TOWN PLANNING

The government has outlined a new ‘Long-Term Plan for Towns’, including giving 55 towns £20m each. So, what might this mean for local authority lighting engineers? Jess Gallacher reports

It was announced by the government in the autumn that 55 towns in England, Scotland and Wales have been selected to be part of what has been termed a new ‘Long-Term Plan for Towns’ [1].

This plan will see each of the 55 (and see the end for more on this) receive £20m of additional funding, with the government setting aside £1.1bn in total.

As prime minister Rishi Sunak highlighted on the launch of the plan, the government’s aim is to try to tackle some of the longterm, chronic decline that we too-often see in urban centres outside of our biggest cities: rundown high streets, neglected community and public spaces, anti-social behaviour.

‘Towns are the place most of us call home and where most of us go to work. But politicians have focused on cities and always taken towns for granted. Businesses have not had the incentives to invest,’ Mr Sunak said.

‘Generations of young people have grown up thinking that the only way to get on, is to get out. As a result, since the financial crisis, jobs growth in towns has been half of that in cities, and a quarter of that in London.

‘But the change we need is deeper and more profound. On the occasions over the years when governments have tried to help towns, the story has always been the same. Short-term funding pots, often put in the control of councils that are already failing, with little or no consultation with the people that really matter – local people. It’s time to invest directly in the places that need it most, not politicians that squander the most,’ he added.

Lighting interventions have the potential to be a large part of this new long-term regeneration vision. So, let’s look at how plan intends to work and, in particular, how local authority lighting engineers and consultants can be part of the opportunities it could bring. The scheme in summary is as follows:

  • Each town on the list will receive £20m of funding as a 10-year endowment-style fund to spend on improvements for the town. This funding is entirely separate from Safer Streets and Levelling Up funds.
  • Each town must develop a ‘town board’ to decide how to spend ‘their’ money. This will be constituted from community groups, local businesses, the public sector and the local MP.

    The improvements are being bundled together under three broad themes.
    These are:
  1. Safety and security. Interventions here could include new and improved security infrastructure, such as CCTV and street lighting. It could mean providing additional ‘hotspot’ policing and local authority wardens. Or it could feasibly mean diversionary activity through anti-social awareness courses and support for community outreach facilities.
  2. High streets, heritage and regeneration. Interventions here could include remediating and repurposing vacant department stores, including converting these to high-quality housing. It could mean preserving and improving heritage sites in the town. Or it could be about creating and maintaining parks and green spaces.
  3. Transport and connectivity. Investment in this context will need to be used alongside other themes, particularly safety and security, to ensure that transport options are seen as attractive and safe.

Unusually for a scheme of this type, the plans are set to run for 10 years. Expected timelines are that, by April 2024, local authorities will have brought local partners together to form their town boards.

A number of the towns have existing committees that can be used as the basis for the town board, so this timescale is seen as a realistic one.

Each board will then be expected to start the process of setting out a longterm vision based on local priorities.

During this coming spring, after each board has been set up, capacity funding will then be released to support the development of investment plans, including additional community engagement activities.

Ongoing engagement will be available from the ‘Towns Taskforce’, which is being set up by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DHLUC), albeit reporting directly to Mr Sunak.

The intention is that, from summer 2024, towns will submit their long-term plans and then year one funding will be released.

What impact any forthcoming general election this year may have on the schedule remains to be seen, however.

Online conversation amongst the lighting industry has seen comments along the lines of ‘it will be interesting to revisit this in future and compare the intention with the reality’. However, without a crystal ball, let us stick to the current facts.

THE 55 LONG-TERM PLAN TOWNS
ENGLAND
East and West Midlands:Kirkby
Bilston (Wolverhampton)Nelson (Pendle)
Boston
ChesterfieldSouth East and South West
Clifton (Nottinghamshire)Bexhill-on-Sea
DarlastonHastings
DudleyRyde
Kirkby-in-AshfieldTorquay
Mansfield
Newark-on-TrentYorkshire and The Humber
SkegnessBarnsley
SmethwickCastleford
SpaldingDewsbury
WorksopDoncaster
Grimsby
East and North EastKeighley
Blyth (Northumberland)Rotherham
Clacton-on-SeaScarborough
EstonScunthorpe
Great Yarmouth
HartlepoolWALES
JarrowBarry (Vale of Glamorgan)
SpennymoorMerthyr Tydfil
WashingtonCwmbrân
Wrexham
North West
AccringtonSCOTLAND
Ashton-under-LyneElgin
BurnleyClydebank
ChaddertonCoatbridge
DarwenDumfries
Farnworth (Bolton)Greenock
HeywoodIrvine
Leigh (Wigan)Kilmarnock

Broadly positive, so far. For example, Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, has described the plan as ‘amplifying the importance of place-making in providing economic, societal and community wellbeing’.

She has called for local planning authorities to be invited to join the town boards in order to bring their professional knowledge to bear, along with the fact they will have intimate knowledge of the towns they serve.

Lighting engineers who already have strong working relationships with their planning colleagues will therefore definitely see this suggestion as a helpful idea.

The Institute of Place Management has welcomed the initiative, too, particularly with the emphasis on what it called the ‘long-term, flexible funding, overseen by a genuine partnership of local stakeholders.’

This model of delivery, it argued, could mean ‘funding can be invested into ideas and initiatives to improve local centres that have been generated through meaningful engagement with local people… Too often, stretched local authorities work in silos, and mistrust can develop amongst wider members of the community that starts to lose faith that things can change.’

The institute added that, to ensure these schemes don’t fall into siloed fragmentation, it is imperative ‘local people are tasked with helping to drive forward the change that is required in every place, with each town board chaired by a local business or community leader.’

Finally, councillor Martin Tett, chair of the Local Government Association’s People and Places Board, said: ‘Town centres and high streets are at the heart of local communities and this funding will provide a much needed boost to those areas set to benefit.

‘Councils face an almost £3bn funding gap over the next two years just to keep services standing still. It is essential that they have adequate, long-term resources to meet ongoing cost and demand pressures, protect vital services which keep our high streets vibrant and can continue to work with local business and community leaders, to put sustainable plans in place to create thriving towns,’ Martin Tett added.

NEED TO KNOW
> The government has announced that 55 towns
in England, Scotland and Wales will each receive
£20m as part of a new ‘Long-Term Plan for Towns’.
> Regeneration investment will focus on safety and
security, high streets and heritage, and transport
and connectivity, and lighting teams are being urged
to get involved.
> The money will be managed by ‘town boards’
overseen by a government ‘Towns Taskforce’.
> [1] The full plan can be found at
https://bit.ly/3RSZcx1

It is vital that lighting professionals contribute to the work and decisions of the town boards. What unifies all the responses and potential for the Long-Term Plan for Towns is a sense of collaboration and making sure that a team of people is behind the decisionmaking process.

The key to making sure lighting and intelligent CCTV plays the role that we all know it can in improving places; making sure the voice of the profession is heard by the relevant decision makers. So, to become an ambassador for lighting in your organisation, you should:

  • Get to know your colleagues in other departments. Actively listen to their needs and communicate clearly about the benefits of lighting.
  • Share your expertise in lighting. A great starting point is to share relevant information from the ILP and Lighting Journal.
  • Invite the town board to demonstrations of lighting technology. This is so they can experience the benefits for themselves.
  • Make it easy for them to understand your value. Be familiar with the objectives of your council and be clear about how lighting contributes towards them socially, sustainably, and financially.
  • Be reliable. Stick to ethical standards, take responsibility for your projects, meet deadlines, and showcase success stories.

    In summary, the Long-Term Plan for Towns brings with it great potential, great opportunities, for lighting professionals to create lasting beneficial change for the communities they serve.

    We are a strong profession and surely now is our ‘time to shine’. Let’s rise to the challenge together.

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