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JRF CALLS FOR INVESTMENT IN CITIES TO REVERSE URBAN DECLINE

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If government backs its rhetoric with hard cash, a switch from 'greenfield' development to 'brownfield' sites could...
If government backs its rhetoric with hard cash, a switch from 'greenfield' development to 'brownfield' sites could attract population back into cities and towns. This message was presented to a conference chaired by Richard Rogers at which presentations from a series of six studies organised by the Town and Country Planning Association and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed the opportunities to turn the tide on 'city flight'.

Reviving Britain's cities will be important if Britain is adequately to house four-and-a-half million new households over the next 20 years. But success will require huge sums of money to be pumped into our urban areas.

The reclamation of some brownfield sites will require considerable public subsidy, while making public transport sufficiently good to really improve the attractiveness of our cities will need significant public expenditure.

Persuading large numbers of people to remain in, or return to, cities will also require expenditure co-ordinated at the local level on education, crime, social welfare and job-creation. And according to the research, expenditures must be aimed at making the whole city environment attractive, not just at solving acute deprivation in particular areas.

A further finding is that all too often large sums of money spent on flagship schemes are wasted because insufficient revenue budgets are available to look after them. Many of these schemes look shabby just a few years later as a result of neglect.

The study suggested, however, that hypothecated greenfield and motoring taxes, directed at brownfield and public transport investment respectively could reduce the burden on the government and may be seen by the public as acceptable taxes.

'We have to begin with measures that will make people want to live in inner urban areas,' said Richard Best, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in his presentation to the conference.

The research on builders' attitudes commissioned for this project showed that a lot of work was still required to convince developers of the merits of building on urban sites. Richard Best continued, 'It is not enough simply to stop development elsewhere and expect house builders to start building on urban brownfield sites. Developers will not build where people will not buy. So prior investment in unpopular neighbourhoods - to clear up contaminated and polluted land and improve the environment - is a pre-requisite, alongside investment in crime prevention, improved schooling and related measures. And sometimes Compulsory Purchase powers will be necessary to stop empty or unused sites becoming an eyesore and blighting the area, or owners holding the community to ransom.'

Richard Best spoke of the CASPAR development (City-centre Apartments for Single People at Affordable Rents), which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is developing in Birmingham and Leeds: 'These are intended to demonstrate the demand for high quality, high density developments which could attract economically independent people to move in.' While it might be unrealistic to expect better-off families with small children to flock back to city areas, Richard Best claimed there were grounds for believing that single people - less concerned with the education and safety of children - could start a trend.

'This is not just about cutting commuter traffic - easing pollution and congestion - or saving greenfield sites elsewhere. If people with spending power choose to move in, their skills, money and presence in the inner city can change the image of urban living and prevent neighbourhoods becoming stigmatised 'ghettos' only for those with no choice.'

NOTES

The report, Urban housing capacity: What can be done?, by Professor Michael Breheny is available. priced£12.95 from the TCPA, 17 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AS. Tel 0171-930-3280, Fax 0171-930 3280.

A summary of findings from the report is available, free of charge, from JRF at The Homestead, 40 Water End, York YO3 6LP or by clicking here.

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