How cities use their land is a politically charged topic. There are strong and differing opinions about how land should be allocated, be they protests against building on the greenbelt, campaigns to protect the line of sight of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, or recent objections by conservationists to new developments in Manchester city centre. All create fierce debate.

There are also many competing goals when managing land. Politicians want to conserve character, provide affordable housing, safeguard the future of cultural venues, protect the surrounding countryside and accommodate a growing number of businesses. The challenge is that a number of these goals are opposed to one another.

To make informed decisions about how cities should use their space, it is important to understand the role they play within the UK economy. Specifically, cities play three roles. They are places of production, places of consumption and places to live. In order to support the success of cities, the role of policy is to maintain all three roles within a limited amount of land, and this requires planning authorities to make difficult choices and trade-offs.

In making these choices, the relationships between the different roles of a city must be recognised. In particular, the success of a city as a place of residence and a place of consumption is usually reliant on its success as a place of production. The creation of jobs drives up demand for housing, while the wages these jobs pay increase demand for services such as shops and restaurants.

The balance that policy needs to strike is to support the growth of all three roles without restricting the supply of commercial space available.

In aiming to better inform choices over how land is used, this report does three things. Firstly, it sheds light on why competition for space develops, which UK cities are currently affected and which may develop the problem soon. Secondly, it investigates the role that policy has played in intensifying this competition. Finally, it proposes what policymakers should focus on to tackle the issue and prevent it affecting more cities.