Developing a sub-regional growth strategy: reflections on recent English experience

Cochrane, Allan; Colenutt, Bob and Field, Martin (2013). Developing a sub-regional growth strategy: reflections on recent English experience. Local Economy, 28(7-8) pp. 786–800.



This paper critically reviews the experience of a major sub-regional strategy which sought to bring housing and economic development together, under the aegis of the Sustainable Communities Plan (SCP). It draws on evidence from a current ESRC-funded project focused on Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire, the northern part of the growth area of Milton Keynes and the South Midlands identified in the SCP.

The SCP promised a comprehensive approach to regional development in a series of ‘growth areas’ in key locations around the south-east of England, based primarily upon building ‘sustainable communities’ which would include investment in jobs, town centres, schools, transport, housing and community facilities. These would be supported by a range of new regional, local and town-wide plans and policies, along with a number of new delivery agencies at national and local level.

However, the much-desired ‘step change’ in housing, economic delivery and sustainable development relied heavily on the expectation of extensive activity by the private sector (particularly by the house building industry). The extent to which this was a realistic expectation is questioned in the paper, which also highlights issues of governance. The shift in priorities towards quantity targets away from issues of quality in the wake of recession helped to undermine the satiability agenda.

While the Sustainable Communities Plan may itself have been inadequate, based on unsustainable assumptions about what the private house-building sector would deliver, it nevertheless sought to incorporate a wider strategic vision for the sub-region around which argument was possible. Such possibilities seem absent within the current government’s localist agenda.

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