It’s the infrastructure and facilities, it’s the look and the feel, it’s the local environment and how safe and secure the area is. At a time when we are trying to attract people to our localities and communities, are we cutting back on the very things that make places habitable, those very highly visible and publically recognised neighbourhood services?
We know that local authority expenditure in the UK will be 30% less by 2020, than it was in 2010, we also know that in England local government finance will have moved to a much more local financing model by that point. Under current Government plans most councils will be almost fully dependant on a mixture of council tax and business rates revenue, alongside a small amount of other grants and income generated through commercial activity.
In order to grow future budgets, council’s short, mid and long term financial strategies will have to be built around growing these main sources of funding. Desirable neighbourhoods have well maintained roads, streets and greenspace, they are well lit at night-time and they have good sport and recreation facilities. And yet these very services have often been hit the hardest in the cuts, a poor relation to other more high profile statutory services.
As councils strive to build a mixture of housing in their area they want to ensure that the council tax banding of these homes has a spread in value that keeps a balance in the contributions that are made to council coffers. The value of that housing will be related to the popularity of the area, which will depend on the quality of the local neighbourhood.
Likewise with business rates, if local authorities are serious about growing local economies and attracting investors then places need to be attractive to live and work within. Previous research work that APSE published showed a case study from Southampton where the council invested £11m in the public realm to attract over £60m of inward investment, bringing jobs and money that circulated much further in the local economy.
Whilst the size of the overall cake has shrunk and other areas of activity are consuming a larger slice than previously, it’s equally important to ensure that some of the fundamentals of what makes a place appetising don’t get starved. Malnourished things grow very slowly.