Thursday, 21 June 2012 17:39

Towns at centre of rural revival

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Towns at centre of rural revival

SMALL towns are at the centre of a rural revival, local councillors have been told.

Chris Wade, chief executive of Action for Market Towns, addressed the Local Government Association's Rural Policy Review Group on Wednesday (20 June).

The last 10 years had seen an evolution of English government policy in relation to the regeneration of market and other small towns, he said.

This was due largely to a changing political, institutional and financial context, said Mr Wade.

These changes could be broadly characterised by a change from national to regional to local and switch from a focus on towns 'in need' to a stronger emphasis on those offering opportunities for economic growth.

Mr Wade said where the successful revival of small towns had worked well, it had been driven by strong local leadership and a spirit of self-reliance and enterprise by town councils, community partnerships and business forums.

A balancing act of supporting the devolution of selected services to the local level, combined with strategic support and a need for consistent standards, is the big issue facing local authority councillors and managers in delivering a localist agenda.

There were a number of key lessons from the last decade about how to unlock such effective local leadership, said Mr Wade.

These included lessons regarding strengthening local leadership and capacity; joining-up settlements and policies; and managing change through community-led planning

When it came to self-reliant practices, it was necessary to understand town economies beyond the high street and recognise the need for affordable housing.

Many isolated towns have seen a reduction in services and often are no longer equipped to serve their residents or the needs of surrounding villages, said Mr Wade.

In a time of recession and public spending cuts, the need to identify innovative ways to safeguard local services, and to deliver an agenda for change, was paramount.

This included exploring the way services are run and finding more efficient ways to deliver core services such as 'one-stop' shops where a collection of services are delivered.

Above all it was important to maintain the importance of community leadership in influencing and delivering appropriate local services.

The full presentation, Small towns at the centre of a rural revival, can be seen by clicking here.

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