As Covid-19 continues to dramatically change the way people live, travel and behave, a new report from Arcadis has highlighted some of the key priorities for both local government and the general public, as authorities across the country look to deliver a recovery that builds back stronger communities.
Arcadis carried out research covering 1,700 organisations and individuals. More than 60% of local government respondents agreed that a focus on community wealth building would help to revitalise town centres. Meanwhile, with more than one in three members of the public calling for a prioritisation of improvements to the high street, the research highlighted a growing consensus that the recovery should be a unique opportunity for a radical rethink of how we view our communities and live our lives.
The public opinion polling showed a clear preference for prioritising local interventions that protect and improve public health, local amenities and the environment. Amongst the public, the polling showed that investment in green infrastructure to tackle climate change ranked amongst the top three priorities for local spending overall. Similarly, local authority leaders saw investment in active travel schemes that support walking and cycling, as well as measures to increase public transport capacity as some of the most achievable short-term goals.
The findings of the report, Our Shared Recovery: Solutions for Stronger Communities, strongly make the case for a renewed focus on implementing policies at all levels of local government that strengthen and protect the health, wealth and wellbeing of local communities, as well as delivering lower carbon and greener places that everyone can enjoy.
This is a crucial time for local authorities with the imminent comprehensive spending review and further fiscal interventions from central government likely before the end of the year. More than ever the private sector has an essential role to play supporting local authorities in managing these challenges and delivering stronger communities.
To help local authorities better understand how the private sector can help, Arcadis has developed a range of short- and medium-term opportunities and recommendations for a shared recovery that strengthens communities. These five ‘levers’ for a shared recovery include:
- Embracing the principles of 15-minute communities
- Creating the right homes in the right places
- Re-imagining town centres and high streets
- Putting digital inclusivity at the heart of the health and wellbeing agenda
- Actively exploring new forms of mobility
Across all of these levers, there needs to be consideration of any climate impacts to ensure the recovery builds greener communities as well as stronger ones. Similarly, they must be underpinned by emerging innovative digital tools that have the potential to radically improve the effectiveness and inclusivity of local authority policies and services.
Arcadis is now calling for greater collaboration between local authorities and the private sector to ensure the unique opportunity for lasting positive change to come from this crisis is not passed over. Mark Cowlard CEO of Arcadis UK and Ireland, said: “The spread of Covid-19 has dramatically changed how communities live, travel and behave. From breaking old certainties to the acceleration of new trends, it has forced us to quickly adapt to new ways of living.
“While some of the longer-term effects may take years to be fully understood, there is a now a pressing need for action to rebuild our economy and tackle wider societal challenges. We must work to understand the new landscape and the opportunities it could bring across business, public sector and political leadership. Most importantly, we have the chance to radically rethink how we view our communities and live our lives.
“We hope that through close collaboration between all groups involved in building back better, the benefits of the post-Covid recovery will extend well beyond simply bringing GDP back to pre-pandemic levels, but will also embed sustainable long-lasting change in our towns and cities, and for the people who live within them.”
Lord Barwell, a strategic advisor to Arcadis and former chief of staff to the prime minister and housing and planning minister said: “The pandemic may have taken the climate debate off the front pages, but it will be back with bigger and bolder ambitions. As we look to forge a successful post-Covid recovery, it is crucial local decision makers, business leaders, and developers embrace this sea change and not only build back better, but build a healthier, greener and more inclusive society.”