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Can redesigning cities boost economic growth? – with PwC

A special podcast from Spotlight, the New Statesman’s policy supplement.

Placemaking – the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play and learn in – can contribute significantly to the UK’s productivity. It revitalises public spaces and can lead to many economic and societal benefits, such as increased levels of employment, better health and well-being, and improved access to culture, skills and education.

The ongoing regeneration of Bradford in West Yorkshire, for example, is set to create thousands of jobs, 1,000 new homes, business hubs, cultural destinations such as music venues and food markets, and new public transport routes that will boost active travel such as walking and cycling. The huge placemaking project ties in with the city winning the bid for UK City of Culture 2025.

However, placemaking needs to be completed in consultation with the community, otherwise people are at risk of being priced out in the process of improvement. As the cost-of-living crisis continues, cities also vary wildly in their prosperity, with these regeneration projects often being reserved for major cities rather than smaller cities or towns.

In this special episode sponsored by PwC, we speak with a panel of expert guests from local government and the private sector about what regeneration projects can do for cities, how their benefits can be spread across the country, and how to tackle challenges such as gentrification. We also look at PwC’s Good Growth for Cities Report, a ranking of major UK cities based on 12 measures of economic well-being, from health and jobs to transport availability.

Sarah Dawood, special projects writer of the New Statesman’s Spotlight policy channel, is joined by Karen Finlayson, partner at PwC and regions leader for UK government and health; Huw Thomas, councillor and leader of Cardiff Council; and Katie Trout, director of policy and partnerships at the West Midlands Growth Company.

“Placemaking is about adopting that people-focused approach to development,” says Trout, who discusses the £1.9bn Smithfield regeneration in Birmingham on the podcast. “It’s really about improving the quality of public spaces for the benefit of everybody who uses them.”

On co-designing with communities, Trout highlights the importance of ensuring new developments have affordable housing linked to real-world wages, while Finlayson says that creating jobs for local people and investing in skills are crucial to avoid the “brain drain”. “People go into other major cities, and you lose some of that intellectual capital that can exist in a local place,” she says.

Devolution to local authorities was stressed as vitally important in enabling these placemaking projects to happen. “The closer you can locate the decision taking to the people, the more likely you are to come up with a project that will work and deliver for that community,” says Thomas. “And the more likely it is you’ll be able to prioritise investment into the right areas as well.”

PwC’s Good Growth for Cities Report shows that “there’s still obviously quite some levelling up to do in terms of that north-south divide”, says Finlayson, and key to doing that is “devolution of fiscal responsibilities and accountability to a local level”, she adds.

“The focus and investment have been in some of the major cities, and those choices have probably been made more centrally,” she adds. “If local places were given the opportunity to think about how they could invest locally and work together, bringing together the public and private sectors, working in partnership with the communities, then I think we would see growth at a much faster rate.”

Listen to the podcast in full above or on the Spotlight on Policy podcast channel here.

Read PwC’s Good Growth for Cities Report in full here.

[See also: You should only work four hours a day]