Sunday, 13 September, 2020


Jamie Ounan

We believe that the best solutions are yet to be discovered and the best outcomes yet to be delivered. That is why we prepare organisations for change and help them implement it. We do this through an intimate understanding of their business, a relentless focus on delivery, the use of techniques that challenge the status quo and bridge traditional disciplines. We provide a range of services to public and private organisations including project and programme management, property consultancy, change management and strategy development and strategic advice. Contact us to discuss a project.

Sunday, 13 September, 2020

A special edition by guest writer, Managing Consultant Matthew Nimmo



With tech companies such as Google and Twitter preparing for long term shifts to home working, and commuters seemingly deaf to government exhortations to return to the office, there has been a lot of discussion about the future of cities. Less talked about is the potential impact on the balance between different cities and towns. Analysis of mobile phone and consumer spending data by the Centre for Cities think tank suggests that the number of people returning to work in offices has stalled in the past two months, with an uneven recovery and major cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester lagging far behind smaller cities and towns in terms of both town centre footfall and spend.


Could one positive legacy of the pandemic be a rebalancing of economic activity away from London towards smaller cities and regions? Yolande Barnes, Chair of the Bartlett Real Estate Institute, argues that Covid-19 is accelerating a long-term trend of net out-migration from London by people of all age groups.


Yet, we think it is a bit too early to be talking of a ‘hollowing out’ of central London. Indeed, a visit to the Museum of London this weekend reminded me of the city’s incredible ability to reinvent itself in the face of major crises. At Inner Circle, we see an opportunity for smaller cities, towns, and city regions to capture a fairer share of economic growth by attracting skilled workers seeking home working in a larger, more affordable home, the ability to walk, cycle or even drive (in an electric car club vehicle) to the office when needed, and access to the countryside.


A national rebalancing would certainly have benefits for the country as a whole. A report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) identifies the massive untapped potential of Britain’s ‘second tier’ or ‘core’ cities and city regions. Economic activity per capita in second-tier cities in countries such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands is approximately 20%-30% higher than in the UK! This means that our economy is failing to capture up to £100 billion a year, according to Core Cities UK. Despite progress in City and Devolution Deals, the UK remains one of the most centralised systems in the developed world, something that hampers economic and social development and regeneration efforts at the local and regional level. The average amount of tax raised locally and held locally across OECD countries is 25%, whereas in the UK it is only around 9% – correcting this will be the first step toward truly levelling up the rest of the country.


The Government’s announcement of £12bn for affordable housing over five years may provide more immediate cheer for English towns and cities outside of the capital. The Government has rebalanced funding away from the capital in line with its ‘Levelling Up’ agenda. The reduced allocation of £4bn (down from £4.8bn) for London has been attacked by the Mayor of London and the capital’s leading social landlords as massively insufficient to tackle the city’s housing affordability crisis. The current Affordable Housing Programme is a rare example of long term public funding and has helped to provide a degree of certainty when planning complex, multi-phase projects such as the Grahame Park regeneration scheme, where we have recently helped Notting Hill Genesis Housing Association to secure planning consent for 2,000 homes with commercial and community spaces.


Of course, funding is only one part of the solution and we have been working with a range of councils including South Essex Local AuthoritiesLondon Borough of Newham and others to understand and streamline every aspect of the housing delivery system. Land availability in accessible locations is one key factor and we will be encouraging Councils we work with to take advantage of a £30m boost to the Land Release Fund (LRF) and One Public Estate (OPE) programmes which fund site remediation and infrastructure works and support multi-agency property strategies to improve public services and free up surplus land for housing. From developing a number of successful OPE programmes including in North Yorkshire and the Isle of Wight, we know that the benefits of this kind of partnership working are far reaching and provide a model for better local delivery of public services and regeneration.





This week, I watched Sitting in Limbo, a Windrush scandal docudrama about Anthony Bryan who, after 50 years in the UK, was wrongfully detained by the Home Office and threatened with deportation. It is a low key but powerful film that left me feeling frustrated and searching for answers. More than two years after the government apologised, the vast majority of victims of the scandal have not received any compensation.


I just read Bernardine Evaristo’s incredible novel, Girl, Woman, Other in a single sitting. This true page turner chronicles the personal journeys of a varied cast of mostly Black British women and it gave me hope for the future as well as reminding me of the vital role that our cities have played in the development of Black British Culture to the great benefit of all who live here.



We’re feeling a bit pleased with ourselves at Inner Circle this week, as we won Highly Commended for Planning Consultancy of the Year 2020 and the Regeneration Award, in partnership with PRP Architects, for our work on Pydar Street regeneration in Cornwall at the (virtual) Planning Awards 2020.


Last year we won Planning Consultancy of the Year, this year we were runners up. A great outcome for a company that works across a wide range of disciplines far beyond town planning to deliver change and help create successful places and economies. We hope it is a sign that the sector is breaking free of the professional constraints of planning policy and development management and rediscovering its radical roots – the ambition to create a better society.