Public Consultation + Political Engagement

Levelling up survey spells more trouble for Boris Johnson

A new survey by BECG suggests both the public and MPs remain unconvinced about levelling up.

In the week that the Levelling Up Bill was waved through its Second Reading in the House of Commons, BECG released its latest polling of MPs and the Great British public about the issue.

With responses from 100 MPs across all parties and 1776 adults from across the UK, it provides the latest snapshot of opinion in what was once the centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s Government.

And in what has already been a bad week, the results don’t make happy reading for the Prime Minister.

Despite ‘levelling up’ being on the lips of every government minster throughout the last three years, 56% of the public still do not understand what levelling up means or claim to have even heard of it. This should worry a Conservative Party pinning its hopes of victory on the coattails of what has been trailed as a transformative resetting of the British State.

Moreover, neither the public nor MPs agree on what the priorities should be for levelling up their local areas. Whilst the public seem to favour improved access to health services (44%) and better quality and affordable housing (38%), MPs cite regenerating high streets and city centres (43%) and improved local infrastructure (40%).

Yet there is agreement between the public and the MPs about what is not important: planning reform. Our research found that only Conservative MPs and only 14% of them see planning reform as a priority. This is backed-up by only 7% of the public believing that planning reform is important.

So what does this tell us?

With more flesh on the bones of the Levelling Up Bill detailed this week and the Prime Minister’s ‘reset’ speech in Blackpool yesterday, we can begin to see how these attitudes are shaping government policy.

The extension of Right-to-Buy is aimed squarely at addressing what voters told BECG was one of their top priorities. Although for voters in the North, this was eclipsed by access to better schools as the top priority.

A focus on reinvigorating high streets and urban centres within the Bill are targeted at addressing what MPs think should be the priority for levelling up. The abandoning of significant planning reform also goes with the grain of opinion both in Westminster and in the country.

Yet our polling also suggests that there is a disconnect between what the political class and the voters think is important. For example, 71% of the public felt that an increase of housing on brownfield sites either make no difference or have a negative impact on their local area. This is a sentiment that is at odds with the priority that voters gave for being able to access better and more affordable homes.

But more worryingly for MPs looking to defend their seats, the views of the public often directly contradict the views they hold on this issue. This should be a cause for concern as it may lead to policy changes being focused on the wrong areas that don’t ultimately matter to communities across the North.

This is perhaps why only 28% of MPs thought the Government could make a success of levelling up before the next general election. Not only does it remain a slogan that can mean all things to all people. What is required in one community for levelling up to be seen as a success is not the same as another.

For a Government running out of time and a development industry still trying to work out how it can play its part, more clarity is needed urgently – such as the new National Planning Policy Framework slated for next month – if levelling up is ever to be more than useful slogan at election time.

You can download a copy of BECG’s levelling up report here

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