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Over 50 people joined a panel of industry leaders to discuss our inaugural Place Index Report at a webinar held on 14 May.

Chaired by Geri Scott, former Westminster correspondent at the Yorkshire Post, the event saw lively debate about the recently published report, which highlights a range of issues and concerns that communities have when it comes to the future of their local area.

Topics discussed included ‘levelling up’, engaging people (especially younger people) about the future of their areas and building trust in the development process.

Diverse perspectives on these important issues were offered by guest speakers including, Fiona Howie, chief executive at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA); Mark Southgate, chief executive at MOBIE; and Stephanie Burras, chief executive at Ahead Partnership.

Panellists drew on several key findings of the Place Index to inform the debate:

  • A third of people think their area will be left behind more affluent areas
  • Over a third (37%) of people believe their local high street has no future
  • Only 11% expect more investment in local facilities following the pandemic

People’s scepticism about the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda provoked a particularly in-depth discussion with panellists exploring what the phrase means. Stephanie of Ahead Partnership said a key definition was ‘fair access to opportunity’, while Fiona of TCPA commented it was important for policy makers not to make assumptions about how local people want to see their communities shaped in the future.

MOBIE’s Mark drew attention to the Place Index’s finding that 30% of people said they appreciated their local community more as a result of the pandemic. He said this represented an opportunity for town centres as people reduced their visits, whether for work or leisure, to larger cities.

On the subject of community engagement, the need for new and imaginative ways of involving young people, including through digital channels, was discussed. The importance of winning people’s trust by being transparent, and using jargon-free language to communicate, was also underlined as key to a productive engagement process.

Ben Lowndes, managing director at Social (South West)  and event panellist, comments: “Our thanks go to all the panellists and everyone who attended the webinar for such an enjoyable and fascinating discussion about the many challenges presented in the Place Index report – and the possible routes to resolving them.

“A ‘stand out’ issue discussed at the event was that the public’s trust must be earned if we are to fully engage people about the projects that will shape their area. That trust is built over time by being open and honest, and demonstrating how people’s views matter and can make a difference.”

Watch a recording of the Social Place Index webinar.

Download the full Social Place Index report.