Beyond Preston: How local wealth building is taking the UK by storm

Preston Bus Station. Image: Getty.

The Preston Model, which has seen the Lancashire town rise from the bottom 20 per cent of the deprivation index to be named the UK’s most improved city, has become the poster child for an insurgent economic approach known as “local wealth building”. This uses the levers of the local state to reorganise the economy away from neoliberalism and towards local economies rooted in social, economic and environmental justice.

While the programme’s success in Preston is obvious from the widespread interest it has received among policy makers, politicians and commentators, local wealth building is also being explored elsewhere to confront economic failure, social hardship, wealth extraction and environmental degradation. 

In Manchester, the programme first began in 2008, pioneered by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and Manchester City Council. Together they grew the number of organisations based in the city that were competing and winning contracts from the city government by 50 per cent. 

From this early work on procurement, local wealth building initiatives began to focus on the idea of “predistribution”, a counterpoint to the redistributive policies, such as ”inclusive growth”, a current zeitgeist among policy makers that advocates a weak form of redistributing wealth through taxes and benefits after the fact of its creation. Local wealth building instead aims to construct an inclusive economy where wealth is generated by and for all citizens. In doing so, it slays the neoliberal dragon of trickle-down economics and rebuilds wealth from the bottom-up rather than the top-down.

To achieve this, local wealth building follows a model based on “anchor institutions”, where local businesses and socially-focused enterprises outside the local area compete for commercial contracts from institutions such as housing organisations, universities, schools and hospitals. These institutions hold a unique position in the local economy, as they employ people, buy things, hold property and assets and are unlikely to relocate from the local area. 

The Preston Model is a welcome indication that this anchor approach can work. But in places beyond Preston, this agenda has taken diverse forms; what unites these places is five central principles. These are:

  • Plural ownership of the economy – deepening the relationship between the production of wealth and those who benefit from it. This means returning public services to direct democratic control by insourcing public goods and services. It’s also about developing cooperatives and locally owned or socially focussed enterprises in the public and commercial economy.
  • Making financial power work for local places – increasing flows of investment within local economies by, for example, directing the funds from local authority pensions away from global markets and towards local schemes and community-owned banks and credit unions.
  • Fair employment and just labour markets – working within large anchor institutions and their human resource departments to pay the living wage, adopt inclusive employment practices, recruit from lower income areas, build secure progression routes for workers and ensure union recognition.
  • Progressive procurement of goods and services – developing a dense local supply chain of local enterprises, employee-owned businesses, social enterprises, cooperatives and other forms of social ownership that can provide goods and services to large local anchor organisations.
  • Socially productive use of land and property – ensuring that local assets including those held by anchor organisations are owned, managed and developed equitably, so that local communities can harness any financial gain from these assets.

This movement is growing rapidly; CLES is working with Gateshead, Sunderland, Darlington, Hartlepool, Wakefield, Leeds, Calderdale, Kirklees, Oldham, Wigan, Salford, Birmingham, Lewisham, Wirral and Southampton to adopt local wealth building initiatives involving a range of anchors.


In London, Islington is deepening its progressive procurement practices and examining ways to tackle the rentier economy and speculative land and property ownership. In Gateshead, the council has a longstanding process of insourcing. In Wales the first Minister has made a commitment to ensure a programme of local wealth building, and in Scotland, local government is establishing a pilot linking local wealth building to a growth deal. Elsewhere, the NHS has adopted the anchor approach as part of its long term plan.

In the coming years as this movement becomes more embedded in regions across the UK, the “Gateshead model” or the “Wirral model” should achieve as much attention as the pioneers of Preston. The Labour Party has established a community wealth building unit and the ongoing work of the government’s inclusive economic partnership magnifies the local wealth building agenda. In the age of experiments, the lessons of Preston, Gateshead, Islington and elsewhere must become a new mainstream for all forms of local economic development.

Jonty Leibowitz is a researcher and Neil McInroy is the chief executive at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), the think and do tank working on progressive economics for people and places. 

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

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