Whilst some may debate what the Conservative manifesto promise to “level up the UK” actually means in practice, there can be no doubting the need to address the huge disparity in wealth across our nation. The UK has 9 out of the 10 poorest regions in Northern Europe – areas such as West Wales, The Tees Valley, Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and Northern Ireland- whereas London continues to be the richest region in Europe (as measured in GDP per capita).
Whilst Governments of all colours like to promote big shiny projects such as HS2 and Northern Rail (indeed such infrastructure is essential to the UK’s continued economic prosperity), the reality is that such projects take decades to deliver and the direct impact on local communities is debateable at best.
Yet a trip to some of our most deprived cities, will reveal the UK’s own rust belt- swathes of abandoned factories and warehouses; the bitter legacy of what was once our industrial heartland. At the same time many of the residents of these once thriving communities are living in poverty, accommodated in housing which should have been raised to the ground decades ago. Surely now is the time to grasp the nettle and breathe new life into these forgotten regions.
Many thousands of acres of such buildings lay neglected, often within a stone’s throw of cities centres, left to decay because the land is too expensive to remediate and has little appeal to house builders who prefer the easy profits from developing their existing land bank. This is where central Government must play a crucial role. Central funding will allow contaminated land to be remediated and create the utilities and transport infrastructure which is essential to release the development potential of these brown field site.
Some of the factory sites can be repurposed as manufacturing hubs to create preassembled homes using sustainable materials and designed to be highly energy efficient. Local people can be trained to work in these factories or to assemble the units on site, developing new skills, creating jobs and prosperity and rebuilding their own communities whilst preserving the precious green belt by exploiting brownfield sites. Using modern construction and manufacturing techniques real change can be delivered fast.
Once these new communities are on stream, the existing unfit housing stock can be demolished and the community rebuilding program extended to bring new hope and a sense of purpose to communities which have lost their way.
Crucially funds must be allocated directly to the local councils who can make things happen quickly away from the “dead hand of centralised control” and local people must be front and centre in determining the type of communities they and future generations wish to live in. Homes England, the Government department responsible for delivering housing targets, should act as partners to Local Councils and Mayors and be a conduit to Central Government. They must be given the wherewithal and authority to fulfil this remit.
Surely such a long-term plan, which ticks so many policy objectives- creating homes and jobs, urban regeneration, protecting the Greenbelt and tackling global warming by building modern, energy efficient and sustainable housing should be high on the Government’s agenda. More importantly we owe it to our neglected regions to restore the sense of pride, purpose and community which has been central to their identity for generations past.
In the post-Covid world where economic woes will hit our poorest communities hardest and when so many of the Tory back bencher’s jobs will rely on demonstrable change come next election, the Government must act with pace and determination to create jobs and prosperity where it is needed most. The question is, does this Government have the will and the vision to deliver?
Note: This article is the personal opinion of the author and it does not purport to represent the opinion of CIG or its members.