Viewpoint: What role can towns play in driving economic recovery?
Over recent years, the future of towns has attracted much debate among academics and economic development professionals. It also featured prominently within the Manifestos prepared by both major political parties in advance of the 2019 General Election. There was, it seemed, significant consensus.
However this was before the crisis precipitated by COVID-19 started to unfold. A significant recession now seems inevitable and the only debate appears to surround its severity and duration. In this radically different context, should towns still be seen as a primary focus for intervention and action?
This Viewpoint argues that the current crisis makes the focus on towns more, not less, important. This reflects both their economic function and their intrinsically social character.
It also considers how they might use the tools that have been made available to them to define a new and stronger future. Broadly, there is a need to focus on the whole place (not just the town centre) in a way that is future-facing and outward-looking.
In more specific terms, this means considering relationships and flows; recognising the importance of assets, capabilities and opportunities; paying particular attention to the characteristics of the social economy; recognising changing market dynamics; and finally, making real choices at the core of any strategy or investment plan. Across all of this, strong local leadership will be critical.