Devon County Council sought to identify challenges faced by underperforming towns in Devon, to find solutions to tackle long-term and immediate decline and build on opportunities for urban renewal, with a specific focus on the most deprived LSOAs within those towns. There was a need to find effective actions for transformational change and the barriers that need to be overcome to deliver this, all while ensuring the work considered examples of good practice in comparable towns such as Community Improvement Districts, support for high street revitalisation and inclusive growth models. Another key objective was to identify any particular opportunities and threats for towns that have a relationship with the cities of Exeter and Plymouth, for example commuting and higher-level service provision.
Our approach to meeting Devon County Council’s requirements involved a policy and publications review, data analysis, consultations and undertaking case studies.
HJA carried out an appraisal of national, regional, and local social and economic policies which will impact on the future of coastal and market towns, contextualising the policy and strategy. An evaluation of good practice in town development was then carried out, detailing previous examples of how towns have driven regeneration and lessons to be learned from this.
Data analysis comprised collecting and analysing socio economic data from a range of sources to inform an assessment of the typology and vulnerability of towns in Devon. Data has been collected on issues such as population and change; age structure; employment and change; employment by sector; claimant count; commuting into and out of towns; the Index of Multiple Deprivation and its domains. Two approaches to assessing vulnerability have been undertaken – considering vulnerability to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, and considering longer-term vulnerability to structural decline.
To complement the documentary and data reviews, consultations have been carried out with a range of stakeholders including a workshop with the Devon Association of Local Councils. This included a facilitated group discussion with 28 town council representatives and two subsequent written submissions. Input has been provided at key points in the study from an advisory group comprising representatives of Devon County Council, District Council, Devon community councils, town centre management, and the Federation of Small Businesses.
HJA then carried out case studies of five towns – Axminster, Bideford, Dawlish, Ilfracombe and Tiverton. For each town, we reviewed socio-economic performance, vulnerability, Local Plan aspirations, challenges, and opportunities. All of this information was drawn together to set out some recommendations on next steps for the further development and growth of each town.
Conclusions from the Devon Coastal and Market Towns report offered specific proposals to support local authorities’ town regeneration whilst considering key sectoral opportunities and various towns’ competitive advantages. It includes proposals for pilot programmes in the five case study towns, and suggestions on how the lessons learned can be rolled out to other Devon towns. The final stage of the report set out a detailed action plan for Devon County Council, District, and town stakeholders to progress their support for town growth and development.