With the UK moving fast towards the referendum to stay in or leave the EU, we at the Institute of Place Management decided to join our voices with others. As the campaign is becoming increasingly irrational what we can only offer here are our own personal views.
‘The IPM believes Britain remaining in Europe is in the interests of all European places, and their management and development. Here is what the IPM Directors have to say on the matter, all of whom have extensive experience of working with place management practitioners.’ Prof Dominic Medway
Prof. Cathy Parker
I have spent the last 20 years working with shopkeepers, market managers and traders, residents, local government officers and councillors on research and practical projects that will help improve local retail centres and high streets. In our last project, High Street UK 2020 we worked with 10 towns in England and Wales all of which were facing challenges like less shoppers, more empty shops, rising levels of anti-social behaviour and falling levels of investment. Our town centres say a lot about about the people that live in and around them. Understandably, people feel upset when their local high street looks tired, unkept or empty. The people in our High Street UK 2020 project wanted to know what they could do to change the prognosis of their local town. So we reviewed all the empirical evidence and used a consensus-building research technique involving experts from the retail property sector, retailers, town and city centre managers, policy makers and academics to find out. Two findings of our project are very relevant to the current EU referendum debate.
Working in local economic development and place management over the last 25 years it is very clear the extent to which British cities, towns and former industrial areas have benefitted from our membership of the EU. The billions of pounds of EU money has funded infrastructure improvements, building reuse and place making. It has created thousands of jobs and boosted local economies across the UK. Other EU funding continues to support the economy of rural areas. EU membership has meant that as a professional in this area I have had the right and opportunity to participate in projects with colleagues across the EU. Working together and in partnership we have learned many things that we have put into practice to the benefit of places and communities. As an Institute our research and work depends on nationals of other EU states who by right are resident currently in the UK. If we vote to leave the EU, all of this will be gone. It will do immense harm to the nation and the places within it and undermine so much that has been done in the past.
Dr. Ares Kalandides
As a citizen of two European countries – Greece and Germany – I have experienced in the most dramatic way the contradictions and internal conflicts of the European Union. Yet, even in 2015, in the midst of the Greek-German conflict around the bailouts and the debt crisis, I never once doubted that such issues can only been solved inside the EU and not outside of it. I am a European entrepreneur and an academic at the same time. European integration with all its faults makes it possible for us to work together, move around freely, exchange knowledge and ideas, trade services and goods. Yes, there is interaction with non-EU countries, too, and I’ve worked in many of them, but it is very limited in comparison. Our joint projects exist because of the EU, our students can move around because of the EU, I can employ UK citizens without any bureaucracy at my office in Berlin because of the EU and I can be a director of the Institute of Place Management in the UK without much paperwork also because of the EU. I’m sure most of us agree that the European Union has several deep flaws. I’m sure we agree that it needs more transparency, more accountability and a better balance between integration and individuality. Yet, I hope we all agree too that the EU is one of the best achievements of Europe after the war. It has guaranteed our relative prosperity and only by staying in there together do we have any chance of moving it forward.
Dr Steve Millington
One thing we can learn from history is during the 1930s European states responded to economic decline through protectionism in the national interest. The resultant collapse of trade and currency instability only served to exacerbate the problem, ushering in the Great Depression. Amidst this chaos, Europe descended into conflict. This was well understood in the postwar reconstruction through attempts to unify nations and to create conditions for stable economic growth and importantly free trade. Consequently The United Nations and European Economic Community were borne out of this crisis, sharing an understanding the interests of individual nations are connected and interdependent. In or outside the European Union, nation-states remain subject to the powerful forces driving globalisation. What we have learnt is closer integration between countries is inevitable in the name of peace and prosperity. The world’s most powerful economies, the USA and China cover huge geographical territories, containing massive internal consumer markets. Whereas previously isolated countries like Cuba, are opening to the world, nations going it alone, like North Korea face a gloomy future. Cities and regions across the UK have clearly benefitted from stronger international links, through regeneration, inward investment, infrastructure development, trade and of course the possibilities for individual citizens for travel and tourism. Universities have benefitted from research networks and funding, and of course international students from across Europe coming to the UK to study. It is difficult to imagine, therefore, what the consequences will be for Britain’s towns and cities, particularly in the North, if restrictions and obstacles to closer integration result from a Brexit. History suggests it will not be positive.
Dr. Heather Skinner
We are currently a part of a supra-national entity, the EU, that provides more opportunities for trade and freer movement of people than if we were to leave. Such a supra-national entity also takes a focus, at least to some extent. away from the national, and in many countries, regional and sub-cultural identities have been able to re-emerge and re-form rather than be subsumed under a single national identity. This allows for a consideration of place that then becomes much wider than merely territory and national borders, an understanding of place as much more multi-faceted and culturally richer. We as individuals are better able to express our place-attached identities in a way that can be more meaningful to ourselves as a part of something bigger than a country defined by national borders, an entity that brings all European peoples together under an integrated ideal, and which also communicates a concept of what Europe means to the wider world. In practice, being a part of the EU also means we can work together towards enacting these ideals, such as, for example, in relation to responsible tourism, agreeing as one to work towards the principles set down in the Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism communication which is concerned with a pan-EU approach to the sustainable management of destinations, the integration of sustainability concerns by businesses, and the awareness of sustainability issues among tourists.
Prof. Dominic Medway
Much of the pioneering research on place management and development over that last decade has been undertaken by European-funded partnerships involving British academics and practitioners. If Britain leaves the EU then these cross-European research collaborations and synergies, which have been focused on improving the fortunes of the Continent’s places, will inevitably be weakened. The management and development of places is always something we do better together rather than in mutual isolation.