Opinion by Cllr Neil Clarke, Chairman of the District Councils’ Network and Leader of Rushcliffe Borough Council (First appeard in PPP Journal August 2011.)
Growth is the Coalition Government’s top priority. Announcing the four new Enterprise Zones on 28th July 2011 the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: ‘I am determined that we should drive growth in every town, city and community in the country.’.
- How are district councils, who are at the coalface, making this happen?
- Have they been able to forge growth in recession hit Britain?
Here Cllr Neil Clarke, the Chairman of the 178 strong District Councils’ Network and Leader of Rushcliffe Borough Council, sets out how Districts are helping to grow UK Plc .
The 201 districts across England cover a huge swathe of our country. We are the strategic planning and housing authorities, roles which powerfully support districts as the lead for economic development in our areas.
We understand that prosperity is fundamental to the quality of life. Attracting inward investment, renewing and regenerating run down areas, creating vibrant town centres with good day and night time economies and creating diverse employment opportunities, are everyday business for us. It’s what we’re about.
- Whilst Government can help to create the right conditions for growth, we make it happen.
- Let me take you on a tour across UK Plc to see how we’re doing this.
At Fenland District Council the award winning £50m Nene Waterfront regeneration scheme in Wisbech has transformed 20 acres of derelict and dangerous land that had lain dormant for 20 years into a thriving new development.
New jobs, a business and conference centre alongside a Foyer scheme (housing with job support) for young people, and 128 leisure craft berths on a disused quayside were delivered. The land-mark 3-storey Boathouse (shown right) overlooking the river provides a high quality office environment for 37 knowledge-based businesses and a 100 of the 200 new jobs.
Driven by the core funding partners, Fenland District Council, the East of England Development Agency, English Partnerships and the European Regeneration Development Fund, together they put in more than £13.5m to cover the cost of acquiring the land, do remedial works and infrastructure improvements. The 5 year scheme has weathered the economic recession, although the 300+ housing development has slowed.
But how do these big developments get off the ground? What do Districts bring to the table?
Districts are planning and housing authorities and we’ll be spearheading the new planning regime, in which Government has centrally placed a presumption in favour of growth.
Let’s me take you to the south coast where Shepway District Council has just issued its planning blueprint. A new Folkestone racecourse, improvements to Folkestone, Hythe and New Romney town centres, new homes and a school at Westenhanger, new community green space in Seabrook, a new school in Shorncliffe plus 350 new and more efficient homes a year are the headline proposals in its Local Development Framework, and which will guide the planning of the district for the next 20 years.
But will it be delivered?
Shepway District Council have a track record for delivery. Take a look at the Coastal Park. Dating from 1784, in 2000 it was sadly neglected and overgrown. Shepway DC took it in hand and raised funds for the £1.4m makeover. This is development which provides a quality public realm – its Wild Zone is home to the largest free children’s adventure play area in the south east.
Despite the tough economic times, Folkestone has seen a momentum for growth increase its retail offer through the development of a Creative Quarter, including the opening of the Performing Arts and Business Centre in the Spring of 2009, a high quality mixed-use development at Folkestone Harbour and Seafront, the arrival of the High Speed One service in December 2009, so now St Pancras is only 50 minutes away, the revitalisation of green spaces, new beaches, upgraded streets and improved community facilities. All this has been possible as a result of Shepway District Council working with other public, private, charitable and community sectors.
Let me take you to the picturesque Chilterns, with the M40 and A40 offering growth opportunities. Wycombe District Council tackled falling footfall in its largest settlement, High Wycombe, a town with a proud heritage as a traditional English market town.
Eden, High Wycombe, a shopping and entertainment complex, attracts over 350,000 visitors per week and is one of the top 30 largest UK shopping centres. 107 shops, a bowling alley, a cinema and a library, with parking for 1600 cars, the complex also includes a new bus station and 48 residential apartments. Operating since 2008, the £350m investment was delivered by a public and private sector consortium.
Many of our districts are places where people like living, as they offer a wonderful environment with good access to facilities. Tackling the housing shortage in districts which have high demand and rising house prices is a constant challenge for these councils, as is creating new jobs for local people. Warwick District Council have just signed a 10-year joint venture with Waterloo Housing Group which will deliver 1200 new affordable homes, with a local end to end supply chain beyond the traditional local construction apprenticeships, and includes local advisory services.
East Staffs Borough Council is tackling the problem of a town centre with a changing industrial heart and pre-1919 terraced homes. The tough economic climate has presented real challenges, but the Council’s Growth Point programme, aimed at kick starting economic growth through new jobs and housing, has seen its partner Trent & Dove Housing buck the trend and exceed its targets for building new homes over the 3 year period of the recession. This included the refurbishment of 26 existing homes in Burton town centre and the opening of the £3.5m Charrington House, a new affordable housing development that has rejuvenated a gateway into Burton and provided 34 ‘city living’ apartments, with state-of-the-art sound-proofed windows, high-tech solar panels which power lighting in communal areas and generate electricity.
Nearby in the historic cathedral city of Lichfield, a public private collaboration between Bromford Carinthia Housing, the Homes and Community Agency, S. Harrison Developments and Lichfield District Council has managed to beat the worst of the recession, delivering 83 new affordable homes, 400+ car park, a hotel and a retail business. The total inward investment of £15m saw a start on site in March 2011, with a finish date of Winter 2012.
Let me take you to the north west, to the ancient settlement dating back to 1086, to Preston, England’s newest city.
With a population of 131,900, Preston is growing, and the city’s driving vision is to be the 3rd city of the North West, after Manchester and Liverpool, with the progression of major projects including the £700m Tithebarn scheme. And it’s not just about shops – it is wholesale city centre regeneration, offering a cosmopolitan city-working/city-living with new shops, homes, offices, revitalised markets and a new bus station.
I could take you to many other districts and show you examples of innovation and initiative which create the wealth our country needs. With our unremitting focus on place, and being close to our people, we work with them to bring about the growth that UK Plc badly needs, and make our districts great places to live.
Find out more about the work of district councils nationwide by reading our case studies - a rich source of over 300 case studies on a variety of topics.