What is the role of the state in regeneration?
February 22, 2012
The debate about the role of central government in reviving deprived places is stuck. The real issue isn’t more or less government, but where and what type, argues John P. Houghton.
The recent exchange between the regeneration select committee and the DCLG was a very depressing affair.
The select committee rightly criticised the government for having no meaningful strategy or consideration for reviving the poorest places. Its Regeneration to enable growth toolkit is a pretty feeble set of lists and platitudes that doesn’t engage with serious questions about the likelihood and type of growth we might see in different places.
What about neighbourhoods where growth is going to be very hard to achieve? What about the places where growth won’t benefit the neediest neighbourhoods? And that’s before we get on to deeper issues about the potential for post-growth or steady state strategies in other places.
I suspect many of you will share the committee’s conclusion that the government ‘lacks strategic direction and is unclear about the nature of the problem it is trying to solve’.
However, the committee’s proposals are equally problematic and ultimately rely on top-down government intervention. They call for several new government strategies, with additional guidance and outcomes, and a government assessment of regeneration schemes across the country.
The most dispiriting conclusion is their call for a series of government-designated regeneration ‘pathfinders’. After 40 years of short-term pilot programmes, the committee settled on the bright idea of launching another set of short-term pilot programmes.
And all this despite a richness of evidence from witnesses who critiqued previous interventions and put forward a wide range of ideas for more searching, long-term solutions.
The committee are right to criticise for government for doing nothing, but wrong to think that central government has the answers.