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Regeneration Past, Present and Future

20th February 2014

Richard McCarthy looks at the importance of regeneration…

Housing associations have always been at it – regeneration that is. It has always been a feature of the sector’s work and was, for example, at the centre of the growth in housing association activity in the 1970s with the policy switch to property rehabilitation, particularly in our inner cities. And now, ironically, we now find ourselves in 2014 with whole estates being cleared and rebuilt in the name of regeneration – such as Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke, South East London.

The focus has inevitably been on housing and housing based solutions. However, some have gone further, extending from community development programmes to a wide range of community support and training programmes. These have often been impressive efforts and in some cases the outcomes have been outstanding (at our height in the Peabody Trust we were getting up 600 people a year into employment). And yet, when the New Deal for Communities was introduced in 1997, resources in the first round were prevented from being spent on improving or building new homes. Many of us said this was wrong and were subsequently successful in securing a change of approach for round two.

This was seen as a short-term battle and not an important challenge to our work and role in regeneration schemes. But on reflection, we should have seen this and the later debates about the balance between physical/housing based regeneration schemes and those that are more people focused, as a more profound statement. We were in a false debate and then became frustrated when the focus on regional economic growth and development became separate in most places from ‘housing based’ regeneration schemes.

We all know and understand the importance of good quality housing and places. We have learnt that great design and buildings can only really work and deliver the value we want from them in places that are well planned and well managed. And many, but not always all, of us recognise that we can do much to help get services and support to the most difficult to reach, although the pressures on funding have seen a withdrawal from these labour intensive activities. It is an impressive legacy and log book of experience and success.

But how many of us really stop to think about how we can truly position regeneration projects for both long term success and financial independence as opposed to the continued dependency on special support from the state that we see in so many places?

Richard McCarthy

Richard McCarthy

Executive Director, Central Government and Housing

When I worked with Sir John Egan on his review into sustainable communities we looked at the elements that made a community truly successful. The sustainable communities wheel still resonates today, although it could be argued that the eight elements and wordy descriptions failed to pack the punch that was intended. So while I would encourage readers to once again review this worthy definition, the key challenge is to recognise that sustainable communities, which should be our aim for all regeneration projects, need to combine great homes and places with good education services for all, and access to long term employment – either within the ‘neighbourhood’ itself or with the benefit of good transport facilities.

So the challenge going forward, is to undertake regeneration projects with this three pronged approach firmly in our minds and a create a new set of collaborations with local authorities, LEPS, schools and FE colleges and local employers.

This way we can, as the dictionary states, “give new life or energy, revitalise”.

Go on – you know you can do it!

Richard McCarthy is Executive Director, Central Government and Housing, at Capita

This article first appeared on the NHF Blog

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