Towns are neglected in public policy, says Carnegie

The importance of the UK’s towns needs to be addressed at policy level, according to a new report from Carnegie UK Trust.

Called Searching for Space: What Place for Towns in Public Policy?, the report uncovers a policy gap for towns across the UK and Ireland, with public policies tending to focus on either rural areas or cities, or on the needs of communities in general.

Introducing the report, chief executive of Carnegie UK Trust, Martyn Evans said that towns are ‘rarely taken in their entirety as the basis for formal policymaking and often without a powerful group advocating for their interests.

‘Instead, policies are often applied to towns by extension, for example, 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.’

Unable to find an analysis of towns that spans borders, the Trust has produced its own, bringing together town-based policies across the UK and Ireland.

While in England the main policy levers focus on town centres and high street decline and the devolution agenda, in Scotland, towns benefit from a national towns regeneration policy. Councils and partner agencies across the country often view economic and social issues through the lens of towns. Fife Council for example has – alongside its partners – launched a number of towns-based initiatives including the Fife Towns Deal network, aimed at attracting high potential businesses to Fife and establishing digital hubs across the region to allow residents to work more locally.

Carnegie Trust UK has committed to ‘flourishing towns’ as part of its strategic plan up until 2020.

Its plans to build on its programmes around enterprising town centres such as TestTown, create partnerships and develop better data about what works well in place-based challenges. It published a Time for Towns manifesto in 2016.

‘Addressing the policy space occupied by towns and bringing them into national policy discussions is key to improving their economic, social, environmental, and democratic outcomes, and therefore to improving the wellbeing of millions of people across the UK and Ireland’, the report says.

  • Read the full report here.


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