‘Rebalancing Britain’ is a major collaboration between CapX and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation focusing on how the Government should tackle the longstanding imbalances in the British economy. The project focuses not only on the well-documented North/South divide, but on the way smaller towns and cities are often left behind in national policy debates.
I think it was after the fifth deserted roundabout that I lost count. Skelmersdale was designated as a New Town in 1961, and the sadly mistaken ideas of its founders are preserved for posterity by its road layout.
It is good news that the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, is launching a process to build ten new high-quality towns with the support of local people and with a focus on new transport links.
But it is lazy reporting to claim that building a new town will necessarily help a region to grow. Done badly, a new town will worsen the oversupply of workers, caused by a shortage of homes near good jobs, that continues to hold down wages in our most deprived areas.
Once a thriving mining district, Skelmersdale new town sadly did not provide jobs for the overspill population from Merseyside who were decanted there. It is slowly fighting its way back, helped by new life in Liverpool and by a resurgent Manchester. But there is no doubt that the original money would have helped those people much more if spent very differently, by helping regenerate where they already lived.
There is impressive and accumulating evidence about what does and does not work in helping areas to grow and people to achieve their potential. You can find it summarized by the What Works Growth Centre of the London School of Economics, and in reports of the excellent Centre for Cities.