Renaissance Market Towns programme case study

The Renaissance Market Towns (RMT) programme was launched in July 2002. As one of our flagship programmes, the aim of RMT is to make sure that the region’s rural capitals are places where people want, and are able, to live, work, invest and visit.

Why Market Towns?

In Britain, the term ‘market town’ is traditionally used to describe a town of moderate size where a regular market is held. Many of these towns have an historic origin, with markets having been held there for several centuries. The role of the market town has changed over time, although many still hold regular markets. The main function for a market town now might be as a visitor centre, an employment centre or a commuter settlement.

The Regional Economic Strategy recognises that boosting the economic performance and competitiveness of rural settlements is important to the overall success of the region and RMT is one element of Yorkshire Forward’s intervention approach, now part of the wider Rural Capitals programme. RMT is the successor programme to the previous Market Towns Initiative (MTI) and was developed as part of Yorkshire Forward’s response to the fragility of the rural economy that was demonstrated through the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak. The importance of market towns in terms of the rural economy was recognised, together with the need for a long term,
strategic approach.

In 2000, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions published a Rural White Paper called ‘Our Countryside: The Future - A Fair Deal for Rural England’. We have built our rural renaissance agenda around the main themes of this document, including how market towns should act as a focus for economic growth in areas needing redevelopment and more generally as service centres for the surrounding rural areas, making the most of their potential as
attractive places to live, work, invest and spend leisure time.

RMT approach

The RMT approach work started with the development phase, an intensive initial year of capacity development and masterplanning, with the local community, to establish a long term vision for the town with deliverable projects/interventions. Through the establishment of a Town Team comprising local residents, business, community and public sector representatives and through dedicated support from the public sector, the objective is to deliver sustainable change that
can support regional economic objectives and thriving market towns.

The Market Towns Initiative (MTI) pilot programme funded by the Countryside Agency operated across 12 towns plus Richmond in the Yorkshire and Humber region. Evaluations of the MTI programme were used to inform the roll-out of RMT. The RMT approach differed from the MTI programme in that it was based on a strategy led, not funding driven approach. Accordingly an ‘RMT Gateway’ was established that set out the entry criteria required for potential participation by
market towns. A second imperative was to ensure that the creation of a market town partnership would enable the formation of a local group aligned and equipped to drive the vision for change forward – the Town Team. The composition of a Town Team would be different in each town, reflecting local circumstances.

The RMT Gateway was an initial assessment of a market town, ensuring that high quality information was available on its historical context, its socio-economic trajectory, the nature of the community and existing local groups, key players and any existing and relevant research studies. This provided in-depth knowledge about local circumstances to those coming from outside to work with local people.

Town Teams

Town Teams are groups of local residents, business people and professionals dedicated to renaissance in their towns. They were set up to support the creation of a Vision and Strategic Development Framework (SDF)/Masterplan for the town and drive that vision forward. Only projects supported by the Town Team and in the SDF/Masterplan were eligible for RMT funding. Though there have been some difficulties in some towns with the establishment of a town team and their exact role and relationship with various partners, overall it is felt that the town team is one of the successes of the RMT programme, helping locals take control of renaissance and drive projects forwards.


A detailed socio-economic assessment was undertaken to further explore issues identified in the gateway phase to inform the masterplanning process. A lead consultant team was appointed to work with the Town Team to develop the Masterplan/SDF. This involved the lead consultant working closely with the Town Team, the local authority and Yorkshire Forward to analyse the ‘place’, identify the long term aspirations and spatial implications and to consider appropriate interventions. This work dovetails with a public consultation process, to seek community views and buy-in to the Vision and emerging masterplan.

This strategic approach ensures that the process is not funding led and therefore prone to the ‘pet project’ syndrome. The methodology adopts an analytical approach, to assess socio-economic and physical conditions and needs, and to develop the issues put forward in the gateway submissions, which then lead to the identification of potential interventions to address those needs. This encouraged local authorities and other agencies to focus on rural areas and the long
term strategic opportunities for improving socio-economic conditions. It encouraged community involvement and the evidence suggests that renaissance has been most successful where positive community engagement has been highest.

Business Plans

A key objective of the masterplanning process set out above was to identify interventions that could be included within a ‘Business Plan’, to provide a framework for ongoing work and investment. In principle, this formal Business Plan component of the process enabled the partners to ‘sign off’ the vision and the proposals, to enable further resource commitments and project development to take place. This is a strong element of the RMT programme – it requires the Town Team, their partners and consultancy advisers to develop a vision and masterplan which contains ‘real’ projects that can be delivered. The collation of the first years work into the Business Plan effectively provides the blueprint for moving the programme forward.

Partnership Skills Programme

The aim of this programme was to support Town Teams to develop the skills, capacity and confidence to participate fully in renaissance. Town Teams were offered the services of a facilitator, workshops, on line resources, action learning programmes, conferences and access to expertise. This programme was delivered by MBED on behalf of Yorkshire Forward and helped many teams develop in key areas.

Project delivery support

Many of the RMT projects that emerged through the Masterplan and Business Plan work have been ‘physical’, requiring a range of skills such as detailed feasibility work, land acquisition, negotiation with the private sector and securing development agreements. A key strength of the RMT programme has been the investment in support staff, both within Yorkshire Forward and also the local authorities, to assist the Town Teams in addressing these core delivery issues.

RMT Panel

The RMT Panel of Experts was recruited for specific expertise and value that the consultants could offer to the programme. The panel has been retained as part of the Rural Capitals programme. Consultants have added significantly to the way in which town visions have been created, masterplans drawn up and individual projects designed and delivered.

RMT Research

The panel also carry out research for the RMT programme and Yorkshire Forward is seen as a leader in research on market towns. The breadth and depth of the topics researched is impressive and includes long term strategic issues, such as climate change and the effect on out market towns, and also issues which can be addressed more quickly such as car parking.

Measuring the success of the RMT programme

It is difficult to quantify exactly the success of the renaissance process. Often the projects RMT has invested in will not have direct economic outputs but will create the conditions for improved economic performance. An example of this is the Hebden Bridge pedestrianisation project, which has created a pedestrian area in the heart of the town. In addition to direct economic impacts, this has attracted more visitors to the town and improved the streetscape for residents.

The Richmond Heritage Partnership is a further example, where unused upper floors have been renovated and the external appearance of the Georgian facades improved. Many jobs have been created and business expanded to make use of the upper floors, additional economic benefit has been brought to the town thanks to its appearance and anecdotal evidence shows that businesses have been more resilient in the economic downturn in Richmond than in other
market towns.

A key element of RMT is the extent to which the programme can build ‘confidence’ in a town, and led to new activities being stimulated. RMT has resulted in a range of organisational and ‘project identification and progression’ benefits that would not have happened without RMT intervention. RMT has also acted as the ‘catalyst’ to engage the private sector.


• In the period 2003 -2009 the RMT programme has allocated funds in the region of £30million to support projects in our market towns.

Key successes

• Enabled and provoked the joining up of fragmented local regeneration activity, bringing a sense of coherence and engagement that has created a single ‘community’ body with whom the Local Authority can deal;
• Opened up regeneration to a much wider group of activists and provided the structure of a Town Team within which to contribute;
• Provided partnership and personal development opportunities through the partnership skills programme which actively supports the sustainable communities agenda;
• Raised the profile and relative importance of rural renaissance and brought some key projects forward for consideration and action sooner than may have been originally planned;
• Built capacity within Local Authority staff as well as within communities;
• Created a forum and mechanism for wider local collaboration and project identification, complementary to the Regional Economic Strategy;
• A valuable evolutionary test bed that will continue through a process of review, to inform and guide the future development of the Rural Capital Programme; and
• Recognition beyond the region of an innovative and challenging programme that continues to have a significant economic contribution to regional development.

Lessons learnt

• Earlier deployment of staff to support delivery is required;
• The programme has faced challenges, as any major innovative pilot programme would, and Yorkshire Forward and partners have worked hard to resolve the issues.

More about this success story

To find out more about the RMT and to access documents and research referred to in the study please visit:
Rhona Pringle
Rural Capitals Programme Manager
Yorkshire Forward
Victoria House
2 Victoria Place
West Yorkshire
LS11 5AE
0113 3949618

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