What happens when urban development corporations inexplicably decide to make terrible pop music?

"You've never been shopping as it should be/Until you've been to Central Milton Keynes!" Image: Wikimedia Commons/Prioryman

Development corporations have been, for good or ill, a big part of the growth and regeneration of UK urban areas and new towns in the late 20th century (and beyond): many areas had their fortunes turned around, if not necessarily for the original inhabitants, and they’ve given us some bizarre non-places like Canary Wharf and Milton Keynes.

But we also have to development corporations to thank for some absolutely brilliant (not absolutely brilliant) pop music!

Energy In Northampton

Back in 1980, someone at Northampton Development Corporation’s marketing department was struggling to work out how to they could get the message out the world that Northampton was now The Place To Be. Presumably this person then sustained some sort of head injury and decided to recruit the lady who sang on Video Killed The Radio Star to record a song about aliens.

The result, Energy In Northampton, tells the beautiful story of a lost starship fleeing a 'neutron war', its crew seeking somewhere to start a new life: luckily their scanners light up and direct them towards… NORTHAMPTON, a town of energy, a town where they could be free! Indeed.

"Calling planet earth! Calling planet earth! Stop beaming this song into space!"

The host of the promotional video that accompanied the song theorises that the aliens were mainly attracted by the lager produced by the local Carlsberg brewery, just another absolutely brilliant thing brough to you by the Northampton Development Corporation.

"A love affair with Northampton is a journey into space." Is it? Is it, indeed. Image: This Is Of Interest.

Is the idea of lager-swilling aliens off-putting? Don’t worry, there’s a more down-to-earth track on the B-side, which economically uses exactly the same tune with different lyrics. It tells a love story for the ages, about how all the singer’s fantasies have come true since she met a guy from Northampton, which is only 60 miles by road or rail!

"I just can't wait to be in Northampton!"

But Northampton was not the only development corporation to release some plop pop.

We Are Teesside

In 1995 the Teesside Development Corporation made the questionable decision to celebrate its achievements by releasing “We Are Teesside”, a recording by New Ground, a group which apparently included members of Middlesbrough FC (the name presumably referencing their then brand new Riverside Stadium, built on Development Corporation land.)

The football team were relegated the following year, presumably as karmic punishment for their involvement.

“Teesside - we’re the future, we’re the pride!” boast the saccharine lyrics, before explaining that “the gift we leave behind is the promise of tomorrow for our children”. Also this bucket of vomit. The Teesside Development Corporation was disbanded three years later; a local MP later condemned it for “often inappropriate and threadbare development”, presumably referring to this musical tragedy.

You've Never Seen Anything Like It, Central Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes, the archetypal new town, had to get on the crap urban pop train as well. The opening of the town’s shopping centre, developed by Milton Keynes Development Corporation, was celebrated with a promotional silver flexi-disc. The song largely consists of ambiguously ambitious claims all the lines of: “You’ve never been anywhere like it, Central Milton Keynes!”

This was, inexplicably, written by the drummer from The Troggs.

“Sunny CMK! Wouldn’t mind staying all day!” sings a man who has presumably never been.


Come on modern day development corporations, raise your awful song game. Hey, London Legacy Development Corporation - we'll give you "If you need a lark/Head to the Olympic Park!" for free.

 
 
 
 

What do new business rates pilots tell us about government’s appetite for devolution?

Sheffield Town Hall, 1897. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

There have been big question marks about any future devolution of business rates ever since the last general election stopped the legislation in its tracks.

Not only did it not make its way to the statute book before the pre-election cut off, it was nowhere to be seen in the Queen’s Speech, suggesting the Government had gone cold on the idea. (This scenario was complicated further recently by the introduction of a private members’ bill on business rates by Conservative MP Peter Bone, details of which remain scarce.)

However, regardless of the situation with legislation, the government’s announcement in recent days of a pilot phase of reforms suggests that business rates devolution will go ahead after all. DCLG has invited local authorities to take part in a pilot scheme which will allow volunteer authorities to retain 100 per cent of the business rates growth they generate locally. (It also notes that a further three pilots are currently in operation as they were set up under the last government.)

There are two interesting things in this announcement that give some insight on how the government would like to push the reform forward.

The first is that only authorities that come forward with their neighbours with a proposal to pool all business rates raised into one pot across a wider geography will be considered. This suggests that pooling is likely to be strongly encouraged under the new system, even more considering that the initial position was to give power to the Secretary of State to form pools unilaterally.

The second is that pooled authorities are given free rein to propose their own local arrangements. This includes determining, where applicable, a tier split (i.e. rates distribution between districts and counties), a plan for distributing additional growth across the pool, and how this will be managed between authorities.

It’s the second which is most interesting. Although current pools already have the ability to decide for some of their arrangements, it’s fair to say that the Theresa May-led government has been much less bullish on devolution than George Osborne in particular was, with policies having a much greater ‘top down’ feel to them (for example, the Industrial Strategy) rather than a move towards giving places the tools they need to support economic growth in their areas. So the decision to allow local authorities to come up with proposed arrangements feels like a change in approach from the centre.


Of course, the point of a pilot is to test different arrangements, and the outcomes of this experiment will be used to shape any future reform of the business rates system. Given the complexity of the system and the multitude of options for reform, this seems like a sensible approach to take. But it remains to be seen whether the complex reform of a national system can be led from the bottom up. In effect, making sure this local governance is driven by common growth objectives, rather than individual authorities’ interests, will be essential.

Nonetheless, the government’s reaffirmation of its commitment to business rates to devolution and its willingness to test new approaches is welcome. Given that the UK is one of the most centralised countries in the western world, moves to allow local authorities to keep at least some of the tax revenue that is generated in their area is a step forward in giving places more autonomy over how they spend their money. That interest in changing this appears to have been whetted once more is encouraging.

There are, however, a number of other issues with the current business rates system which need to be ironed out. Centre for Cities is currently working on a briefing of the business rates system, building on our previous work in this area, and we’ll be making suggestions as to how the system can be improved.

Hugo Bessis is a researcher for the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article originally appeared.

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