Publications

Townscapes: The Value of Social Infrastructure

Central government should work with local and devolved authorities to better focus, fund and devise a coherent social infrastructure strategy that establishes support for community facilities as a key pillar of the post-Covid recovery agenda.

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As governments across the UK start to lift lockdown restrictions, a debate is gathering about how to support those communities that have been most badly affected and how to promote economic renewal. These challenges arise in the context of the UK government’s commitment to ‘levelling up’ Britain’s ‘left-behind’ towns. 

Within this debate, there has been a prominent tendency in some quarters to champion investment in physical infrastructure as the surest way of attending to the spatial inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated. In this report, we argue that investing in social infrastructure may be equally important for rebalancing the prospects of the UK’s nations, regions, cities and towns.

This social infrastructure – i.e. the physical spaces and community facilities which bring people together to build meaningful relationships – has been widely discussed in economic and policy circles in recent years, but its value is yet to be articulated in a robust way. We draw on a wide body of evidence to demonstrate the economic, social and civic value that these community facilities create. And we argue that rather than seeing investment in social infrastructure as a rival to  investing in large-scale infrastructure projects, in areas like transport or digital, policy-makers should be more focused upon strategic planning that brings together and better aligns these different kinds of infrastructure.

We also disaggregate, and discuss separately, the many kinds of economic, social and civic value that good-quality community infrastructure can yield.

Finally, we recommend how government should best  support the expansion and revitalisation of these facilities, especially in those towns where the number of public meeting places has dwindled to precarious levels in recent years. We discuss a number of policy ideas in this area, including to: improve the availability of data on social infrastructure; boost funding for social infrastructure; develop a strategy for social infrastructure support and; restore town centres.

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  • About the author

    Professor Michael Kenny, Co-Director, Bennett Institute for Public Policy

    Professor Kenny directs the Institute’s place and public policy programme.   Learn more

    Mike Kenny
  • About the author

    Tom Kelsey

    Tom is a Senior Research Officer at the Electoral Commission. From October 2020 to September 2021, he was a Research Assistant at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, having previously worked as a Policy Adviser at the think tank Green Alliance and as a researcher for a Member of Parliament. Tom holds a BSc in Government from the London School of Economics and an MSc in Democracy and Comparative Politics from UCL.

    Tom Kelsey