Cities Unlimited

Published by Policy Exchange (London), 13 August 2008 (PDF)

By Tim Leunig and James Swaffield, edited by Oliver Marc Hartwich

A decade of regeneration policies has failed to stop the inequality of opportunity between towns and cities in the North and those in the South East increasing.

Current regeneration policies mean that poorer towns will continue to get poorer relative to the rest of the country. Children growing up in them will not have the same experiences – and perhaps not even the same expectations and aspirations – as those living in places that are more typical of Britain. Adults looking for work will not have the same opportunities as those who, with the same skills and determination, are simply lucky enough to be in a different part of our country. Geographical circumstance means that a life on benefits, whether in work, or out of work, will be more common in regeneration towns.

Policy Exchange has previously analysed domestic and international urban regeneration policies:

  • Cities limited demonstrated that attempts to regenerate British cities over the past ten, twenty or even fifty years have failed. The gap between struggling and average cities, let alone between struggling and affluent cities, has continued to rise. Geographical inequality is growing.
  • Success and the City, examined experiences abroad and the lessons other countries can teach British policymakers.

In their new report in the series on regeneration in the UK, Cities Unlimited, Dr Tim Leunig and James Swaffield recommend a series of radical proposals that would reverse the trend and inject much needed momentum back into regeneration policy.

The key recommendations from the report are:

  • To increase the size of London by allowing landowners the right to convert industrial land into residential land in areas of above average employment. If only half of the 10,000 hectares earmarked as industrial land in London and the South East were used for housing, £25 billion in value would be created and half a million people would be able to move to an area that offers much better prospects than where they live now.
  • To dramatically expand Oxford and Cambridge, just as Liverpool and Manchester expanded in the 19th century. Research has shown that cities based on highly skilled workers are the most dynamic. Oxford and Cambridge offer the best opportunities for successful expansion.
  • That government should roll-up current regeneration funding streams and allocate the money to local authorities. Under these proposals it would be for local authorities to assess the opportunities, devise a plan for their area and implement it. They would be answerable not to central government, but to local people.

The report reaffirms Policy Exchange’s long-standing commitment to localism. All towns and cities should have the right to determine their own policies; and their local councils should be assessed regularly and accurately, and the results of such assessment explained to local people.

Freedom, responsibility and accountability are the keys to unlocking the potential that exists in our towns and cities. This is the message of Cities Unlimited.

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