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The next step for regeneration

Regeneration is hugely important to the future of our cities and communities.

It can create economically and environmentally vibrant, sustainable communities from areas that aren’t working for local people as well as they could – and good places to live and work are crucial for our economy in its widest sense.What’s more there is an obvious desire from Government, the HCA, and the wider industry to get this right and provide regeneration that works for communities across the country.

But it could be argued that a chequered past has led to a lack of confidence amongst local authorities, registered providers and contractors who are the ones who have to put in the hard yards. Confidence can also be affected by perceived resentment from residents and communities with longer local memories to those seen to be trying to regenerate where they live.

A new strategy from the Government

With the new Estate Regeneration National Strategy released by DCLG last week, it looks like Government has come to the same conclusion and has produced a wide-ranging piece of work that recognises the stop-start and repeat approach that has blighted regeneration around the country for some time. Hopefully now we will have the impetus needed to move past that stage.

The strategy is a significant intervention for a number of reasons – not least because for the first time it sets out, across the entire country, guidance and expectations which local authorities can cleave to. Experienced regeneration professionals may learn nothing new from the strategy document, but there’s much larger group of interested parties who will find this incredibly valuable.

While not prescribing the route by which things should happen, it lays open a clear approach and gives access to insight and knowledge. This has previously been accessible mainly from professionals and would come at a cost which may have acted as a barrier to explore potential. Now one feels, if a local authority somewhere without substantial regeneration experience, this strategy and support will help to move projects out of the ‘too difficult to do’ pile and into the ‘let’s have a look’ pile.

Secondly, it is very clear the emphasis government is placing on local engagement. When that initial conversation starts, there is a high chance interested parties will already be talking at crossed purposes – the local authority might go to its residents talking about quantity of homes, while residents themselves want to see improvements to the existing environment. Any regeneration that starts off with that disconnect is likely to come up against barriers and opposition. 

Thirdly, the strategy points towards the recent autumn statement with an explicit reference to the £7 billion for infrastructure spending to unlock housing while offering immediate financial support for getting the early planning partnership right. This all lines up to help make development happen.

Fourth, and very important, is the pre-eminent role that local authorities have been given. It appears clear that local authorities are being lined up as the most important agent in making estates regeneration happen. Government appears to be saying: you have got the land, you should be doing something with it and you have this important role to play in place shaping.

What's next? 

Estates regeneration can encourage progress and drive investment in the wider area, so a great deal of responsibility is necessarily placed on local authorities to assemble all partners to make that place shaping happen. Another way to summarise the strategy is that this is a ‘Back to the Future’ moment; local authorities have the access to land and public finances and the pivotal position to act as agents for change. As a result, they are being encouraged to step forward into that key role.

There are risks associated with this approach, given that specific local authorities with the opportunity and willingness may not have the capacity and capability to make regeneration happen. For the willing, there may be issues around whether they have time, the funds, and the people. Many will want to know who to talk to to take the first step, which is often the most difficult.   So while we may have very engaged local authority members up and down the country wanting to make regeneration happen, they must be encouraged to take those first steps.

It is the responsibility of the wider regeneration community now to follow up very clearly on this strategy, engage with local authorities to find out what their requirements are, and offer the right support and services to assist. If we don’t make that step, there will be city halls around the country that want to do something, but alone are not able to get things done.

Progress might also be stalled by the local political situation, where split control of the authority means there may be a lack of shared political vision, which in turn holds back regeneration and means that initial planning phase – making sure everyone is working towards the same outcomes – cannot get off the ground. Mercifully, this situation is rare and we are seeing much more shared local political commitment than division , but there is a political dimension that this national strategy may need to overcome in a small number of cases.

New models

We can already see new models of delivery which are working to improve places and create new estates and communities around the country. Brent Cross South, the largest estates regeneration programme in Europe, is an outstanding example that is referenced in the new national strategy. The mature Joint Venture has been very successful in pulling together regional government (the GLA) with local government (Barnet Council) working with private developers and partners including Network Rail and TfL.

As a result, the ambitious scheme will deliver heavy new infrastructure for the region, 7,000 new homes, new infrastructure, new rail and a new shopping centre. This is place-making at its most innovative, and a great example of how the regeneration community can work together to achieve the ambitions set out in the Government’s new national strategy.

Aligning the different requirements of landowners, developers and funders, carrying out extensive masterplanning, and finding new models for delivery are the essential factors for building successful regeneration schemes. This strategy clearly lays the groundwork for ensuring regeneration can happen – we now just need to pull together to make sure that it does.

 A shorter version of this article was originally published on Building.com

Photo of Jules Bickers

Jules Bickers

Consultancy director, Capita Real Estate & Infrastructure

Jules joined Capita in 2014 and has over 20 years’ experience in the housing sector. Jules leads the Housing Consultancy team working with affordable housing providers and developers across the UK providing land promotion, development management advisory, energy consultancy, scheme and business plan feasibilities, strategic asset management, asset compliance and treasury advisory services to local authorities and housing associations.

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