Monday February 12 2024.

2 minute read

What could a Labour government mean for UK towns and cities?

Urban policy in England is central to shaping the socio-economic fortunes of cities and metropolitan areas. From the role of private enterprise in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher through to the start of devolution for metro regions under the coalition, political decisions create lasting legacies. With a General Election potentially likely in May and the prospect of political change, what could a Labour administration mean for our towns and cities?

The creation of new towns

At last year’s Labour and Conservative Party conferences, towns were a focal talking point. Whilst the approach to driving prosperity in the UK’s towns differs between the two parties, towns are electorally significant in the run up to this year’s General Election as they are home to the all-important swing voter.

Sir Keir Starmer has set out a vision to develop a generation of new towns. Shadow levelling up secretary, Angela Rayner recently said it will be incredibly hard to achieve Labour’s goal to build 1.5 million new homes within the next parliament without the creation of new towns. It is a policy that will inevitably lead to political battles about the green belt.

Labour has so far talked about how it would unlock the ‘grey belt’ – the areas of disused land within the green belt – to meet its housing goals.

Greater connectivity between towns and cities outside of London

With the scrapping of the second leg of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester still a major issue for mayors Andy Street and Andy Burnham, the question of how to improve the connectivity between towns and cities outside of London remains.

Greater investment is needed in transport links between towns and villages into cities. Figures show that currently only 40% of people in the UK can reach their nearest city in under 30 minutes compared to 2/3 of people in comparable EU cities.

New Labour under the Blair administration were successful in getting people back to living in cities, now the question is how can access to travel into cities from nearby towns and villages be improved. With the right connectivity between the two, the success of cities can spill into local towns and further afield.

More devolution and extended powers to metro mayors

Labour pledged last autumn that it would grant councils and combined authorities more control over housing, planning, skills and energy and transport. These controls would be on the same level as London, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester.

The devolution vision so far outlined by Starmer would see Labour giving towns and cities the tools to develop their own long-term growth plans, with local leaders able to request more powers. There would be a presumption that these would be granted if the local leadership could demonstrate a strong record in managing public money.

Improvements to the current competitive bidding system

The top-down approach to funding local regeneration and infrastructure projects has always been a contentious policy, most recently in regards to the Levelling Up Fund.

Last year, Labour had called the policy a “Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another for key funding”. Labour have further criticised the model, claiming that only the councils that have access to resources to create ‘good’ bids end up winning the funding, leaving the areas with a genuine need for infrastructure and regeneration opportunities left-behind.

This stance suggests that Labour will move away from competitive bidding and the wider business-style management to a fairer system which allocates funding based on local need.

Against a backdrop of a shortage of homes, inequalities between cities and national productivity challenges, urban policies matter more than ever.

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