The index point, which has aroused considerable interest in the mediawas to help the government identify places with the greatest unrealized economic potential that could provide more jobs and opportunities for the communities that live there if barriers to growth were removed.
The index uses a range of indicators. Some – such as the area of sites on the official brownfields register – are “positive” measures that reflect available resources. Some – such as GVA, growth, perceived activity rates per capita and the proportion of outgoing rather than incoming commuters – are “negative”, insofar as they reflect economic underperformance. All are based on the idea that towns and cities should be economic engines for local communities and are the key to sustainable and equitable growth.
As the world’s first carbon-neutral homebuilder and a member of the UK Business Council for Sustainable Development, we take a keen interest in the retrofit programme.
Our aim with the index was to provide an evidence base that can help government weigh where it should invest available funds to have the greatest transformative impact.
Our major cities have the greatest potential to become self-sufficient engines of growth, to provide a range of jobs for more people, and to transform our environment through low-carbon development and shorter commutes. .
The index shows that this is not a north-south problem. While Bradford emerged as the biggest upgrade opportunity, two locations in the West Midlands – Wolverhampton and Coventry – were close behind. Luton and Plymouth were also in the top five.
This suggests that the real problem is that many cities and towns across the country are currently failing to realize their potential. To some extent this is the result of ‘pull’ factors – we expected cities like Leeds or London to provide jobs in Bradford or Luton. But it’s also the result of “push” factors: we simply haven’t prioritized creating jobs and industry clusters in places at the top of our index.
It matters: Bradford, for example, is the seventh largest city in the UK. It makes no sense to rely on other places to provide much of its high-value jobs, especially when the recent Integrated Rail Plan has failed to deliver real improvements to sub-par intercity connections of Bradford.
The government itself is aware of the problem.
Last year Boris Johnson promised to level Britain by bringing jobs and skills to so-called ‘red wall’ areas to stop the brain drain.
And it’s not like there’s a lack of local motivation or ambition. Towns and cities themselves suggest solutions the government should support, such as Bradford’s innovative suggestion of new leveling investment zones – easing planning restrictions on specific sites to allow for clean growth, in exchange start-up funding from the Treasury in the form of loans or grants.
Upgrading is not only an economic imperative, but also an environmental and moral one. The more these places are ignored, the more the socio-economic problems multiply; the more industrial sites fall into disuse or become unviable for a better, cleaner investment. Bradford’s growth plans mean it has already secured planning permission for the UK’s largest clean growth test bed, and its aim is to become the country’s leading clean growth city. These are ambitions that the government should support.
The time has come to act. It is hard to imagine a fair and sustainable future in which cities like Bradford do not have good transport links to larger cities like Manchester and Leeds and are therefore less attractive places for business owners who invest and provide employment opportunities elsewhere. What is true for Bradford is also true for Wolverhampton, or Coventry, or Plymouth, or Luton – or anywhere else where large numbers of people live, but don’t necessarily work and often end up leaving to further their prospects. careers.
We hope our index has provided an evidence base for decisions about the targeted investment of available leveling funds – and in the search for a future of equity and sustainability, these places should be viewed not as the problem , but as the solution.
Joseph Daniels, Founder and CEO of Etopia Group