Will the government’s white paper on levelling up have any impact on town centre regeneration?
Now that the dust has settled a little and we have had time to wade through its 300 or so pages, we ask whether the government’s white paper will have a significant impact on regeneration or if it’s just a slogan in search of an idea?
Prepared by acknowledged Cabinet ideas man Michael Gove, it certainly amounts to progress.
In particular, it sets out 12 missions with some ambitious targets for the next eight years. It acknowledges that deprivation and the need for improvement exists right across the country, even in what may otherwise appear to be affluent areas. And in opening the door to local government reorganisation, it presents a route to break down at least some of the barriers to bringing successful schemes forward.
Perhaps the biggest issue is still the question of funding. An estimate last year by the think tank Centre for Cities put the cost of levelling up at around £2 trillion, calling the government’s commitment to date ‘a drop in the ocean’. Clearly all of that is not required to regenerate our high streets but significant commitment is nonetheless required.
Government support to date has tended to focus on oven ready schemes in a limited number of areas. They reflect their approach of requiring bidding for individual pots of money rather than giving a longer commitment. Even providing support to earlier stages of regeneration is of less use if there is uncertainty as to ongoing support.
It may be better instead to devolve powers and capital to local councils to allow them to take proper control of local regeneration. Proper longer term plans can then be made, with a view to ensuring lasting improvements right across the country. Improving the CPO process could be a useful tool and is a welcome proposal, although this has in reality been talked about since the days of John Prescott.
In the meantime, we are faced with a cost of living crisis and spiralling construction costs which pressurise both our high streets and their regeneration. The concern is that, together with the lack of proper funding and long term commitment to regeneration, it will leave us little further forward in practice.