Want levelling up? Stop running everything from London
The pleas for the north to match German levels of investment miss some crucial factors (What would a genuine plan for levelling up the north of England look like? Ask a German, 25 January). In Good Cities, Better Lives, published in 2013, Prof Sir Peter Hall and I drew on case studies of the resurgence of Hamburg, Berlin, Leipzig, Dortmund, Kassel and Freiburg to explain how German cities had powered ahead. There were eight factors: municipal leadership, highly connected cities, a knowledge-based economy, engineering excellence, regional finance, urban pride, a climate of innovation and intelligent spatial planning.
On a second visit I was impressed by how the devolution of power, thanks to the principle of subsidiarity, enabled key local actors in business, universities and local authorities to collaborate on a spatial plan. Leipzig lost 90% of its manufacturing jobs after reunification. Yet it not only attracted BMW’s giant car plant and engineering centre but also converted the largest spinning mill in the world into hundreds of art studios and galleries. Given our current crises, government must surely devolve financial powers to our cities and regions and stop trying to run everything from London?
Dr Nicholas Falk
Executive director, the Urbed Trust
• The promotion of bus use in the government’s levelling up agenda (One in 10 bus services axed despite Johnson’s public transport pledge, 25 January) runs contrary to what we see on the ground here in Oxford. Here, funding has been made available for general traffic restraints, with an emphasis on walking, cycling and bus use, in response to the declaration of climate emergency, at the same time as buses have become fewer and less accessible (with ticketing regimes that can be expensive and exclusive).
If at the same time as we close small residential roads to through traffic, put in place wide new cycle lanes, free up pavements for walkers and wheelchair users, and propose new traffic filters, buses are also cut or undermined by the national bus companies, this feeds a sense of grievance on the part of car drivers. They see the privilege of driving undermined and no viable alternative. Not only does this waste public money, it undermines the strategy that is needed, and sets community groups against one another.
Chair, Oxford Pedestrians Association
• Considerable pressures are being placed on local authority budgets, staff and systems as a result of bidding for funds, as councils try to increase their resources and improve services (Councils forced to freeze levelling up projects as soaring costs exceed grants, 24 January). But authorities do not always know the full costs of entering a bidding process and a lack of contingency planning for a range of outcomes can cause problems.
This is not evidence from the recent bidding for levelling up moneys but the results of my research published in 2002 examining the impact on local authorities of competing for funds. Not only are these problems still occurring, but they do so against a backdrop of local government finances ravaged by austerity. It is time for a reformed funding process so that local government can focus on delivering services rather than jumping through whatever government funding hoops are currently in vogue.
Goathland, North Yorkshire