Post Pandemic Planning and Levelling Up
Government tells us it is taking this post-pandemic, or at least post-lockdown, opportunity to “build back better”, uniting and levelling up every part of the UK. Greta Thunberg recently mocked the “build back better” phrase with the words “blah blah blah”. The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government has become the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Is this just lip service too?
The renamed Department comes complete with new levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, and a former Bank of England chief economist to head the new Levelling Up Taskforce. Gove has already been to towns in the North East to see how plans are being actioned there. However, until the White Paper is published there is very little clarity on what the government is actually seeking to achieve with levelling up and how it will achieve it.
Public transport provision varies enormously across the country. Any levelling up, or indeed, green agenda, must work to provide people all over the UK with reliable alternatives to the private car. Recent research by the Rail Delivery Group found that rail travel is only at 33% of pre-pandemic commuting levels. This highlights various issues, including:
1) There are fewer people commuting, this is impacting town centre businesses;
2) There has been a modal shift amongst some commuters, there is more reliance on the private car than pre-pandemic. Therefore, there is a consequential increase in congestion and, of course, harmful emissions. Will schemes such as congestion charging be rolled out in more areas to try and influence a shift back to public transport?
3) Should a return to the commuting model be sought in an attempt to save town centres and revert to type, or is it time to take a new approach to urban planning?
Any levelling up and green agenda must grapple with these issues. The masterplan for the Island Quarter in Nottingham was recently amended in response to Covid. It now provides: more leisure space with an expanded linear park; enhanced green spaces; multi-functional spaces for outdoor events; and extended access routes for pedestrians and cyclists. This rapid response to the pandemic is likely just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what design changes may follow.
As for levelling up, we will take a look at what government says when the White Paper finally emerges.
Posted on 7 October, 2021 by Ortolan