A new report published by the Carnegie UK Trust highlights the harsh inconsistencies in public policy across communities in the UK and Ireland and is calling for towns to be given greater focus.

  • Research showcases disparity in policy making with towns neglected and greater focus given to cities and rural areas
  • Lack of a common definition for a town is hindering development in communities such as North Shields, Withernsea and Whitburn
  • Communities are losing out on economic and social potential as local government focus on different policy areas in a bid to improve the outcomes experienced by their residents

The report finds that while there are well-developed policies designed to progress cities and rural areas, and often powerful groups working on their behalf, towns are a neglected area of public policy.

A combination of factors including different structures, policies, and partnerships within and across jurisdictions is a barrier to collaboration across different towns leading to a delay in issues being addressed and the impact being felt by communities. Towns across the UK and Ireland are home to millions of citizens; businesses; and service providers, all of whom are losing out whilst the external focus remains on cities and rural areas for national policy making.

The lack of a cross-jurisdictional advocacy organisation, in addition to the lack of a common definition of towns, and different structures, policies, and partnerships within and across the jurisdictions, means that crosstown collaboration in a way that improves outcomes, fails to take place.

The research highlights that traditional categorisations of towns are hindering the development of communities with labels such as ‘satellite’, ‘commuter’ or ‘in need of regeneration’ framing national policy which tends to target towns experiencing the poorest outcomes for place-based investment.

Widespread ambiguity about what defines a town is adding to the disparity with no single definition existing across the UK and Ireland. The current classification of a town varies across the UK, with devolved governments using different criteria, such as population thresholds, proximity of dwellings or drive time analysis to define a town.

In the absence of a common definition across the UK and Ireland, bespoke policies and initiatives designed to improve outcomes within towns have developed in the different jurisdictions. Towns by their very nature are affected by a large number of policy areas such as housing, transport, economic development, culture and heritage, land ownership and regional development.

This lack of consistency in public policy in towns, combined with the particular issues which impact on the economic, social, environmental and democratic outcomes of a town’s citizens, emphasises the need for dedicated short and long-term public policy solutions, in order that communities don’t lose out.

Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of the Trust, said: ‘The places where we live are critical to our wellbeing. Towns across the UK and Ireland provide us with economic and social opportunities, formal support systems in local public services, and informal support systems in the relationships with our friends, families, and neighbours’.

‘Our research found that policies are often applied to towns by extension – in funding or initiatives to support general urban regeneration, regions serving economic powerhouse cities, or rural hinterlands. Equally, policies are routinely designed to support the development of communities, with no regard to the outcomes experienced by the wider town in which they sit. This dual focus leaves the UK and Ireland with a policy gap at the towns level’.

The research builds on the Trust’s previous work on towns, including the innovative Test Town programme. The report contributes to the evidence base on towns policy by providing a snapshot of the priorities and actions of current governments across the UK and Ireland, and facilitates learning of the successes and challenges in improving the outcomes of towns, and therefore improving wellbeing.

The report, Searching for Space: What place for towns in public policy? is available to download here.

Source: Carnegie UK Trust

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