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Research highlights low hopes in South West for post-pandemic levelling up

Only 8% of people living in the South West expect to see more investment in local facilities following the Coronavirus pandemic and 57% say the quality of community facilities in the region has deteriorated over the last five years, 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 Place Index also finds views in the South West which included:

  • Just 8% of respondents said they felt there would be more investment in homes after the pandemic.
  • Just over half (54%) 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.
  • More than two thirds of respondents (70%) said their local high street was important to them, more than any region apart from the North East of England (71%). However, 39% said they felt it had no future.

Social’s South West Managing Director Ben Lowndes said: “Our Place Index report highlights a disconnect between the government’s levelling up ambitions and confidence in those communities which should benefit from it.

 As a business that is working in local communities across the South West, we recognise and support the ambition to reduce the geographic inequalities that persist in Britain. We are aware of concerns amongst leaders in the South West that the region is not featuring in these discussions, as recent decisions in the budget have shown.

“While there are affluent places in the South West, some areas face considerable challenges and are amongst the most deprived in the UK. The Place Index suggests that much more needs to be done to gain confidence 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. Those same communities must be involved meaningfully in conversations about the future of those areas if levelling up is to mean anything to them.” 

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 had contributed to or attended one. The research goes on to show further differences based on age and ethnic background,

An additional challenge for place-makers is the lack of trust with respondents in the South West saying they are more trusting of their local authority (36%) and friends, family and personal contacts (27%) than they are of the local media (20%), campaign groups (13%) or housebuilders (11%) to provide clear and accurate information on proposed developments. However, a third of respondents (34%) said they do not trust anyone to provide accurate information about new developments.

The insights highlight the communications challenge 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 low trust levels across the board when it comes to the accuracy of information about new developments,” added Mr Lowndes. 

“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. This 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.”  

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