Towns Fund Prospectus published

101 towns in the UK have been chosen to pioneer Town Deals and the prospectus setting out how they are to apply for a share of £3.6bn has now been published. The Towns Fund will fund the first phase of the Town Deals, and each successful town is expected to receive around £10m to improve the social and physical infrastructure needed to revive their economies.

The Towns Fund is a combination of the £675m Future High Streets Fund, increased by Boris Johnson in October 2019 by another £1.3bn, and Teresa May’s £1.6bn Stronger Towns Fund. The government will work with the towns to develop bespoke action plans which seek to make improvements in the following areas, with a view to improving productivity:

  • Urban regeneration, planning and land use, including increasing density in town centres, restoring cultural anchors and local economic assets
  • Skills and enterprise infrastructure, including factors which increase overseas investment into the regions
  • Connectivity, including transport networks and digital infrastructure

The prospectus indicates that as part of the first phase process, lead Councils are to establish Town Deal Boards by the end of January 2020 and consult with local stakeholders to compile Town Investment Plans by the end of summer 2020. The second phase will involve the delivery of these plans.

The Towns Fund has been welcomed by the Centre for Cities, which recently published research demonstrating that systemic improvements to places focusing on infrastructure, skills and economic development would be necessary to provide lasting change to the UK’s high streets. The Grimsey Review 2 also makes the point that town centres will need to diversify economically, away from retail and towards workspace, housing, services and experiential uses.

Many of the places selected to deliver pilots are among the most deprived in the UK. Described by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a speech in October as ‘left behind towns’, the list includes Peterborough, Cheadle, Oldham, Grimsby and Great Yarmouth.

Of course launching a fund like this, just before a general election, is controversial and it has been accused of being "politically motivated". There's no doubt that the Towns Fund is going to be used to score political points by all parties in the next few weeks. However, once the dust settles and we have a new government then, according to Cathy Parker's recent analysis, the vast majority of the towns fund will be going to places that need it.