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Think Tank economist says devolution deal decisions should focus on infrastructure

Words: Laura Edgar

A focus on infrastructure through an assessment of proposed transport and skills budgets should determine the success of the 38 devolution deal bids, a think tank representative told The Planner.

Paul Swinney of the Centre for Cities said that the focus for the 38 devolution bids submitted to the government on 4 September should be infrastructure. “Getting control of certain budgets, like transport and skills, is important” for delivering infrastructure, he said.

And although a focus on infrastructure would not have a direct impact on solving the housing crisis it would, the organisation’s senior economist contended, lead to greater potential for opening up housing development in the region. Getting infrastructure in place could provide the platform for potential new housing, suggested Swinney.

The RTPI also pointed to the potential of devolution to positively affect delivery of housing. Last September in Strategic Planning: Beyond “Cooperation”, the institute outlined its case that providing sufficient affordable housing across a commuting area, and ensuring that transport links are sufficient, requires coordination across a wider area than just a single authority.

Joe Kilroy, policy officer at the RTPI, said: “Insofar as these devolution deals provide the opportunity for cities, towns and counties to integrate housing, infrastructure and necessary services that are currently separated by central government silos, they will have a positive effect on housing delivery.”

The government said the volume of bids “clearly demonstrates the significant appetite to be part of a devolution revolution across the country”.

The number of submitted bids surprised the Centre for Cities; it was “certainly more” than the think tank expected but was “great” to see, said Swinney.

However, having competing bids from organisations across Yorkshire was not “ideal”.

It suggested a big agenda overlap, he said, and told the government that things could not be worked out locally. “One deal for Yorkshire would have been better.”

A big issue for the government, Swinney claimed, is that “it only has the capacity and appetite for really big deals like Greater Manchester”.

He said: “The passing down of powers is definitely a good thing, and it is better to get something than nothing, so for those who are not successful it is about how they respond. Do they become disheartened or do they learn from their previous bid, take into account what has been successful and come back to the government with a refined bid? There is a lot on the table for those that are successful, while those who do not get a deal will be in a difficult position.”

The bids

Earlier this year, chancellor George Osborne asked for areas to put forward devolution proposals following Greater Manchester’s deal with the government last year. The full list of the groups that have submitted devolution proposals is as follows:



Cheshire and Warrington




‘D2N2’ – Derbyshire, Derby, Nottinghamshire and Nottingham



Greater Brighton

Greater Essex

Greater Lincolnshire

Greater Manchester

Greater Yorkshire

Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Heart of the South West


Hull, Yorkshire, Leeds City Region and the Northern Powerhouse

Inverness & Highland City

Leeds City Region

Leicester and Leicestershire

Liverpool City Region




North East


Sheffield City Region

Surrey, West Sussex & East Sussex



Tees Valley

Telford & Wrekin

West Midlands

West of England



York, North Yorkshire and East Riding