Know your place

So double dip it is then – not that many of us will notice the difference between being fractionally in recession or sitting with our toes dangling above.

Psychologically it’s a blow, to businesses, to those trying to find jobs and to pretty much anyone who’s got an interest in improving our economic and social welfare. But if you’re tasked with turning around the fortunes of places that struggled during the supposed boom times then it’s probably of little consequence in the wider scheme of things.

There are broader, ongoing challenges like how to balance the ‘here and now’ demands of retailers on the brink with the need to develop longer term strategies that will reshape a town’s future not just for business but for all sections of society.

It was one of the key issues that emerged during a Think Time discussion held by New Start, CLES and Action for Market Towns last week entitled Know Your Place. The idea was to tease out some of the difficulties facing towns and district centres in their efforts to find a role in the local and sub-regional economy.

A number of participants in the discussion stressed the need for short-term fixes – some of which were outlined in the Portas review – to give businesses a boost.

Approach a shopkeeper who is facing plummeting footfall in an increasingly empty high street and talk about visions and strategies and you’re likely to get an understandably blunt response.

But ultimately it is the ‘grand plan’ that will bring about sustained improvement and it was equally clear from the discussion that difficult political decisions will have to be made to ensure limited resources have the maximum social and economic impact.

The example that came up in this instance was of eight competing towns in one particular local authority area. The key word being ‘competing’ – in reality most were unable to put up any kind of fight for visitors, shoppers or investment.

The increasingly obvious solution is to make the two strongest towns the focus of any strategy and work out how the others relate to them.

But as one participant from another area was quick to point out, ‘if we pay for one town to have Christmas lights, every other town expects the same’. And the pressure from local councillors to make that investment, often diluting the impact of resources in the process, can be hard to resist.

There are no simple solutions but it’s clear that engendering a sense of interdependency is essential. Rather than neighbouring towns seeing themselves as rivals, it would be far more productive to understand how they fit into that broader local economy.

A myriad of other questions emerged from the discussion: how to combat the continued threat from out of town developments?; at what point does a place become unviable – and what do you do about it?; having a big name supermarket move into town may not be the most sustainable solution – but is it a price worth paying if that’s your only chance of boosting employment?; how do towns go about differentiating themselves?; if relationships are the key to successful places, where’s the starting point for building those ties?; to what extent are towns considering their relationship with those around them.

With regard to that last question, AMT chief executive Chris Wade, who facilitated the session with Neil McInroy of CLES, compared the situation to that of a forest. One tree’s growth will inevitably have an impact on those around it, just as one town’s economic success will affect surrounding towns.

CLES and AMT are planning to take some of the themes from the discussion and use them to frame further work. If you’d like to be involved contact or


Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
mike reardon
mike reardon
12 years ago

Its like I have always said – you cant talk about strategy for the NHS without listening to people talk about waiting lists: thats the way ordinary people engage!Only question – need to know that temporary fixes dont make things worse (good money after bad and all that).

Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top