Executive summary

Regional inequality and the need for a new approach to spatial planning.

Today, just under half of the UK population lives in regions with a comparable productivity to the poorer parts of the former East Germany. The One Powerhouse Consortium, supported by The Sir Hugh and Lady Sykes Charitable Trust, believes that a substantial part of the problem of regional inequality in the UK can be solved not just by money, but by the transformative potential of spatial planning.

One Powerhouse, as well as preparing draft spatial plans (available from 14/01/21), has prepared abstract maps that show, in a highly graphical fashion, why Spatial Planning is such an informative and effective process.

Click on the following links to see our abstract maps:

The North
The Midlands
The South East
The South West

Adopting such a spatial planning approach will give the new government better economic decision making and the ability to prioritise where and what type of investment is needed in each region with the aim of helping the UK develop as a whole.

Spatial plans focus political will, draw in economic activity to great effect and in turn build stronger communities and support beneficial social reforms. This is not a return to regional development agencies or statutory regional spatial strategies. By building from the bottom up using detailed local plans, which sit alongside a series of coherent regional plans, all under a light-touch national framework, significant progress can be made to narrow those inequalities.

Deploying a modern approach to large-scale spatial planning has had undoubted success in the Rhine-Ruhr region of Germany, in Randstad in the Netherlands and the five state Regional Plan Association focused on New York City.

England’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will be greatly enhanced by a coherent national approach to economic spatial planning. The clear gap is at the level of the English regions which are already coming together in four distinct areas.

Regional Blueprints and Collaborative Leadership

The One Powerhouse Consortium has worked with three major planning consultancies and the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to develop draft regional spatial blueprints for the North of England, the Midlands, The South East and the South West. These could sit alongside existing spatial plans for the devolved nations and demonstrate the potential of regional planning in action – how it could lead to better decision-making and the prioritisation of investment across the country.

The choice of four megaregions reflects a global trend towards economic planning around closely networked clusters of cities and towns at a scale of 6-12 million people. This ‘new regionalism’ takes a bottom-up approach prioritising collaborative leadership and bringing together public, private and voluntary sector interests around a small number of themes and strategic interventions. Regional spatial plans are non-statutory and have open forms of accountability.

The four draft regional spatial blueprints published alongside this report exemplify the critical economic and environmental assets that exist in every region. They provide a framework such that villages, towns and cities of all sizes can find their place in the wider economy and they provide a clear rationale for housing development, major infrastructure investment and key environmental assets. Each of them identifies a small number of themes or workstreams of regional significance together with several critical interventions that would transform regional economic productivity and inclusive growth.