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One criticism of the recent economic resurgence seen in many UK cities it is that it has led to bifurcated urban economies. While they are the dynamo behind post-recession optimism, booming sectors like technology seem to struggle when it comes to providing spillover benefits, and that should be a source of concern to industry and government alike. But these sectors are not untameable forces of nature – we can make decisions to ensure that the benefits of their growth are felt across the entire local economy.

Economy: More inclusive, productive labour markets

The potentially unequal nature of the next economy provides a substantial challenge to policymakers. It is clear - given the high revenues being generated in certain sectors - that there is a dividend to be had from their growth. While the debate about whether or not this growth produces spillover benefits for the local economy is ongoing, there are measures that can be taken to ensure that some of these benefits are secured, rather than simply hoping they will naturally accrue.

A 2016 RTPI paper makes a number of recommendations for how to ensure that the impact of growth in the technology sector in urban areas is balanced and inclusive.

  • Use technology to deliver public services

Local government continues to face enormous fiscal challenges, which means that the cost of delivering public services must be substantially reduced. The growth of the technology sector has led to the development of products that can deliver public services in a more efficient, cost effective manner. For example many councils are now exploiting GPS mapping technology to improve the quality and cost of waste collection, achieving better procurement, and developing more efficient service partnership. At a time of squeezed Local Authority budgets, collaborations with tech firms can create efficiencies in public service delivery.

  • Take advantage of firms’ particular skills and resources to address a city’s infrastructure challenges.

PPPs are popping up in many cities as responses to infrastructural challenges are increasingly technology driven. Barcelona have partnered with Bitcarrier to create a Bluetooth traffic monitoring device to tackle congestion in the city centre, and Philipps have partnered with Los Angeles to perform environmental noise and energy grid monitoring. These kinds of mutually beneficial relationships may signal the way forward as cities continue to deal with the tensions created by growth.

  • Collaborate with firms in urban regeneration projects.

The preference of entrepreneurial firms and their employees for transit accessible, walkable, multi-use districts provides a clear opportunity to reimagine urban areas. In cities such as Dublin, Bournemouth, and Bristol previously industrial districts are undergoing a physical and economic transformation to chart a new path of innovative growth.

Place: Dynamic, resilient places

While locally tailored innovations have a key role to play in making an area successful, the ability of a place to house and transport employees is crucial. While the measures discussed above have a role to play in promoting equitable economic growth, a consistent message from our roundtable discussions and interviews over the course of our various reports on local growth has been that affordability of employment space and housing, along with transport infrastructure capacity are the dynamos behind local economic growth in any sector.

If there is a lack of affordable housing and office options and pressures on transport infrastructure, other interventions are unlikely to foster sustainable growth. Therefore, if a place is to be attractive to firms it is essential that the fundamental ingredients for an economically successful place (housing, transport, employment space) are present.

This requires an open dialogue between firms, providers of housing, infrastructure providers, and local government so that measures can be taken to plan holistically/ growth can take place holistically.

For example, the North Bayshore precise plan in Silicon Valley, lays out the city's overall strategy for reviewing planning and land-use for the area. In order to deal with the increased demand placed on housing by the presence of Tech firmscity officials are offering developers (including Google) a sizable density bonus for building residential units.

Governance: Creating system change

The literature suggests the following socio-political conditions need to be in place to engender long-term policy making:

1)      Policy makers enjoy a degree of electoral safety or even insulation from competitive political forces

2)      Political elites are generally agreed that the proposed policy will deliver long-term social returns and the risks of failure are low

3)      Structure of opportunities and trade-offs facing well organised groups is such that a long-term investment strategy appears to be adequately appealing.

The RTPI’s ‘Long Term Thinking’ research project suggests that policy-makers should mix with a large range of people, share ideas and create cross-disciplinary linkages. They need to be open to a wide range of information sources, monitoring developments on the fringes and developing a broad policy network.

In terms of services supporting each other more effectively, the RTPI has often pointed out that place is where services and policy decisions meet, and as such provides a node upon which financing, services, and decision making processes could be focused.

The spatial implications of policy making are too often ignored when they are being designed. This can be because there is no one taking ownership of the process, or because there is rarely a system in place whereby the success or failure of policy is measured. The neglect of place, in particular the way that different policies and services combine to affect places in different ways, has contributed to a range of negative economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Policy- and decision-makers can learn much from the theory and practice of ‘spatial planning’ (or ‘integrated planning’). This goes beyond traditional land use planning to seek to integrate policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes which influence the nature of places and how they function. In order to create system, change of the kind the Inclusive Growth Commission is calling for, we need to develop a new ‘spatial policy’ – a science of policy and financing which incorporates place and space, and produces policy which is much more integrated, strategic and sensitive to place.

This is an extract from The Royal Town Planning Institute's submission to the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission.

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