As the country continues to adapt to life under lockdown, we take a closer look at the impact of COVID-19 on our public spaces and the role of planning, regeneration and urban design in contributing towards the economic recovery for towns and cities.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has affected both our planning system and the way we experience our public spaces.

Homes are no longer just for living – they have become working and socialising hubs and are being conceptualised as such within the industry. The high-street is also continuing to struggle, with revitalisation a necessity, as outlined in our recent blog.

The planning industry is having to adapt to all of these changes extremely quickly in reaction to the transformative impact COVID-19 has had upon our lives.

Planning and sustainability

The pandemic seems to have shifted government focus to national planning, dominated by the idea that building back faster is synonymous with building back better. There are environmental concerns that the government will prioritise fast, non-sustainable methods of building over methods that protect natural habitats and preserve biodiversity.

However, the reality is that a much more nuanced approach is needed. Rather than using up green belt land to build more houses, the pandemic offers a unique opportunity to reassess how we use current space. Take the retail industry for example. With many high-street shops making the switch to online stores, new spaces will become available. The challenge for the urban design industry is deciding how to utilise these spaces to ensure sustainability and enhance economic development.

Economic resilience and the towns and cities that need ‘levelling up’

Whilst it is safe to say that the pandemic has impacted the lives of most – if not all – people in the UK, it must be noted that some communities have been hit harder than others. For example, the Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index reports that towns and cities with the worst economic decline will recover much quicker than more buoyant areas. However, these economies are predicted to still be weaker than before the pandemic, meaning that less resilient towns and cities will still suffer.

So, what can the planning industry do for these towns and cities to address this?

Firstly, recognising that sustainability in levelling up towns and cities is a key aspect of not only hitting the UK’s net-zero target, but also contributing to economic recovery in the long term. This helps to build more resilient urban areas which can ‘bounce back better’ when facing future economic challenges.

Secondly, understanding that spatial planning is vital to levelling up. Plans must be tailored to different types of communities, depending on their structural, transportation and technological needs.

It is vital that we support the future needs of our communities and prioritise people’s physical and mental health after a pandemic and series of lockdowns that have taken a toll on both.

Putting communities at the centre of placemaking will be key to this approach to allow the people that live in our towns and cities to play an active role in shaping their future.

To find out more about the importance of planning, regeneration and urban design in post-Covid-19 economic recovery for our towns and cities, sign up to our webinar on ‘Reshaping Towns and Cities in a post-COVID world’.

To find out more about our collaborative placemaking approach, please contact Laura Cunliffe-Hall, Account Manager within Copper’s Economic Development practice at