Last week’s UK REiiF extravaganza in Leeds provided an ideal opportunity to discuss and advance ideas on levelling up.
With the Government’s new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill fresh in mind, metro mayors – including Andy Street, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram – joined local authorities, developers, landowners, innovators, and others at the three-day event at Leeds Dock to discuss the future of real estate investment and infrastructure.
Levelling up took centre stage.
Ask people what levelling up means to them and you’ll get a range of answers: Economic growth, rebalancing the economy, infrastructure, sustainability, climate change, health and wellbeing, collaboration, doing things differently, and so on. There is a sense of urgency for delivery, with expectations high, and spread across different touchpoints throughout society.
There are signs the Government is taking it seriously too. The appointment last autumn of political heavyweight (and part-time voice artist) Michael Gove as Secretary of State should be welcomed after the litany of five secretaries of state and seven housing ministers. Earlier this month, levelling up got 35 mentions in the note accompanying the Queen’s Speech and a canter through the recent Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, as featured in our recent blog, reveals some practical policies to whet the appetite.
Al-fresco dining, giving residents the power to change street names, and referenda on design codes for streets are just a few ways in which the planning system could be adjusted to be more relevant and accessible to the general public. Meanwhile, the proposed ‘new approach to environmental assessment in our planning system’ and stronger compulsory purchase powers could help to speed up the planning process and improve outcomes, while the new Infrastructure Levy – to replace the Section 106 system – could deliver social value. We shall see.
Ultimately, levelling up should be judged on outcomes, not ideas. The test will be whether it helps to rebalance the economy across the country, create long-term prosperity in industrial and neglected communities, and establish well-connected places where people want to live and work.
Listening to local leaders such as Councillor Bev Craig (Leader, Manchester City Council) and Councillor James Lewis (Leader, Leeds City Council) at UK REiiF, it’s clear that expectations are high, and there is local leadership and ambition to match. Devolution, investment in infrastructure, cross-authority collaboration, and partnerships with committed private developers could all help to unlock the opportunity and turn vision into reality.
Passing the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will just be the start – how it’s used to deliver real change will be its real test.
Will Scawn is an associate director and Hugh Deery is a senior account executive at Camargue