Commission calls for national regeneration masterplan

Published: 5th Aug 2019

An independent commission has called on ministers to develop a national £10bn regeneration masterplan to help ‘places and people in greatest need’.

The final report by the Great Places Commission claims the government has ‘retreated’ from major regeneration programmes since 2011, which has widened the ‘wealth and opportunity gap’ between some parts of the country.

It adds that while devolution schemes such as the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine are ‘welcome’, their ambition has not been matched by resources.

In the report, the commission concludes that the government must create a new national regeneration programme.

It adds that the £1.6bn Stronger Towns Fund is a small step in the right direction – and the Shared Prosperity Fund may help further – but more significant and long-term investment is needed.

Instead it calls for a long-term £10bn regeneration strategy, which should be delivered by a ‘diverse of partners’ and have a ‘holistic’ approach, which includes economic, social and physical priorities.

The report also argues that housing associations should engage with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) to ensure affordable housing is central to local industrial strategies.

It also calls on the government to provide local authorities with a sustainable future funding settlement.

The report says this is ‘essential’ so councils can rebuild their capacity and skills, enabling them to lead and coordinate placemaking across every community.

‘The Great Places Commission has devoted a huge amount of time and energy to understanding the obstacles and opportunities faced by places in the North and the Midlands,’ writes National Housing Federation chief executive, Kate Henderson.

‘They are challenging the sector to think differently and ambitiously about our potential to drive positive change, explore new ways of working and forge new partnerships.

‘With the right support from the government, our sector can do so much more. We can be even more ambitious, we can deliver even better results for people and for communities,’ added Ms Henderson.

Photo Credit – Free-Photos (Pixabay)

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The Great Places Commission set out to “explore what makes a great place to live and how housing associations can contribute to thriving, successful communities” — an incredibly important aim and a social ambition that is fundamental to their history. With a mind to key areas of deprivation, it focussed its attention on the North and Midlands and, in its Interim Report last November, correctly identified the “sense of disconnection” that exists in many communities, particularly in employment and economic activity.

I agreed with their statement in the Interim Report that Housing Associations “are part of the fabric of a place and therefore have an obligation to contribute towards both its perception and reality… This can be achieved by unearthing and amplifying the voices and stories of those who might otherwise be marginalised”. They proposed “new partnerships between communities, local organisations, anchored institutions and national government… Their objectives should be locally determined, with an underlying focus on inclusive growth and economies, and thriving and resilient places”. In terms of method, they also mentioned the ‘subjective measures’ they used to ascertain how people feel about their lives.

So why am I disappointed by the Commission’s headlined ‘Ten Recommendations for Creating Great Places to Live’, which forms the basis of the Final Report?

Let me first be clear that I support key aspects of the Report:

– I commend the Commission for highlighting ‘social regeneration’ alongside ‘physical regeneration’ as part of a holistic approach; also its focus on inclusive growth, with an understanding of “who is driving, accessing and benefiting from growth and opportunities”.
– I entirely agree with their call for the Government to create a ‘national regeneration programme’, backed by £10bn over a decade, targeting greatest need. I particularly support the suggestion that this must be “guided by meaningful community input”, and that “working with communities from the beginning of the process, and subsequently throughout, will help identify the right design and secure support for it”.
– I also think the Commission suggests very clear, practical ways in which Housing Associations can reinvigorate their social purpose and expand their social commitment to communities.

My problem with it is this, that despite this rhetoric around social ambitions, local partnerships and collaboration, none of this is made explicit in the headline ‘Ten Recommendations for Creating Great Places to Live’. Indeed in the whole report there is just one comment from a local resident. Not a good sign.

Although there are some good case studies and some pictures of consultation events, there is no summary of methodology, or mention of best practice in accessing local opinion across the range of local social groups. How did the ‘stories and voices’ they talked about in the Interim Report inform the conclusions? How is the ‘disconnection’ to be addressed? How are the partnerships with the residents of some of the country’s most deprived communities to be created and to work? The Housing Federation could and should be taking an important lead in enabling the level of grass-roots advocacy that they talk about.

Instead these obstacles are entirely by-passed, with the sudden appearance of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) in Recommendation 7: “Anchor organisations, including housing associations, should commit to asset-based community development. This approach identifies and mobilises a community’s strengths and targets resources accordingly. Its objective is to ensure that services promoting wellbeing and opportunity are delivered effectively to those who need them most”. First of all ABCD is more an ideology than a methodology; secondly there is insufficient evidence to show that it can deliver results in the way it is proposed here; thirdly it is incorrect to say that it delivers services to those that need them most – in fact by definition it sets out to identify and build on assets, not to identify and address social needs. Where in this document is the critical assessment that has led to this proposal? Where is the evidence that the communities with which the Commission engaged would support such an approach, or believe it to be effective?

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