Local Authorities will want to allocate their funds so that it has the biggest impact. Should a town build a Place where People will develop, or develop People that will build a better Place?

We have undertaken further research, following on from our Town Improvement Plans Unravelled report, into the 31 of the 45 Towns awarded funding in the March budget who have published their bid. Assessing the projects that make up each submission, we have compared the different approaches to the challenge of how best to spend a town development fund. Along with our interactive report, we share our approach to the analysis and our key insights.

The Towns Fund Guidance set out six intervention themes(Transport, Digital, Urban Regeneration, Arts, Skills & Enterprise), and suggested that every project targeted at least one of these, but it was not a requirement that all of them should be covered by a bid. The above report shows the mix of scores, illustrating differences in each submission and highlighting how difficult it is to satisfy the multiple requirements.

We recognise there is no one size fits all answer, as each town has its local challenges. It should also be noted that many of the schemes have other funding and projects running in parallel. These partner with each Town Investment Plan, to deliver outcomes that are not included in our assessment.

EVALUATING THE IMPACT – OUR EIGHT POINT ASSESSMENT

Our work focuses on the customer/patient/citizen and where/how services are delivered to them. Building on this experience and methodology, we developed a framework to assess each bid along two dimensions, People and Place. Within each of these, we identified four distinct elements that combine to cover a full range of outcomes within each dimension.

For People, our questions focused on how each project will improve how a person lives:

  • Health and Well Being – Is there provision of health or social care services, or plans to improve population health?
  • Arts and Culture – Will this encourage more engagement with the arts or celebrate local traditions and customs?
  • Education – Does it provide direct education or skills and employment support?
  • Community – Does it build the local community?

For Place, we explored how each project develops the environment where a person lives:

  • Enterprise – Does this support local businesses or encourage outside investment?
  • Innovation – Are there new ways of thinking included?
  • Sustainability – Does it have a positive environmental impact or reuse current assets?
  • Tourism – Will it support Tourism, both locally and from further afield?

Using our new framework, we applied a RAG rating to each of the 272 projects.  With the scoring complete our analysis took three perspectives: firstly looking at individual projects, secondly comparing the complete bid of each town and finally searching for patterns across each of the elements.

FULFILLING ALL SUCCESS FACTORS – THREE PROJECTS WITH THE BROADEST OUTCOMES

Taking a view across all eight elements, we get a feel for projects that satisfy them best, with three scoring highest.  Two of these were from Mablethorpe. The development of a nature reserve in partnership with the National Trust and a mobility hub, including community and health services.  Boston is looking to build the Mayflower, “a reimagined FE College, where botanical gardens provide a haven…where the whole community can find sanctuary”. It should be noted, that no project was able to satisfy all eight areas assessed.

A shared service hub in Kidsgrove scored the highest within the People theme.  It “will bring together public sector assets – the library, jobcentre and post office and a range of health services”. This makes up 25% of Kidsgrove’s bid, at £8.2m. Whitby has the highest scoring Place project with it’s Free Wi-FI Zone.  This supports local businesses, is innovative and supports tourism.  Proportionally, it only makes up 1% of Whitby’s total bid, at £237k.

VARYING LOCAL NEEDS – PROPOSITIONS TAILORED TO EACH TOWN’S CIRCUMSTANCES

Aggregating the project scores for each town gives us a picture of the different approaches within each bid.  The graph below visually demonstrates these variations. Overall, Enterprise and Sustainability are consistently tackled by all towns. On balance, all towns have placed more focus on the four Place elements.

Lowestoft and Wakefield, scoring zero for Health and Wellbeing and Education, are examples where towns have scored well, without addressing all the elements. Lowestoft has several projects outside of this bid, which target People outcomes.  Alternatively, Wakefield has chosen to develop areas within the town to regenerate and encourage growth.

Mablethorpe, having the highest-rated plan, has scored evenly across all elements. To achieve this, they have balanced their projects so that some focus on People, such as the Leisure and Learning hub, and others on Place, such as the Mobi-Hub. Boston, Crawley and Whitby have also scored highly with similar proportions across all elements.

THE NATIONAL PICTURE – REGENERATION PREFERRED OVER DISRUPTION

Across all projects, the four People elements were addressed evenly. However, within Place, Sustainability and Enterprise had the most focus, with a lack of innovation. Despite this imbalance, at Town level there was an ambition to improve People and Place.

WIDER OBSERVATIONS - BROADER COLLABORATION AND REFLECTION NEEDED

People or Place? Our analysis shows that the majority of Town’s have a slight preference for developing Place rather than People. As stated previously, there is no perfect solution, and the bids have aspects that are suited to their local circumstances.

Outside of the statistical analysis, we have made a few observations:

– These plans were developed during the COVID pandemic, which saw a lot of accelerated innovation in the delivery of public services.  There is little reflection of this in the Investment Plans.

– Although there are several schemes that target Health and Wellbeing, there is a lack of input from health organisations.  There is potential, by working with the newly formed Integrated Care Systems, to put Public Health at the centre of place management and share costs.

– Developing these plans has, for the first time, brought together a range of stakeholders and perspectives to feed into a joined-up vision. These groups should be expanded and have input to all development of a Town’s services beyond the lifetime of projects.

It will take time for the money to be spent and benefits realised.  At this stage, we have shown the diversity in thinking from the Town Deal Boards on how best to develop their town. With the final details of the projects being fleshed out, there is still plenty of opportunities to adapt the ideas and enhance the breadth of outcomes for the citizens.

MAXIMISING THE BENEFITS – MORE THINKING IS REQUIRED

It will be sometime before similar amounts of investment will be seen in these areas.  We feel there has not been enough focus on the longer-term case for change, with little understanding of what Towns need to become to thrive beyond the next few years.

Local Authorities need to capitalise on this chance to push the boundaries of conventional town development. By capturing the momentum and appetite for innovation created during the pandemic, and considering the full range of needs and behaviours of the population, we can design spaces that will encourage growth long into the future.

I have built and shared this visualisation in Microsoft PowerBI.  I am interested to hear any feedback you might have on the presentation of the data or the wider implications of what the data is showing.

Carl Sheldrick