A Manifesto for Stronger Places

In creating our Manifesto for Stronger Places, ADEPT has stepped into new territory, because we all know our local places deserve better, but we need policy as well as investment to make a difference, explains Hannah Bartram, chief executive officer, ADEPT.

Being a professional membership organisation, ADEPT is apolitical. However, given the financial circumstances many councils are grappling with, the difficult decisions we face merely to deliver essential services, and the local leadership we provide, making our voice heard at this time is vital.

Place directors are pivotal in making the country work. Our roads will not function and our waste will not be recycled efficiently without ongoing investment in place. Without local leadership and the partnerships we convene across our disparate communities, people and businesses will not be ready for the green economic opportunities ahead, and we will not reach national net zero targets.

With ADEPT’s broad remit, developing a concise document of key policy asks was challenging for many reasons. As an organisation, not only do we think strategically about national policy for local places, we also drill down to the details of technical guidance.

Also, even though all our members are drawn from the top tier of the local council family (county, unitary, metropolitan and combined authorities), they may, nevertheless, be urban, rural coastal or mixed communities.


Our Manifesto has been developed against the backdrop of enduring budget cuts, the impacts of which on our places are now highly visible. We have adapted, of course, but there are limits and local authorities have reached them during an ongoing cost of living crisis with severe financial constraints. We can be smart with our budgets, but there is a bigger picture.

Our current system isn’t fit for purpose so we need to look at how local government funding mechanisms are designed.

Our funding system is a patchwork of competitive bids, of varying sizes and slightly differing priorities, broadly aiming to achieve the same goals. The resource and cost implications of developing bids have reached the point that many local councils struggle to pull them together. In some cases they are not even bothering. The situation goes against the ethos of devolution and local decision-making that places so much emphasis on local places knowing what’s best for their areas. It was inevitable that ending competitive bidding and delivering ambitious devolution deals, alongside tackling geographic inequality, enabling green growth and tackling climate change would be among our key strategic objectives.

Housing, planning & growth

We have designed our specific policy asks to fall into our key work areas: housing, planning and growth; transport and infrastructure; and environment and climate change.

The housing crisis we face is acute and inter-generational. Councils need to build social housing, it’s as simple as that. We need to be able to build affordable homes for our changing climate, not ones that need retrofitting before they’re even sold. We also need to see increases in Local Housing Allowance so that private rented accommodation is within reach for all.

The planning system is another area in need of reform, but the difficult question, and one that is becoming increasingly political, is what should that reform prioritise? We want to see reform shaped by functional geographic areas and aligned with our carbon targets. There is no reason why we can’t be ambitious both in the quality of our developments and the impact on the environment, climate and biodiversity.

Transport & infrastructure

Unsurprisingly we are looking at capital funding and our highways’ infrastructure which needs better resilience to the changing climate. National policy has always prioritised road building over road maintenance, but a poorly maintained road system has a significant economic impact, and we need to enable better travel options.

At the same time, increasing electrification means greater pressure on the grid, so as we diversify our energy generation, we need Local Area Energy Plans to manage the transition as well as investment in infrastructure.

Environment & climate change

The Government’s recent roll back on net zero measures has placed us in the eye of the domestic political storm leading up to the general election. Local authorities are critical in meeting decarbonisation targets and net zero touches everything we do as place directors. Local Climate Action Agreements and Local Environmental Improvement Plans would bridge the gap between national and local governments.

Putting these in place would enable us to embed a whole range of priorities including habitat and biodiversity, environmental quality, climate adaptation and mitigation into planning and development decisions. And then there is waste. We have been waiting a long time to see the implementation of the Resources and Waste Strategy and the Environment Act. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was the importance of place. Health and wellbeing do not solely depend on economic circumstances, the quality of our places matter. Regardless of whether we call it levelling up, we have to tackle geographic as well as social inequalities alongside climate, environment and nature depletion. And if we take a place-based approach, it can be done.

We design our programmes with these priorities in mind, it’s our day job. If I had one message, it would be to just let us do it. And if I had one message for local authorities right now, it would be ‘hold your nerve’. We have entered a period of huge turmoil for the country, at least until the next election, and it is apparent that the local net zero work we have been tasked with is going to be part of a political battle. We know that our local people are concerned with climate change and the environment. They also need a secure home, jobs and opportunities.

This is why speaking to our major political parties as they develop the manifestos they will soon take to the country, is essential if, once elected, they are going to deliver for local places. Local authorities play a critical and often unrecognised role in realising national policy, but we are also crucial placemakers, shaping places for the communities we serve every day.


The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) represents ‘Directors of Place’ from county, unitary, metropolitan and combined authorities along with directors of local enterprise partnerships, sub-national transport bodies and corporate partners drawn from key service sectors. ADEPT members are at the very heart of maximising clean sustainable growth, delivering the projects that are fundamental to creating more resilient communities, economies and infrastructure. Over 14.7 million households in England – and two thirds of the population – rely on services provided by ADEPT members. These services include housing, environmental and regulatory services, planning, economic development, culture and highways and transport. The Association represents members’ interests by proactively engaging central Government on emerging policy & issues, responding to consultations and enquiries, and promoting initiatives and research aimed at influencing Government policy.