Will ‘big regeneration’ return?

Broad-based regeneration schemes are now over, but for how long? Clare Goff discovers some believe the consequences will be too severe not to bring them back

April 2011 saw the end of the broad-based approach that has dominated the last 25 years of UK regeneration when funding for the last large-scale publicly-funded scheme – housing market renewal (HMR) – was pulled.

Most agencies involved in the programme have now closed their doors, in some cases handing work over to local authorities or housing agencies. For communities involved in the 15-year programme the end of funding half way through leaves them facing an uncertain future.

Shortly after the official end of funding the government found £30m to plug the gaps in the most needy areas affected by the closure of the programmes, but for most it was too little too late.

Adnan Saif, former chief executive of Urban Living, the HMR pathfinder for Birmingham and Sandwell, sums up the feeling: ‘It’s good that there is recognition that something has to remain and continue but a lot of capacity has now gone and the money itself is not that much.’

In his area the closure of the pathfinder leaves a huge gap in neighbourhood-based support at a time when cuts to services and to the local community and voluntary sector are compounding the problem.

‘Communities in pathfinder areas are among the most vulnerable in the country. We can’t leave them high and dry without a safety net,’ he says.

For Regenerate Pennine Lancashire, the HMR pathfinder for the east Lancashire area, the end of funding has led to a shift in focus. While economic development was previously just one of its many activities, it is now at the heart of its work.

Taking over the delivery of its local authorities’ economic development function, it has ambitious plans to set up between 350 to 500 new businesses in the coming year and invest in a further 400 local companies.

For the last three years the company has been perfecting a model of enterprise support that has proved successful in helping local people set up on their own. Mentoring and hand-holding are core to the approach, and it will continue the work begun through the local enterprise growth initiative (Legi), another national programme which has now come to an end.

With funding for Legi finished and the regional development agencies and Business Link closed or closing, Steve Hoyle, managing director of Regenerate Pennine Lancashire, says that a local approach to enterprise is needed to fill the gaps.

‘There’s now a vacuum at regional and local level. There’s a national website but people at a local level need access to something tangible and face to face. Its makes a big difference to confidence and success in business.’

Regenerate will also be working with 200 local companies with the potential to grow, helping them to identify opportunities and unlock investment. His hope is that by helping local businesses and people to create wealth the local economy will in time pick up and underpin the housing market and economic investment.

But he says the withdrawal of funding will make it difficult. ‘Were not a massive growth point like Manchester or Leeds.’

As funding schemes for broad-based regeneration come to an end, the fate of deprived communities in Birmingham, Lancashire and elsewhere hangs in the balance. Those close to the ground have little doubt that problems will arise and that funding will be needed again in the future.

The coalition government has been keen to pronounce that the huge investment in regeneration in recent years has had little impact, but those close to the situation have seen the improvements that large-scale investment has brought and fear for what will happen when it is taken away so suddenly.

‘It’s too risky to walk away from communities where there have historically been tensions. There’s a chance we may go back to where we were ten years ago,’ says Mr Saif.

He predicts the return of area based funding in the coming years, as does Steve Hoyle.?‘The private sector will not produce solutions in its entirety and there will be a need for intervention.

‘The chickens will come home to roost.’

Clare Goff
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine


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