the issues discussed in our report, including housing, transport and local government, are largely devolved in the United Kingdom. We heard evidence from businesses, town planners, public transport providers and local authority leaders across the UK, but our conclusions and recommendations focus on the situation in England. While addressing our recommendations to the UK Government, we believe that the governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will find our report useful in considering the future of towns and cities, and their role in shaping this future.

1 Q 2 (Andrew Carter)

2 Core Cities UK, ‘The 11 core cities’: [accessed 4 November 2021]

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