Unequal and unprepared: England's future hangs in the balance
Published by Fiona Mannion for TCPA in Central Government and also in Communities, Environment, Housing, Local Government
Urgent action is needed to address a looming environmental catastrophe in parts of eastern England with climate change and rising sea levels threatening communities and food production, the country’s leading planning charity warns.
In a major report ‘The Lie of the Land!’, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) argues that redistributing the population away from flood risk areas may become an “increasingly urgent imperative”.
But it adds that as well as providing challenges for decision-makers, the reality of climate change also provides opportunities for less-prosperous regions, such as the north east, less susceptible to rising sea levels.
A summary of ‘The Lie of the Land!’, published on Thursday 18th October 2012 to coincide with a conference in Newcastle upon Tyne – ‘Two Speed England’ - organised by the TCPA with support from the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewalat Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council – also warns that areas targeted for growth by successive governments in the south east and east of England are already under stress through lack of water resources.
The report warns that the concentration of economic, political and cultural activity around London and the greater south east makes England “one of the most polarised of the advanced nations.” This requires the government to address the condition of England at a “national and strategic scale”.
Although both David Cameron and Nick Clegg acknowledged on several occasions on taking office that England was “unbalanced” with too much emphasis on economic growth on London and the south east, the report argues that England is an increasingly divided nation “in which social mobility and poverty remain entrenched, with restricted access to economic opportunities.” It acknowledges that the capital, and surrounding region, has islands of entrenched poverty – but warns that parts of the north, by contrast, have “archipelagos” of poverty and worklessness.
Kate Henderson, TCPA Chief Executive said:
“The report throws up a series of questions which urgently need addressing – principally the capacity of the government, as currently organised, to cope with the environmental, economic and social challenges facing the country.”
“It is a matter of concern that England – unlike Scotland, and Wales – has no government department, or agency, charged with addressing acute strategic, or ‘spatial’, problems across the country. For instance, the threat of climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing England and has major implications for food production, with the greatest proportion of top grade agriculture land located in the south and east of the country.”
The report suggests a national debate around the case for a new department of state – perhaps a Ministry of Sustainable Development - to join up decision-making, embracing elements of the current Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Transport, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Transport and connectivity are also at the heart of the debate, such as the argument for stronger rail links between northern cities, from Newcastle to Liverpool – a ‘Crossrail of the North’ – which should be given urgent attention.
Cllr Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, and a key speaker at today’s conference, warns that the dominance of an overheating south east of England is “unsustainable”. But he said that the north east, rather than painting itself as the victim of an over-dominant London, needed to project itself positively as a regional centre of ideas.
Cllr Forbes added:
“We need a more balanced Britain and we need to make the argument that the north east, with its better quality of life, modern transport links and willing workforce, can play its part,”
Another key speaker, Chris Murray, director of the eight-strong Core Cities group, of which Newcastle is a member, added:
“Core cities, home to 16 million people, deliver the lion’s share of England’s growth outside London. Yet their productivity lags behind many international competitors. Because of their scale, and role, increasing the economic output of these cities even slightly will have a profound effect on rebalancing the national economy.”
Professor Mark Shucksmith, Director of the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal, also speaking at today’s conference, said:
“Rebalancing England so economic activity and growth are spread around the country is vital for many reasons, not least of which is to reduce our overdependence on the financial sector and the City of London and the risks this carries. We must also recognise the economic potential of England beyond the south-east, as we strive to emerge from the current economic downturn. Yet too often successive governments have been, and continue to be, blind to the spatial impacts of their policies.”