Infrastructure, Towns and Regeneration   |   Study

Infrastructure, Towns and Regeneration

Infrastructure can support economic growth & better quality of life in towns as part of a long term place-based strategy, but changes to the funding system are required.

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The majority of England’s population lives in towns. Our suburban areas and towns are home to over 31 million people who could benefit from the increased economic productivity and improvements to quality of life that infrastructure can support.

Grasping this opportunity means embracing the distinctiveness of our towns, which typically possess a treasured heritage and proud sense of place – whether through connections to certain industries, a particular geography or the local sports team.

The diversity of our towns means making decisions in Westminster about what infrastructure investments they need is both inefficient (for both ends of the discussion) and likely to be ineffective.

During meetings with representatives from communities, businesses and local government across England and visits to our case study towns, we’ve heard how the current approach to directing money towards tightly drawn policy outcomes leads to funding uncertainty, short term outcomes over long term priorities, and ultimately burns rather than builds local capacity.

Of course, we understand that government wants to be sure that public money is being well spent – and that general taxation is funding strategic outcomes for the whole of the UK.

But, as this report argues, we need to pivot away from a reliance on centrally controlled pots of money for which councils must compete.

Our report calls for a new partnership between Whitehall and Town Hall to level up the country, with county and unitary authorities receiving devolved five year infrastructure budgets to support their own economic growth strategies for the towns in their area.

This would build on the positive action government has taken to deliver on the Commission’s recommendation of devolving infrastructure budgets to cities, and its ambition to agree ‘county deals’.

This new compact would place decision making into the hands of local leaders, while ensuring that there is accountability to local businesses and residents for how the funding is spent. Town halls would then have the resources to develop a clear vision and strategy for economic development, including infrastructure, based on local strengths and priorities.

Streamlining infrastructure funding through an ‘even spread’ approach would be supplemented by targeted funding for those areas where focused infrastructure investment is most likely to transform a town’s prospects – especially places that need better connections to a larger neighbouring settlement or have a particular economic opportunity at hand.

In addition to devolving funding, we also recommend that the amount spent on local transport outside London each year should increase by around 40 per cent. We also make proposals for policy steps national government is best placed to take to help our towns prosper.

In short, levelling up cannot be done from Whitehall. Local councils need to be empowered to deliver and held accountable for doing so. This report sets out how it can happen for the whole country.

Bridget Rosewell


Neale Coleman


Tim Besley


Night time cityscape of houses in Walsall, UK

Status:  Completed

Infrastructure, Towns and Regeneration

A study exploring how to maximise the benefits of infrastructure policy and investment for towns in England.

View the study

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1 Feb 2024 By
Fundamental shift in funding to local level needed to help level up English towns
Wetherby from the air

Fundamental shift in funding to local level needed to help level up English towns

Levelling up towns will require a shift in government’s approach from announcing multiple ringfenced pots of money – many of which councils must compete over – to instead handing power to local areas to deliver their own infrastructure strategies with five-year devolved budgets, according to the UK’s official infrastructure advisers. In a report launched today...

23 Sep 2021 By

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