Bid to revive town centre fortunes

Lisa Nandy
Lisa Nandy
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Wigan’s MP hopes a new think-tank will put the borough and other towns like it back on top of the national political agenda.

Lisa Nandy has helped to set up the Centre for Towns alongside academics and policy groups to put the spotlight back on areas struggling to grab their share of headlines and attention from large cities.

The think-tank held a launch event attended by MPs including Makerfield’s Yvonne Fovargue to discuss its ideas.

The Centre for Towns also recently put out a report showing just how big the gulf between cities and smaller towns in the UK has become.

Ms Nandy said: “For too long, the political and economic debate has been dominated by big cities, overlooking the wealth of skills and assets in our towns.

“But traditionally it has been towns that have been the engines of growth and development, powering our country for decades, and home to great expertise and innovation.

“It’s time that towns were put back at the top of the agenda, so that our political and economic models can be shaped to better empower and enrich local communities.”

Ms Nandy will act as the political lead for the think-tank, directing its work alongside academic Prof Will Jennings from Southampton University and political pollster and analyst Ian Warren.

The Centre for Towns’ research found that towns and villages have lost more than a million under-25s over the past 30 years, robbing the areas of working-age people to boost the economy and leaving them with a disproportionate burden in terms of caring for an elderly population.

At the same time, some 1.8m people aged under 44 have moved to cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Leeds and Birmingham.

The data also found high levels of pessimism in town dwellers, with people feeling they and their areas were not valued in British society or thought of as important by the powers-that-be. This also reflects the stark divide at the ballot box seen in the 2016 European Union referendum, where many small towns (including Wigan) heavily backed Brexit while large cities tended to support Remain.