Let’s talk about Towns: Building a better understanding of town vitality

Towns, less populous than cities, often fall by the wayside in policy discourse – particularly when it comes to conversations about the economy. We’ve developed the first-of-its-kind Town Vitality Report, looking at what kind of policy focus is needed to unlock the potential of the different kinds of towns across the UK.

Our analysis of 800+ towns splits them into six categories: Vibrant, Opportunity, Backbone, Foundation, Heartland, and Gateway towns – each with its unique strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities.

Key themes, emerging from the analysis:

  1. A towns versus cities narrative is likely to be counterproductive. Towns benefit from the economic “halo effect” of successful cities, though there are notable exceptions to this phenomenon.
  2. A North-South divide in economic vitality is far too simplistic. A narrow policy focus on levelling up the North raises the risk of Southern towns failing to meet their full potential, and would ignore lessons from Vibrant towns in the North.
  3. High skills is the best predictor of economic vitality. Driving up skills levels, attracting talent from other parts of the country and tackling health inequalities has to be a focus of policy.
  4. Foundation towns need to focus on skills, wellbeing and livability.
  5. Economic vitality must not come at the expense of wellbeing. Many places that score relatively poorly on economic dynamism have relatively high levels of life satisfaction.
  6. On average, opportunity towns and heartland towns face the greatest challenges in reaching net zero.

The next phase of the project will develop a policy roadmap for our six town types. Get in touch with us at if you want to be involved.


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