Levelling up still on the UK agenda but integrators key to delivery

A more integrated approach to placemaking is critical to unlocking levelling up’s full potential, according to an AECOM-sponsored panel at the Conservative Party Conference.


The UK government’s levelling up agenda will remain a key plank of policy for the new Conservative administration according to Michael Gove, speaking at a panel at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. Experts on the panel warned, however, that only a more coordinated approach could ensure it achieved its full potential.

Gove, the former (and soon to be reappointed) Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, said that while the approach might change under the then Prime Minister Liz Truss, the underlying policy direction was likely to remain.

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“Some of the points that have been made about Investment Zones and business rates reflect a commitment to press ahead with levelling up,” he said, indicating that while it was natural to expect changes under a new Prime Minister, the underlying policy would be retained.

Gove was speaking on a Policy Exchange panel sponsored by AECOMPlacemaking, Pride and Productivity, How Places Can Unlock Levelling Up – alongside Councillor Abi Brown from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Ben Derbyshire, former President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Ike Ijeh, Head of Housing, Architecture and Urban Space at Policy Exchange and Jonathan Moore, Head of Project, Programme and Cost Management, North of England at AECOM.

The lively and wide-ranging discussion focused on the regeneration of post-industrial Northern and Midlands towns covering a broad range of topics from the future of the high street and the need for further local government funding and business rate reform to the necessity of ‘building back better’ with beauty.



Broad agenda requires strong and local leadership

Abi Brown said that Stoke-on-Trent was a “litmus test” for the national levelling up agenda, arguing that it had a critical role to play in improving the life chances of people in the city through improved access to services and infrastructure including housing, education and jobs.

“Scale is important, and the role of local government is incredibly important around places and productivity in particular, so while small is beautiful sometimes in the case of Stoke-on-Trent but also you need an element of scale to deliver these things,” she said.

Gove said that strong local leadership, such as Councillor Brown provided in Stoke, was needed to overcome a lack of coordination that often hindered development.

“That is a factor across the country where you can have organisations that are responsible for railways, to those responsible for highways to those responsible for urban regeneration not integrating successfully. That is why a strong civic leader with a power to convene and knock heads together is absolutely vital,” he said.


Integrated approach can yield results

Jonathan Moore said that the key to allowing “the impact of levelling up to happen quickly” was the integration of the activities of all stakeholders. He cited AECOM’s successful experience in the UK’s major city regions as positive of what could be achieved with the right approach. He stressed AECOM’s commitment to working as trusted partners with mayors and other leaders to deliver integrated planning and implementation.

“Without an integrator leading the delivery of these infrastructure areas these things won’t happen at pace, at scale and with a good investment model behind them. And the way successful economies have moved forward, like Greater Manchester, is by having a very joined-up approach to delivery,” he said.


Public buy-in essential to nurture sense of pride

Another key issue identified for success was winning local support for projects, with Ike Ijeh arguing that it could potentially “make or break” Investment Zones.

“The democratic consent idea is really important because you are not going to get placemaking or good places without a sense of civic and local pride.  And you don’t get pride if people don’t like the places where they live, or if they don’t feel part of the process,” he said.

“Engage, engage, engage,” said Ben Derbyshire. “Make sure the propositions that come forward for regeneration and levelling up are rooted in the local community, so people recognise them as stemming from their voice.”



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