06Policy recommendations

One of the most eye-catching policies in February’s Levelling Up White Paper was the announcement of the 20 regeneration areas to do ‘King’s Cross style’ redevelopment projects elsewhere in the country. This policy should be applauded for being selective in its approach, rather than looking to jam spread resources to fix problems in specific places. Even if the wider strategy set out in the white paper is not taken forward, which would be a mistake, the new leadership should persist with this policy.

The policy though is incredibly light on detail. Drawing on previous sections, this section sets out what the detail should be.

Structure of the policy

There are several guiding principles that the Government should use to shape the policy. These are:

  • Be explicit about the scale of ambition. Supporting 20 projects will not be cheap. The King’s Cross regeneration has cost more than £3 billion to date. Extrapolating from this figure would mean 20 such projects across the country would cost up to £60 billion. Assuming a conservative public to private funding ratio of 1:4, this would require £12 billion of public funding.4546 If this scale of support is not forthcoming, then policymakers should not be beholden to delivering 20 projects and should scale this figure back. Doing a smaller number of projects properly is better than doing all 20 poorly.
  • Focus on making city centres more attractive places to do business. City centres are in principle the most productive parts of the UK economy because of the benefits they offer to high-productivity services businesses. Where there are sites in successful centres that are not being developed (islands of low demand) then an intervention should be made to get the site to make the contribution to the economy that it should be making. Where instead the wider city centre is struggling to offer these benefits, the policy should aim to correct these problems to make these city centres more attractive places to do business.
  • In areas of weak demand, focus on introducing something that is different to fill gaps on what is missing in a place, rather than aiming to introduce more of the same. Even in King’s Cross, there was an aim not to replicate the rest of central London but provide a different offer. Building more retail in an area where there is already an oversupply of retail will do little to improve the fortunes of a place.
  • Even if Homes England leads the implementation, do not make housing the main focus of the sites. City centres should be playing a leading role in their wider regional economies, and to do this they will need to provide sufficient office space. While housing will no doubt be part of the mix of any redevelopment, it should not be housing led.
  • Get moving on implementing the policy and commit to taking a long-term approach to each project that can survive multiple business cycles. The case studies in this report show that even successful regeneration schemes take many years to come to fruition – King’s Cross has taken nearly 30 years and counting, even longer if one includes previous plans that failed. The Government should not lose any more time. While some areas have been announced, most of the 20 planned projects remain unidentified. This needs to be addressed. In those places that have been identified, specific plans should be set out.

De-risking investment

To get regeneration going, the public sector (national and local government and their associated agencies) will need to use a number of tools to de-risk investment, ranging from subsidies to using guarantees to increase certainty. To do this the public sector should:

  • Provide grant funding. The Government should attach a regeneration fund to the policy as part of the overall package of public support that can be used to provide additional grant funding for each of the sites identified. It should use this to consolidate land ownership into one owner where possible, which makes things like master planning and placemaking easier to do. Public realm and infrastructure improvements should also be covered by the fund.
  • The Government will need to vary the amount of public funding depending on the level of demand in each place. The amount of subsidy will also depend on the importance of placemaking and public realm provision – if the Government wants King’s Cross style provision in areas of weak demand, it will need to pay for it.
  • Provide greater certainty where possible for demand for space on the schemes. This can be done in one of two main ways. The first is to move a public sector tenant onto the site, which can be used to overcome any first mover problems and guarantee occupancy of some of the space. The second is to use guarantees to reduce the risk to the developer of not finding tenants for the space.
  • Consider offering the sites as a portfolio of investments to investors, rather than on a case-by-case basis to pool risk for both the public and private sector. The Government should then set an average ratio of public to private money it wants to achieve across all sites to set a parameter on how much risk it wants to take, and tailor the sites it picks based on achieving this ratio.
  • Leverage in institutional funds. King’s Cross benefited from the longer time horizons taken by institutional investment. Creating a portfolio of funds is likely to increase its ability to attract institutional funding across the range of sites it develops, using sites with higher underlying demand to cross-subside investment in sites where the public policy challenge is larger.

Addressing policy failures

The English planning system makes land assembly unnecessarily risky, and this slows down and increases the risks of urban regeneration, especially outside of London.

More flexibility is needed in the planning process to get the most out of a site through master planning, by allowing for early designs to focus on core objectives, such a site’s accessibility, total floorspace, and the floorspace uses. Ultimately this is best served by changes to the planning system, but in the short term there are lots of tools available that could be paired by local or national government with the urban regeneration schemes. These are:

  • Local Development Orders (LDOs), which are essentially mini local plans that automatically grant either outline or full planning consents to proposals that comply with the Order. They can currently be used by local authorities but are rarely used because of lack of familiarity and the effort required to design an LDO. DHLUC could reduce the workload for local authorities by creating “template” LDOs that provide planning rules conducive for urban regeneration.
  • Mayoral Development Orders exist in law as tools similar to LDOs but belong to some of the combined authority mayors. They are in theory useful for granting LDOs on sites that cross local authority boundaries, but as they currently require consent from local authorities, they are of limited use otherwise. They could become more useful if this local authority veto was removed by secondary legislation.
  • Simplified Planning Zones (SPZs) are a tool that local authorities can use to grant area-based permissions. They must be renewed every ten years – Slough Trading Estate and Renfrew Town Centre have used SPZs to allow easy changes in commercial uses and redevelopment and can be agreed in nine months.
  • Mayoral Development Corporations are available to some of the existing metro mayors and the Mayor of London. These essentially give mayors the power to master plan and develop a large site, with limited interference from the local authority the site resides in. Not all the metro mayors currently have these powers however, and the Government will have to grant them in new devolution deals to the remainder.

Given the long-term nature of regeneration the Government should continue with the long-term goal of advancing planning reform. There are a few changes in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which will be important to achieving this, such as:

  • The introduction of the National Development Management Policies (NDMPs) will be an important tool that should be written with an eye to urban regeneration, making it easier to do both smaller infill and large brownfield schemes. This will require reducing discretion to improve both flexibility and certainty. These new NDMPs should include guidance and/or requirements for local authorities to use LDOs for urban regeneration, including for use in locations marked by fragmented land ownership.
  • Changes to Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) to reduce the likelihood of appeals are welcome and will make the process faster. The aim will be to give confidence to local authorities to use threat of CPOs to overcome ransoming holdouts in land assembly.
  • The Locally Led Urban Development Corporations will also make it possible for more local authorities to create their own development corporations with master planning and development control powers. However, it is currently unknown what the appetite or the ability of local authorities is to use these.

In the longer-term, moving towards a flexible zoning system – as Centre for Cities has advocated in the past – would unlock even greater benefits and make urban regeneration scalable outside of London.


  • 45 A public to private funding ratio of 1:4 is approximately that indicated in the York Central case study.
  • 46 How much of this is subsidy will depend on where the projects sits on the spectrum of viability. Public sector support should be designed so that at least some of this money should earn a return through the uplift in value it creates.