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COMMENT: Short view hampering regeneration

Iain JenkinsonProperly implementing the findings of a Commons Select Committee study into regeneration strategy can only be done with significant resources, writes Iain Jenkinson.

The Communities & Local Government Committee's regeneration report published last week comes at a timely juncture for the regeneration sector in the UK. It examines the initiatives set out in Government's first publicised foray into regeneration – "Regeneration to enable growth: what Government is doing in support of community-led regeneration" – which followed the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.

The Select Committee report highlights why many of these initiatives have fallen short of their intended outcomes. In part, this must be a result of the fact that they were conceived at a time when Government had already decided to wind down or reform many of the public sector bodies involved in leading the regenerative fight, and their critical role in unlocking private capital, in some of the most economically fragile localities of the UK.

The New Homes Bonus has worked in some instances but has proved inconsequential for many parts of the north. The Local Government Review and potential introduction of Tax Increment Financing is a good idea but requires legislation and is not expected to be in place before April 2013. Community Infrastructure Levy works well where viability allows, but CIL is only ever going to be a function of economic viability in development markets.

In short, those areas cities and sub-regions most exposed would have to work much harder to make such incentives work.

Perhaps the greatest indignation can be for the Coalition's dissolution of the 'large, remote regional bodies' in favour of locally determined solutions delivered by local groups of businesses, volunteers and the public sector. I do not take issue with a locally-led process of regeneration, but it leaves us asking 'who exactly is going to take the lead?'

Some of the Coalition's other policies have stripped the local authority sector in particular back to a skeletal level of resources. In one city we are working with, we are currently on our fourth Director of Regeneration in a little over 18 months.

The Select Committee report documents these failings, but it also injects some sense into the debate and I am hopeful this will start to inform Coalition policies. Overall it draws us back to the previous assumption that there is a need for regeneration to recognise an explicit economic underpinning and rationale to the model and that the most successful regeneration projects are based on a comprehensive approach that has scale and integrates effectively the multitude of service delivery agencies around a common goal.

Hulme is held-up in the report as the exemplar for others to follow. Truth be told, others have followed – New East Manchester, Liverpool Vision and others but such programmes had the commensurate level of resource to make them a success. Hulme and Moss Side – £35m spent between 1997 and 2002 with a further £400m coming in the five-year period that followed the end of the programme; East Manchester – £720m spent between 2000 and 2010 as part of a £2bn multi-faceted investment programme; Liverpool city centre £126m spent between 2000 and 2005 unlocking almost a £1bn in further capital, two thirds of which was from the private sector. None of the evaluations of these programmes ever questioned the value for money of this public investment; indeed, it was quite the opposite.

It seems therefore that there is a decision to be made. If the Coalition takes the Select Committee report seriously and follows its recommendations, then serious resources will need to be made available, and moreover the necessary skills and capacities will have to be built back into the local authority sector. In particular, I hope that the Committee's recommendation for Community Budgets starts to gain some traction.

The current regeneration agenda is likely to continue to be hampered by short-term spending priorities rather than a consideration of the greater value and returns that locally determined, comprehensive regeneration solutions have proven in the past that they can deliver.

  • Iain Jenkinson is senior director of planning, development and regeneration at GVA.

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