Preston used ‘Corbynomics’ to change its fortune. Now other cities are doing the same

Blue skies over Preston bus station. Image: Ilike/Flickr/creative commons.

I am sure they are an estimable bunch, but Preston Council are not the locomotive of the UK economy. We Conservatives know that it is only a strong private sector economy that can pay for superb public services.

When Boris Johnson scoffed at the idea of Preston being an example of economic success, at a fringe meeting during the most recent Conservative Party conference, he couldn’t have guessed that barely a month later PwC and Demos would independently assess Preston as being the most improved city in the UK in 2018.

Among other improvements, according to their report, “Preston has experienced a large reduction in its unemployment rate, measured at 3.1 per cent in 2017 compared to 6.5 per cent in 2014.”

In Preston, several factors fell onto place at once, leading to positive change that was part planned, part felicitous. Inspired by the Cleveland model, the council visited local “anchor institutions” – institutions that are rooted in Preston, such as the housing association, the university and so on – and persuaded them to spend more money locally. The results were spectacular: local procurement increased by £74m in under five years.

Then, inspired by Mondragon – an international business organisation established by a group of cooperatives, which began soon after the Spanish Civil War – the council set up a framework organisation called the Preston Cooperative Development Network (PCDN), of which I am the Chair. The PCDN encourages business people to create worker-owned co-operatives, and helps them to network. The Preston Model is work in progress, yet the council has achieved a lot in relatively little time. Here are four of the factors which led to its success.

1. Adversity

The collapse of major retail investment into Preston soon after the financial crash of 2008 left the city with nothing: no money, no faith in a failing system and no alternative regeneration scheme. New ideas sometimes emerge out of necessity, and this was one of them.

2. Leadership

At the same time, Preston City Council had the good fortune to enjoy the leadership of an energetic councillor, Matthew Brown. Brown has been a councillor since 2002. He then became Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Inclusion, and Policy, and now is leader of the council.

Frustrated by the dire economic and social prospects for Preston, Brown set about scouring the world for alternative solutions for Preston, while simultaneously improving the local area. For example, it’s because of Brown that Preston City Council was one of the first councils in the UK to introduce the living wage.

3. Corbyn’s Labour party

Councillor Brown’s ideas might never have seen the light of day without the interest and ultimately the backing of Corbyn’s Labour party. In particular, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell took a proactive interest, and was instrumental in setting up a Labour Party Community Wealth Building Unit, inspired by the Preston Model.

This has helped to develop ideas – such as generating and retaining local wealth through local procurement and employee ownership schemes – which have the potential to become Labour Party policy.

4. Research, advice and consultation

The council was forward thinking and creative in its approach, and so agreed to fund the Centre for Local Economic Strategy (CLES) and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) to advise councillors and council officers on ways of executing their ideas. CLES and UCLan provided both practical advice and reports to support the council’s Community Wealth Building project.

Can it work elsewhere?

According to Councillor Matthew Brown, aspects of the Preston Model are already being applied elsewhere in the UK, partly as a result of media attention and partly as a Labour Party strategy for about 50 local authorities currently governed by Labour. After Preston, perhaps the most advanced in this kind of strategy is Birmingham.

At least eight London councils are actively pursuing some of the ideas arising from the Preston model, and there has been interest from the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Government.


There is often a certain scepticism about economic and social change, and the case of the Preston Model is no exception. There is talk of protectionism, a fear that perhaps the economy will become less efficient and concerns that localism will collapse, when faced with a need to expand beyond the borders of Preston.

Sometimes, people ask me what it is about Preston itself that accounts for its success (and possibly, therefore, for the difficulty of exporting the model elsewhere). This is the same question that is asked of the Mondragon co-operatives in the Basque Country, since the Mondragon experience has proven difficult to export to other countries.

But change is in the air, as popular economists such as Yanis Varoufakis and Thomas Piketty have forewarned. Journalists such as Paul Mason talk of a “post-capitalist” future. Meanwhile, academics Pickett and Wilkinson critique the social value of growth and Kate Raworth’s “doughnut economics” suggests that there’s a safe and just space for humanity, where no one falls short of life’s essentials and the ecology of the planet is not compromised by rampant consumerism.

The desire for change is part of the energy of the Preston Model. It’s not just about local money. It’s about participating in democracy as cooperative structures demand, it’s about citizenship and pride of place. Anchor institutions opt to spend more locally, in part because procurement officers and the institutions they represent feel all these things. And these things don’t belong to Preston alone.

The Conversation

Julian Manley, Research Fellow, University of Central Lancashire.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 


Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first


On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them


A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.