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The great regeneration versus gentrification debate

Stand-up comedians and teenage school children might disagree, but apparently the most controversial word in the England language is now ‘regeneration’.

The controversy surrounding estate regeneration programmes, particularly in Haringey and Cressingham Gardens in Lambeth and the inevitable cries by some of ‘social cleansing’ and ‘gentrification’ means the subject is rapidly acquiring a notoriety all of its own.

And as last year’s Dispossession documentary proved, politicians and residents have very strong views on how they should be involved in any regeneration plans.

The issue of how to achieve regeneration without gentrification was thrown into sharp focus yesterday (7 March) at the Total Housing 2018 conference in Brighton, which was organised by the Chartered Institute of Housing.

The debate featured two presentations – one from the chief executive of Poplar Harca, Steve Stride and another by the chief executive of Stoll, Ed Tytherleigh.

Mr Stride started his presentation by saying that he believes regeneration is going to be ‘one of the most important issues in terms of housing supply in the next couple of years’.

But he also added that regeneration is ‘also going to be the most controversial’ issue.

He said Poplar Harca has been working for the last 20 years to regenerate parts of the East End of London and has now built 10,000 homes.

‘We believe the only way you will do successful regeneration is by building economic and social capacity,’ he told delegates at the conference.

Mr Stride added that ‘mixed income communities are fundamental’ and that local festivals, enterprise, and art and culture can help lay the ‘foundation for successful regeneration’.

‘We’re building schools, health centres and faith centres,’ he added. ‘We’ve built one mosque and we’re about to build another one. Stations, crossings and workspaces all need to be built if you are to have regeneration, not gentrification.’

In terms of tips for other projects, he stressed the importance of ‘resident-led regeneration’.

‘If you have empowered your residents and they are leading the regeneration, then all the criticism, especially gentrification, can be pushed away,’ he added.

‘We do listening campaigns. One of the criticisms of regeneration is that we parachute in and say “we’re going to do regeneration now”. But we are always there with listening campaigns, door-to-door campaigns and we do gatherings around particular themes.’

Mr Stride added Poplar Harca has also set up charities on the estates to take over assets and has set up a number of local issue groups.

‘Our residents are empowered to change their homes and neighbourhoods,’ said Mr Stride. ‘They are leading the regeneration, but they are also being economically empowered. People are getting jobs out of this.’

He added another key to successful regeneration is ‘strong partnerships’ with other organisations and a willingness to ‘think outside the box and create opportunity’.

He pointed to a recent announcement by London mayor, Sadiq Khan to invest £2 million in an East London fashion hub.

‘The mayor of London’s investment recognises East London’s rich fashion and manufacturing heritage and the important strategic role this can play in delivering future growth and opportunity across the Lower Lea Valley,’ he said.

‘For Poplar HARCA, this is about bringing fashion jobs, training and business opportunities back to the East End, which are fully accessible to local people and the wider community.’

He also told the conference that Poplar Harca has helped set up 44 business start-ups in the last couple of years and has built 12 community hubs, which engage around 2,000 at any particular time.

The Stoll housing charity plans to build 300 new homes for vulnerable and disabled veterans, through selling off part of their central London estate to their neighbour Chelsea Football Club.

The site was originally donated to the charity by the philanthropist Sir Oswald Stoll in 1916, and it’s provided support to veterans ever since

The current accommodation consists of a 100-year-old Edwardian block, and it currently has the capacity to house 157 people.

Speaking at the event, the charity’s chief executive, Ed Tytherleigh said there is a ‘strong military community’ on the site, which also includes a gym, a doctor’s surgery and garden.

He said negotiations with the football club started in 2012, when they originally wanted to buy the entire site. They have now agreed to buy part of the site, which will fund refurbishments.

‘My top tip is agree your strategic objective and stick to it and be willing to take your time,’ he told the conference.

‘It’s taken us six and a half years to get where we are at and we have not started to build yet.’

Mr Tytherleigh added regeneration is not the ‘faint-hearted’.

‘In this tenant-empowered modern world, where emotions and social media can drive the agenda very quickly, if you are not prepared when you break the news, then it can go south quite quickly, and you can end up with a Haringey.

‘Every stakeholder needs a bespoke plan if you are going to do this. You need to work with all of them before you go public.’

With the recently-announced plans by London mayor Sadiq Khan to ballot estate residents about regeneration schemes, the debate about regeneration, and in particularly gentrification is set to continue for some time to come. No doubt all eyes will be on Haringey’s next administration after the May local elections, to see what new direction their regeneration plans will take.

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