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Research highlights low hopes for post-pandemic levelling up agenda

22nd April 2021 By Ben Lowndes
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Only 11% of Britons expect more investment in local facilities following the coronavirus pandemic, with northerners expressing even less confidence in seeing improvements in their area, according to research commissioned by Social.

The findings from YouGov’s research of more than 2,000 adults from across Britain raise questions about awareness and trust in the Government’s levelling up agenda, which seeks to transform places and rebalance the UK economy.

It is a key insight from Social’s first Place Index report, which explores people’s views and feelings about their local areas, how they think the pandemic will affect them and their trust in organisations with an interest in their communities.

The report also finds:

  • Just over half (52%) of respondents living in the North East and two in five (38%) in the North West said their local community would be left behind other more affluent areas as a result of the pandemic. Nineteen per cent of respondents living in the South East and 26% of Londoners who responded shared the same concern.
  • More than two thirds (68%) of those living in the North West said the quality of community facilities in their area had deteriorated over the last five years, while (55%) of respondents in the South East felt the same about their area.
  • Two thirds of respondents (65%) from across Britain said their local high street was important to them, with that figure rising to 70% in the South West and 71% the North East.
  • However, 37% of all adults said they felt their local high street had no future, falling to 25% in London.
  • Half of all respondents (51%) disagreed with the statement that there are not enough homes in their area. There is cross-party national agreement and government support for 300,000 new homes to be built in England each year.

Commenting on the report, Social director Ben Lowndes said: “Our Place Index report highlights a disconnect between the government’s levelling up ambitions and confidence in those communities which stand to benefit from it.

As a business that’s worked in local communities across the UK, we recognise and support the ambition to reduce regional inequalities that persist in Britain. But these findings suggest that much more needs to be done to gain confidence and trust of those living in areas that stand to benefit.

Local communities have faced tremendous pressures during lockdown and places have experienced dramatic changes to their high streets, public services and amenities. They must be involved meaningfully in conversations about the future of those areas if ‘levelling up’ is to mean anything to them.”


Low engagement and lack of trust in information about new developments

Another key finding from The Place Index was low level engagement in consultations.

Whilst half (51%) of those surveyed said they had seen or heard about a consultation in their area, just 22% said they have contributed to or attended one. The research goes on to show further differences in engagement rates based on age and ethnic background.

An additional challenge for place-makers is the lack of trust, with respondents saying they are more trusting of their local authority (37%) and friends, family and personal contacts (24%) than they are of the local media (21%), housebuilders (11%) or campaign groups (12%) to provide clear and accurate information on proposed developments.

The insights highlight the communications challenges for any organisation wanting to deliver sustainable, inclusive places. The report recommends a five-part framework for better engagement on the development process.

“Our study indicates a clear challenge for those with an interest in property development with more than a quarter of respondents saying they do not trust anyone to provide accurate information,” added Lowndes.

“The results also indicate that people, wherever they live, support their local high street and yearn for those things that make great places.

“It is telling that people say they trust local authorities and other members of their community more when it comes to information about new developments. But the low levels of trust across the board has implications for how we engage people about the projects that will shape their local area.

“The time for talking at communities or telling them what to expect is over. Taking steps to earn people’s trust should be a central part of any serious attempt to change places after the pandemic ends.”


Download the full report here.