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This regeneration strategy is dead, we need new one

The dead regeneration sketch (with apologies to Monty Python). 

Communities Select Committee: I wish to complain about this ‘ere regeneration strategy.

Government: Oh yes, the uh… Regeneration to enable growth: What government is doing in support of community-led regeneration. What’s wrong with it?

Communities Select Committee: I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. It’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it.

Government: No, no, it’s context setting.

Communities Select Committee: Look, matey, I know a dead strategy when I see one. I’m looking at one right now.

Government: No no it’s not dead, It’s about context to getting economic growth. Remarkable thing Regeneration isn’t it? Creates its own prospects!

Communities Select Committee: Prospects don’t come into it. It’s not doing anything and won’t do anything.

 

Unfortunately, the coalition government’s strategy for regeneration is no laughing matter.

In Regeneration to enable growth: What Government is doing in support of community-led regeneration, the government presented an approach to regeneration which broadly suggested it must be about economic growth.

The Communities and Local Government select committee subsequently issued a damning report on the state of regeneration in England. This report suggested the government does not have a coherent strategy for addressing the complex problems faced by England’s most deprived communities.

Having spent time reflecting on the committee’s conclusions, I’m more certain than ever that there’s a viable alternative.

I broadly agree with the committee, the singular emphasis on growth is misguided. Let’s never forget, even in the very good times of high growth, it was not that good from many people and communities. Also, if you are worried about the financial cost of regeneration, smart regeneration can assist in reducing costs. Great regeneration is proven to reduce welfare payments, bad health outcomes and crime. That is good for growth.

However, to be fair to the government, there is certainly no point in harking back to the good ole days of ‘regeneration’, when we had public sector funds to spend on regeneration. We don’t and won’t for the foreseeable future.

So what should we do?

Firstly, we need firm new regeneration strategy and action, which is fit for these times. One of the things that CLES tried to convey in our verbal and written submission to the committee was that regeneration works best when it was comprehensive, when social, public and commercial activity is linked up and networked. We need to recognise the lack of funds, but we can do a lot in terms of developing the networks and relationships between these three sectors.

Furthermore, places, while in decline, still have a huge set of assets – the unemployed person is an human asset being squandered; the local community groups is social capital; public spending is a local financial asset which can benefit local business; and the environment is an asset waiting to be used sustainably. A cost effective and alternative regeneration assists the market and uses these assets and capital efficiently and effectively for local community benefit.

Secondly, we need a new wave of local economic and regeneration action from local government and other local players. It is not about special regeneration units, funded through special regeneration money, but a corporate objective of regeneration which flows through all service departments. Regeneration workers of the future will not necessarily be project managers, working with special funds, but will be ‘connectors’ straddling departments and stakeholders, weaving different service activity such as social services, education, economic development, culture with local place-based assets.

Thirdly, we need to use what local policies we have and make them more relevant to local circumstances, people’s lives and place regeneration. Clearly the Regional Growth Fund, enterprise zones, community budgets, Growing Places Fund, local enterprise partnerships are regeneration tools. The problem is that they are hitched up to growth and the illusive trickle-down effect and not focussed on actively developing an economy which addresses poverty and deprivation or securely linked to existing local assets. For sure, let’s try and get growth, but in areas where there are little prospects, we need to turn these instruments into vehicles which have a greater awareness of local circumstances and need.

Take the LEPs. In some locations they will need to focus on regeneration activity which does not necessary grow the economy, but has wider place-based social, environmental and cultural benefits. Practically, they must make connections with health and wellbeing boards, make sure existing economic activity is focussing of maximising social return, and seek diverse local economies.

Ultimately regeneration needs to be about a making places and communities resilient to existing and ongoing issues. It’s about building up local capacity and about networks of support, which shield a place and its people. Regeneration cannot be left to die.

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