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Derby most in need of public investment

The city of Derby in the Midlands is in particular need of public investment to kickstart regeneration activity, analysis from law firm Shakespeare Martineau and planning and design consultancy Marrons shows.

The group analysed towns based on housing affordability, job creation potential, population growth and accessibility.

After Derby comes Caerphilly in Wales, Spennymoor in the North East, and Barnsley in Yorkshire.

Alex Smith, managing director of infrastructure and specialist markets at Shakespeare Martineau, said: “From the 360 market towns we have analysed, we’ve ranked the 50 most in need of public funding to kickstart regeneration. We’ve also ranked the 50 that are most ‘resilient’, where private sector investment is already evident and more likely to be forthcoming in the future.

“This isn’t determined geographically, but on a range of demographic and social factors, not least employment density, population growth and housing affordability in sustainable communities close to or within town centres.”

Only two towns in the South East are ranked in the bottom 50 towns.

The rankings have been published as the government faces continued criticism over the allocation methodology behind its £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, with critics claiming its broad reach is not targeted enough to help areas most in need of regeneration.

The application process is also said to be onerous and bureaucratic, costing local authorities significant time and money when applying for funds.

Analysis from the Labour Party has revealed that London will receive a higher allocation of funding (from the Levelling Up Fund) than Yorkshire and the North East, the latter of which will receive almost half of the amount given to local authorities in the South East.

The report recommends the introduction of micro-scale ‘health hubs’ to provide treatment for minor complaints and health conditions on the high street – an activity which could also help to alleviate pressure on NHS services. Other recommendations include the creation of Town Centre Priority Zones and Regeneration Panels within local authorities, and a centralised National Brownfield Map. The latter should be supported by a ‘Prove it or Lose it’ policy, where brownfield land is put up for auction if planning consent is not secured within two years of it being advertised.

The report comes after another year of decline for high streets across the UK, where more than 50 shops closed each day in 2022, according to the Centre for Retail Research. The total number of retail closures last year was 17,000, 50% higher than in 2021, and the highest in five years. Closures from independent retailers made up 65% of the total.

Brian Mullin, head of Marrons, said: “The evidence suggests that our high streets are suffering and continuing to decline. This critical urban fabric is often most vulnerable to economic turbulence. The decline of physical retail, which has been accelerated due to the pandemic, has compounded the challenge for businesses and communities.

“From a plan-making perspective, a retail-or-nothing mindset is a major contributor to the problem. Embracing diversity of our High Street offerings is key, but only part of the solution. Attracting inward investment might well involve potential tax incentives or CIL exemptions to address the viability difficulties associated with regeneration; whilst simultaneously creating more robust and vibrant town centre communities, helping to ameliorate our spiralling housing crisis and stimulating economic development to enable recovery and growth.

“Whilst there is no silver bullet for stimulating high street regeneration – there are meaningful and thoughtful changes suggested in our new report which are a step in the right direction.”