The UK government’s long-awaited white paper on “levelling up” the country, published today, was largely welcomed by institutional investors and the real estate industry, while also attracting criticism.

It included plans for government support for 20 UK towns and city centres through “ambitious, King’s Cross-style regeneration projects” led by Homes England.

A greater proportion of government funding for housing supply will also be directed to the North and the Midlands and the government will commit to building “more genuinely affordable housing” through legislation.

Melanie Leach, CEO of the British Property Federation (BPF), said: “The government’s mission to improve pride in place across the country is laudable, but this can only be delivered through a much bolder vision for revitalising the buildings and public spaces in our town centres.

“King’s Cross is quoted as a template, but this was a long-term project only made possible by a strong public-private partnership and the support of the local community creating the vision and conditions for massive private sector investment.”

“The government should harness the BPF’s proposal for town centre investment zones – creating the conditions for delivering the Prime Minister’s aim to unleash private-sector investment through a mix of tax incentives, planning flexibility and greater local-authority powers across all parts of the country.

“Working with Homes England, the property sector can deliver town centre transformation far more effectively than government grants alone and ensure that empty shops are put to new uses.

“Requiring property owners to fill empty premises misses the point – there will only be tenants wanting to occupy the town centre if it is a place people want to visit and spend time in.”

Adam Winslow, CEO of Aviva UK & Ireland General Insurance, said: “It’s good to see the government focusing on measures to help our communities thrive and to improve wellbeing, particularly in areas that currently struggle to compete.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we need to balance these levelling-up measures with the global challenge of climate change, and this starts with the resilience and sustainability we build into the infrastructure of our communities.

“It is encouraging to see the government initiating regeneration projects to transform derelict urban sites. How and where we build properties in our communities, the materials we use and how we treat our natural environment to minimise the perils of extreme weather will be significant for all of our futures.

“Through Aviva’s Building Future Communities campaigning we have called for action to ensure resilience and sustainability is integral to every step taken to improve our British built environment.”

Tracy Blackwell, CEO at Pension Insurance Corporation (PIC), said: “We welcome this white paper and agree that the government cannot level up the UK alone, but it will have to work in partnership with the private sector and with long-term investment from the financial-services sector. We are already seeing billions of pounds being invested into areas like social housing and urban regeneration from long-term investors.

“However, to enhance this flow the government needs to ensure that financial regulatory reform doesn’t end up slowing or stopping the flow of investment into our cities and towns and draining the life from the levelling up project.

“Specifically, we are calling for changes to Solvency II, a piece of insurance regulation that – if reformed appropriately and with focus – could free up £20bn of fresh investment in the UK economy this decade.

“We have a unique opportunity to improve lives across the country. But, to do so, government must start by ensuring we really do have joined up regulatory thinking.”

Darren Mansfield, partner in the research team at Knight Frank, said: “The long-awaited levelling-up white paper makes for an interesting read and it is great to finally see a commitment to supporting growth and regeneration across the UK regions.

“It is notable that advancing innovation and improving both transport and digital infrastructure were two of the central components detailed in the plan. These themes chime with Knight Frank’s latest research that showed how innovation within our cities is an essential driver for long-term economic growth and is crucial in a well-functioning real estate market. The research also examined how physical and digital connectivity supports job creation, talent supply and frictionless service delivery.

“Businesses and local communities will largely welcome the key features of the paper, and will be eagerly anticipating examples of the plan being realised.”

The government white paper also set out plans for public investment in research and development (R&D) outside London, the South East and Cambridge, and announced “innovation accelerators”, which it described as “major place-based centres of innovation” centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Glasgow.

These “clusters of innovation” will see local businesses and researchers backed by £100m of new government funding to “turbo-charge local growth, learning from the MIT-Greater Boston and Stanford-Silicon Valley models”, it said.

Sarah Forster, CEO of the Good Economy, said: “We are very pleased to see the recommendation on our white paper on scaling up institutional investment for place-based impact is picked up in the report.

“We look forward to working with stakeholders across the ecosystem to create a place-based impact investing market that brings real benefits to local people across the UK and connects investors directly with local opportunities.”

Chris Oglesby, CEO of Bruntwood and chair of Innovation Greater Manchester, said: “One of the most eye-catching positives in today’s levelling-up white paper is the commitment to increase R&D spending outside of London and the South East. The current imbalance here mirrors the regional inequalities that are at the heart of levelling up.

“Investing in the innovative capacity of our places through increased R&D spending outside of London and the South East is key to long-term prosperity. For us, this is the real major opportunity presented by the new Levelling Up strategy to drive growth in city regions.

“Through Innovation Greater Manchester we have promoted the idea of place-based innovation deals that will make a transformational impact on our towns and cities – helping direct investment and align with complementary skills and infrastructure strategies. It is great to see that government supports our approach and will invest in innovation accelerators as part of its strategy to increase the proportion of R&D funding outside London and the South East.

“It’s a fantastic outcome for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands to be identified as new innovation accelerators zones along with Glasgow City Region. Both regions have long been the engines of growth for their wider local economies and so supporting their success makes sense if we’re to level-up the towns and communities they connect with.”

Ted Frith, COO at GLIL Infrastructure, said: “Our fund members represent pensioners from across the country. We are, therefore, supportive of the aims of the levelling-up agenda, specifically providing better opportunities, better public services and increased pay and productivity. 

“A fund like GLIL has invested directly into UK infrastructure assets for a number of years and we stand ready to support further projects that can deliver stable, long-term inflation-linked returns for the benefit of our pension fund members. 

“Today’s announcement is welcome. However, we are still waiting to hear how the government plans to replace the financing of projects that used to benefit from private-finance initiatives, and how private capital can help rebuild our schools, roads and hospitals across the regions.”