Britain’s towns have suffered decades of neglect. They deserve more than this government is offering

Bolton: a town, in what is now Greater Manchester. Image: Ian Roberts/Wikimedia Commons.

The co-founder of the Centre for Towns on the government’s promise of cash for towns.

Theresa May’s announcement of £1.6bn for our towns, accompanied by the recognition that they have not received the investment they need, appeared to be a positive development. Unfortunately, it is too little money to meet the battery of challenges our towns face, and doesn’t reflect the scale of the challenges faced by our towns.

This announcement has been decades in the making: our cities have received the grace and favour of government attention and investment for many decades now. The shift to a high-skilled service economy has pushed successive governments to use cities, and city-regions, as engines of economic growth.

We shouldn’t question the motives of the people making those decisions. They were largely made in good faith at the time. However, this approach has subsequently dominated government policy for well over two decades – a dogmatic approach which has marginalised many of our towns.

Successive chancellors will have heard a powerful city lobby telling them our city-regions can deliver what they want for the economy. The city lobby continues to seduce public policy makers whilst our towns are left to fend for themselves or, at best, grab the coat-tails of their nearest city. The result is we have knowingly created a system that gives the places with the most – cities – the structures and resources to lobby for even more from central government and leaves the rest – not cities! – with less and less. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in our towns.


Not that all readers will believe that cities themselves are seeing the benefits of city-led economic growth. In recent times, the development of inclusive growth models for our cities has been a tacit recognition of gross inequalities within our cities.

But the World Economic Forum, OECD and World Bank all promote inclusive growth purely in relation to our cities. The fact that policy professionals and think-tanks are now designing what kind of growth they want in cities says a lot about a) how well our cities appear to be doing and b) how poorly the model of city-driven economic growth delivers for the poorest in those cities.

All of which means we need a fundamental re-evaluation of the geography of power and resources in this country. A city-driven model doesn’t deliver for the poorest within cities and marginalises towns across the rest of the country.

At the Centre For Towns we are certainly not anti-city. We ask for a balanced approach to investment, rather than one which disproportionately favours our cities over towns.

That is why we were so hopeful of this investment from Number 10. If this is a down payment on a new approach to investment, we of course welcome it. But if it’s an end in itself it fails on its own terms. People in towns and cities will be the poorer for it.

Ian Warren is the co-founder of the Centre for Towns.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.