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  6. Ministers urged to rethink urban regeneration policy

Ministers urged to rethink urban regeneration policy

The Government’s approach to physical regeneration in England’s ex-industrial cities will not work for local residents and requires new thinking, a report by the Centre for Cities has argued.

The report pointed out that over the past decade the blueprint for city regeneration has been to build houses, offices, apartment blocks and science parks on the assumption that this could spark economic growth in any urban area or neighbourhood.

Some £5bn has been spent on physical regeneration by regional development agencies outside London, the report noted. It also pointed out that many regeneration projects have not ‘turned around’ local economies or the lives of local residents in the way that had been hoped. 

According to the report an average underperforming regeneration project in England generated 40 per cent fewer jobs than anticipated when originally planned. Vacant housing in these areas has often remained and office space is often difficult to let.

The Centre has urged city leaders and Government to adopt a new approach, focused on addressing the scars of industrial decline directly and learning from pioneering initiatives used in US and Germany.

Its report argued that local and national politicians should accept that using regeneration plans to ‘go for growth’ hasn’t worked in every urban neighbourhood and can have negative as well as positive consequences on a city’s economy and residents.

“A new way forward might mean building a park rather than a science park, or turning tiny terraces into larger homes, rather than knocking them down and building one bed flats. Communities should be given the power to decide on plans, testing out the neighbourhood planning approach in the Localism Bill,” the report stressed.

It also said that the Coalition should find new money for the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder areas. “The programme needs reviewing. Frequently its sound principles were poorly implemented. But the Coalition’s decision to leave the scheme unfinished means the communities concerned will bear an unfair cost.”

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the Centre for Cities, said: “In the past, city leaders and national government have championed the replacement of out-of-use steel works and empty terraces with office and apartment blocks. These projects did not improve opportunities for local residents in the way they had hoped, and public and developer finance is now limited.

“Shifting plans from building a science park to creating a public park in these places is not about giving up on growth – it’s about improving the area for local residents, who should be at the heart of the decision-making process. This is an approach that has worked for US and German cities. Ambition and innovation from city leadership are the key ingredients.”

Read the Centre for Cities news release and access the report.


Roger Milne

16 December 2010