The UK government announced a significant £1.1 billion investment in the levelling up of 55 towns through the Plans for Towns fund. FarrPoint consultant Joseph Chambers sheds light on the critical role of integrating digital infrastructure right from the inception of planning, enabling towns to shape their future development proactively.
Author: Dr Joseph Chambers, Consultant at FarrPoint
The fund will enable towns, traditionally ‘(this will open in a new window)overlooked and taken for granted’ by policy and investment, to create long-term plans harnessing £20m of allocated funding over a 10-year period. The funding is designed to be spent on local priorities such as improving high streets, local transport, and security. The decision-making is to be led by existing or newly created Town Boards in each town comprising local stakeholders who best understand what their community needs.
Whilst Town Boards are well-versed in their local priorities, a pivotal consideration in any strategy should be the seamless integration of digital infrastructure. Many Town Boards are already exploring how digital infrastructure can help them achieve their development and regeneration objectives. However, there are still those who have yet to formalise their plans.
For the long-term success of the towns’ projects and programmes, digital infrastructure and any associated technologies should be built in from the very beginning and not as an afterthought. If digital infrastructure is not interwoven in the initial development, an attempt to retrofit solutions later could be challenging and expensive.
Affordable, reliable, and secure digital infrastructure is the backbone of modern society and an integral component of economic development.
With it, towns can attract people and businesses, provide economic opportunities and improve the quality of life for residents. Helping traders with transactions, improving public safety or creating innovations for visitor experience, all require digital infrastructure to varying degrees.
However, too often, plans for urban renewal forget to incorporate digital infrastructure from the start, which results in these, and associated technologies being added haphazardly at the end of programme lifecycles. This approach results in use cases that don’t consider the wider community, over-hyped technologies being purchased and ultimately, a lack of longer-term consideration of local area needs.
As an example, many regeneration projects seek to remove street furniture from the streetscape to create an open, appealing place for people to visit in the hope of increasing footfall and dwell time. However, in doing so, they remove many of the options for installation of digital infrastructure such as streetlights, CCTV columns or other street furniture. This can potentially act as a barrier to providing good quality mobile signal and related digital services, contributing to a risk of a reduction in dwell time.
Towns Boards should seize the opportunity the Plans for Towns fund creates and ensure digital infrastructure is built into local plans from the outset. It is not just a technical issue but a strategic one which can make a significant difference to a town’s economic, social and environmental well-being. By strategically and sustainably investing in digital infrastructure, towns can unlock their potential and become more competitive, resilient, and inclusive.
FarrPoint has extensive experience in helping towns and regions across the UK to design and deliver digital infrastructure projects that meet their specific needs and aspirations. We can help Town Boards with:
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