The Heart of the South West (HotSW) LEP wanted to understand the role of small and medium sized towns, their future potential, sustainability, challenges, and the contributions that they could make to national levelling-up and meeting the objectives of the HotSW Local Industrial Strategy (LIS), Build Back Better and recovery and economic growth plans. The LEP wanted to ensure that clean/green growth and inclusive development were core to the future of towns. There was a particular focus on towns that have been ‘left behind’ by recent economic events, including coastal communities, and those that have been badly hit by the economic and social effects of Covid-19. Whilst development focussed on whole town growth, there was a specific aim to drive regeneration in town centres and the LEP were keen to learn lessons from various HotSW towns’ applications for Future High Streets Funds and the Town Deal.
Our approach involved a review of the 35 towns in the HotSW, sorting them into types of town according to their roles. Types of town include Coastal, Hub/Market, Employment Centre and Commuter. We then considered the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 and their vulnerability to longer term structural decline. Developing a Covid-19 vulnerability index and a structural vulnerability index involved considering employment in vulnerable sectors, changes in claimant count since the start of the pandemic and the old age dependency ratio for each town.
Following the data analysis we carried out a review of the role of towns in the HotSW and studied how this provides context for the future of growth and subsequently the way in which this growth can contribute to LEP and national strategies and objectives. From here, HJA undertook a review of the challenges, opportunities and barriers to growth in towns and evidence of best practice in town development, which included analysis on the interaction between towns and how their development plans should be coordinated to best contribute to HotSW growth objectives. Following this, in an evaluation of the lessons learned from programme development and bidding processes of previous HotSW funding bids, we detailed the strategic context, consultations, evidence base and ownership of sites and buildings involved in successful past bids.
Consequently, case studies of four small to medium towns in the HotSW were carried out to help understand the challenges and opportunities faced by towns of this size, and develop potential responses to them so that they can contribute sub regional growth plans. The towns selected were Dawlish, Ilfracombe, Minehead and Shepton Mallet. Through this more detailed analysis, HJA were able to consider how towns in the HotSW could respond to the immediate challenges of Covid-19 as well as supporting longer-term growth ambitions and set out a local vision within the context of local authority and HotSW level support. This was followed by a set of recommendations the LEP can take to help achieve their strategic objectives. Actions ranged from lobbying the UK government, developing town visions and plans, making priorities of towns to support to planning town development strategically.