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How inclusive economies create distinctive places

Regeneration of former industrial areas can be a platform for raising the opportunities and living standards of people who have been hit hardest by industrial decline. To achieve this, planners must take the lead in including local residents when formulating regeneration plans, argues Jenna Langford

Over the past decade a planner’s portfolio in the Black Country has largely meant tackling our failing industrial estates by allocating them for housing, and battling the decline of town centres.

A new West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy provides a chance for planners to create distinctive places. I’d say we can only achieve this by driving growth within an inclusive economy.

The strategy acknowledges the centrality of our manufacturing industries and supply chains to our economic success – the Black Country is the supply chain capital of the UK. There’s also a need to upskill the labour market to drive productivity and innovation.

We planners are likely to make the usual connections here to infrastructure, transport and land supply. But the strategy invites us – in a chapter titled An Inclusive, Clean and Resilient Economy – to consider more ‘inclusive’ approaches to generating economic strength. This is about ensuring that economic growth benefits everyone, to prevent social exclusion and to create more sustainable communities.

It originates from recognising that economic growth in developing countries did not necessarily reduce inequality or deliver better living standards for communities. The idea that prosperity is determined by geography must resonate with us as planners as we consistently see the ‘same old places’ left behind and victims of gentrification when a place has been ‘successfully’ regenerated.

“Co-design creates new insights for those of us charged with delivering regeneration”

Planners always consider sustainable development through balancing economic, social and environmental impacts. Inclusive growth pushes that a step further through its idea of co-design. Not simply ‘consulting’, but co-designing places with businesses, education and health providers, voluntary groups and communities can create truly sustainable places.

Co-design creates new insights for those of us charged with delivering regeneration. The huge investments on the back of the Commonwealth Games and the HS2 give us a one-in-a-lifetime chance to embrace this principle.

The call to reinvent our town centres comes with the challenge to make them singular and aligned to the needs of the community. Co-design challenges convention to open up consideration for town centre uses that wouldn’t otherwise be considered. Complementary education aligned to the needs of the workforce, incubation spaces for entrepreneurs, affordable and aspirational housing to retain the upskilled workforce, community-led services to overcome barriers to employment – these could all be vital contributors to an economic growth that is inclusive and resilient.

Jenna Langford MRTPI is regeneration manager for Sandwell Borough Council and the RTPI Young Planner of the Year 2019

Photo | iStock



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