Making a Good Place: how to invest in social infrastructure

Making a Good Place looks at how four local place-makers are investing in social infrastructure and considers the role for government in supporting more places to do the same. It is the latest report from the Early Action Task Force, published in May 2019 and is written by Civil Exchange’s Director, Caroline Slocock, with a number of guest contributors.

Good places create the conditions in which people thrive and find the support that helps problems from getting worse when they arise. The report argues that the case for investment in social infrastructure – the good housing, services, activities, physical spaces and places and community hubs that make a good place – is strong, not just because of the long-term benefits that it brings and the need to address civic inequalities, but also because of the pressing situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic, which makes it all the more important to create good places that promote good mental and physical health and well-being and resilience to other attacks. Investment in it will also help repair the economy and ensure inclusive growth.

Two of its four case studies, in Bristol and Barking & Dagenham, are already operational, with specific funds established to help support a wider long-term vision for the area drawn up with local people; and they have strong shared leadership and also practice participatory grant-making with local people. The other two areas, in Exeter and Feltham, are still in the planning phase, and involve the relatively novel use of local land for redevelopment. They also potentially provide promising models for others, if obstacles to their proposals can be overcome.  Reflecting on their examples, the report includes recommendations for those working locally and nationally.

Recommendations to local place-makers

  • Adopt a holistic definition of social infrastructure, recognising that it is an eco-system that involves the public, private and voluntary sectors.
  • Local people should be asked about what they currently value and use and be involved in identifying gaps and in planning and development decisions.
  • A collective, long-term vision, created and reviewed with local people, will help ensure that plans meet local needs.
  • Shared leadership and ‘network governance’ across different sectors creates a common purpose and sense of joint responsibility toward creating a good place.
  • Investment in a ‘super connecting role’ will often be required to achieve this.
  • Community participation in decision-making ensures that investment genuinely serves those it aims to help and also helps build capacity within the community.
  • Local government is an important player, but anchor institutions such as schools or indeed community groups can play a pivotal leadership role, provided they have access to the right expertise.
  • The role of community and charitable foundations is an important one in place-making, and they bring not just resources but also knowledge and expertise.
  • Funding models include the Local Giving model, new dedicated Funds financed from national and local sources, and the use of public land to reduce the cost of development.

Recommendations to government

While much of this comes down to local innovation by place-makers, we recommend that national government should:

  • Make significantly more resources nationally available to help seed local schemes, including start up funding as well as grants and loans.
  • Ensure that national funds work alongside local areas, rather than using a competitive bidding model, and give local areas the discretion to determine local priorities within broad criteria.
  • Encourage new models of funding, such as Credit Unions and Covid recovery bonds.
  • Reform the financial planning and budgeting system so that it incentivises long-term investment and promotes well-being, with a new Well-Being Budget and a Well-Being and Future Generations Act.
  • Make changes to encourage the greater use of public land for social infrastructure and encourage the retention of public ownership, as is proposed in Exeter.
  • Reform planning to give local government a clear role to create good places, using a holistic definition and giving local government greater power and resources to carry out this role in partnership with local people.

The report includes guest contributions from Murshad Habib at Community Links; Professor Robin Hambleton, Emeritus Professor of City Leadership at the University of the West of England, Roli Martin from Global City Futures; Edward Rowberry from Bristol & Bath Regional Capital CIC; Professor Steve Schifferes, Emeritus Professor of Financial Journalism at City University; and Geraud de Ville de Goyet from Barking & Dagenham Giving.