The parliamentary Suburban Taskforce has published its first report. Jonathan Manns, who chairs its advisory board, discusses progress on investigating the suburbs
What is the Suburban Taskforce? Why is it needed?
Over the last 30 years there has been a focus on central urban areas. City centres and the countryside have their advocates, but suburbs – where most of us live – haven’t received the attention they deserve. The taskforce was established by a cross-party group of MPs and Lords, aided by our knowledge partner UCL and an advisory board, and with government support. It started with open questions: can we define suburbs, what are the key debates, and what policy responses might be needed?
What has the taskforce been doing?
The current phase of research looks at London, where growth pressures are most significant. We initially studied the capital as a whole and then looked at case study boroughs – Sutton and Waltham Forest. We’ve run a quantitative assessment, pooling data from Estates Gazette, Knight Frank, Colliers and so forth. There’s also been qualitative research with a public call for evidence between August and October 2020, in addition to interviews and roundtables.
What are the key findings?
What emerged is that suburbs display various characteristics – to do with scale, connectivity, land use, density and social infrastructure, for example. This cautions against a one-size-fits-all approach and might help to inform the ways we think about change. It’s perhaps not surprising that many public responses indicated support for growth if it’s linked to improved public services and respectful of local character: a phrase that crops up repeatedly is ‘gentle densification’. Capturing these perceptions and contextualising them in new data also helps to produce informed discussions.
Does the pandemic change the picture?
A lot of our data is historic and so describes the period before Covid. We can’t simply project those patterns into the future, but equally it is not yet clear how they will change, or for how long. For example, more people are looking at moving to suburbs, but we don’t know whether this will continue once we’re all vaccinated. It nonetheless underlines the importance of our research.
What are the next steps?
Our data and analysis will feed into meetings of the taskforce and others over the coming months, to be informed by further data analysis. In the summer we will publish a report which draws the research together and contains specific conclusions and recommendations.