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  • Writer's pictureDavid Marlow

Are there superior local solutions to UK policies on Green Belt, migration, and apprenticeships?

Our review of May brought together three critical issues which matter deeply to cities, towns and regions, where national policies are in considerable, often dysfunctional, disarray. We asked whether local and regional government could do better with ‘Green Belt’, migration, and apprentices policy and practice. To a large extent we think they can.

Houses mid way through construction

In an era when so many policies are short term fixes and fads, why has the Green Belt regime established in the 1950s proved so enduring, and for what purposes, if any, is it still fit? It neither, in itself, promotes environmental enhancement, nor sustainable development in encouraging better land use. The charge of throttling development in some places that need major change, and of providing a convenient negative hook for national government intervention, is persuasive. With critiques coming in May from Labour, Conservative Mayors like Andy Street, and respected think tanks like Centre for Cities, we argued for a Green Belt gearshift.

We suggested at least five distinctive approaches, including flexible zoning, rolling local reviews based on triple bottom line sustainable development criteria, a major strategic review to redraw Green Belts nationally, and increasing weighting to countervailing requirements (like affordable homes) in developments in Green Belt areas. These four are tactical and incremental. But what about abolishing the 1955 regime altogether and starting afresh with statutory Local Nature Plans alongside the Local Plan, which define priority land uses for nature recovery, biodiversity net gain, and green amenity?

Turning to migration, we contrasted the toxic character of national political discourse on immigration numbers, stopping boats, and sending migrants to Rwanda with the genuine need for local perspectives on attracting and retaining talent, addressing acute labour market shortages and building inclusive, open and tolerant communities.

Should the concept of place-based ‘visas’, briefly discussed during Brexit, be revisited? More broadly, and akin to the Local Nature Plans of our Green Belt discussion, could Local and Combined Authorities (and their comparators in the Devolved Nations) be enabled to establish and pursue Local Demographic priorities? This could be as much about shaping internal migration – which most often outnumber international immigration – as about international immigration.

Third, we discussed apprenticeships policy. Enrollments are falling dramatically especially for SMEs, with unspent apprenticeship levy, and lack of placements for local young people many of whom would prefer this pathway to traditional higher education undergraduate degrees. Moreover supply of places often fails to match target sectors and industries being promoted in local and regional economic plans.

Empowered, resourced place-based and/or sector-based apprenticeship hubs might provide solutions that simplify the system for employers, provide nore flexible provision and pathways for young people and better meet local labour market priorities.

Three very different policies where national political leadership struggles to reconcile policy trade-offs and deliver effectively. These are the sort of agendas that ought to be more prominent in next generation devolution settlements. Just imagine what decisive greenbelt reforms, proactive planned demographic change, and labour-market aligned apprenticeship expansion could do for your growth and development. And what other policies would you like us to discuss in these terms in future LEDC episodes?

Finally in May, we celebrated the launch of the this website! We hope this will become a destination of choice, not just to access past episodes, read bonus material and make suggestions for future material – but mostly to be part of the discussion on how LED and placemaking evolves to meet contemporary challenges. What would draw you to LEDConfidential online and how would you like to see the website develop?

As ever your feedback and ideas are sought and welcome. Whichever channel you choose, we hope to hear from you soon…


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