Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council (GRI 15)

  Area-based housing regeneration initiatives have to be linked to regional strategies and broader regeneration initiatives for them to be successful. Identifying a housing regeneration scheme that does not link in some way to these wider perspectives is unusual. There has been a considerable amount of collaboration at regional and sub-regional level over the last few years, which illustrates the growing realisation that joined up working is the key to successful regeneration. Also that the impact of regeneration in one location can spread far and wide sometimes having a negative influence on supply and demand elsewhere—the recent CURS study examined this dynamic in some detail as a forerunner to the idea of a Market Renewal Fund.

  Housing Regeneration, in Bolton's view, is not solely about carrying out capital works to dwellings. In the distant past significant sums of public and private money have been spent on "bricks and mortar" with mixed success and, despite some significant exceptions with little long-term consideration. In some cases this has resulted in the Council having to revisit areas whose decline had only been temporarily checked, let alone reversed, by introducing the improvement programme. The missing "ingredient" was community involvement and ownership of the regeneration process. Things were perceived to be done for residents not with them. Learning from these experiences the Council has identified and acted upon the following regeneration policy priorities:

    —  See housing regeneration as a holistic tool to make people's lives better not just their homes.

    —  Devolve services to neighbourhoods and reorganise organisationally (and culturally) around the local housing perspective.

    —  Identify the areas of greatest need—using such things as indices of deprivation; learn much more about them—through environmental scanning; and then target them as priorities for resources within a Corporate Investment Strategy.

    —  Look across tenures and customise solutions to match the actual housing problems as articulated by people living in the areas not by imposing solutions on communities.

    —  Redefine the relationship between the Council, the public and stakeholders, making it much more democratic and accessible. The Local Community Planning process has been successfully introduced to targeted areas so as to provide a framework by which this new relationship can flourish because it allows the community to articulate their own regeneration priorities and then jointly construct delivery plans to make sure these become a reality.

    —  Allowing people to become involved in the regeneration process at the level and at the rate they feel most appropriate. Capacity building initiatives are introduced to help people better exploit the wider opportunities to contribute to and own the regeneration process.

    —  Re-equipping staff, from a range of disciplines, to better understand regeneration process and how to work with communities.

    —  The long-term goal is for the community to be empowered sufficiently to continue the regeneration of their area long after the capital investment has finished. To grow as a community and be robust enough to meet future challenges without recourse to yet another major public sector investment.

  In short the key to successful regeneration strategies that produce sustainable communities lies in perfecting the process not so much in carrying out the capital works.

  Bolton has chosen to create a Housing Regeneration Arms Length Organisation (ALMO)—Bolton at Home—rather than a housing management ALMO for a number of reasons, which includes:

    —  Recognising the importance of regeneration and of achieving decent standards in creating better housing conditions in the Borough that are sustainable because the process involves investment in communities and staff not just "bricks and mortar".

    —  Desiring to treat the regeneration element of housing provision not as an add-on but rather a priority for mainstream funding.

    —  Acknowledging the benefit of creating a more democratic customer-focused, locally based, organisational framework through which to deal with housing issues.

  Regeneration is recognised by the Council and it's stakeholders as being the primary means of securing a successful sustainable future for Bolton. An interventionist approach is necessary because it is proven that long-term positive change will not take place automatically as a consequence of unfettered market forces. The Council willingly accepts that it has to play the key enabling role in ensuring that things happen and follows an approach that is sensitive not only to tackling decline where and when it is occurring but also recognising the sound cost-effective argument for taking preventative action. This commitment to dealing effectively with the complex cross-tenure, multi-layered housing problems that face the Borough is behind the Council's idea of creating Bolton's Housing Regeneration Arms Length Management Organisation. By locking together public and private sector housing provision within the one separate service organisation, the Council can both concentrate on its enabling role and ensure that housing and regeneration are dealt with together.

  Deconstructing and then prioritising the different elements that make up a comprehensive regeneration strategy is of limited use because it is the overall process that is most important, not just the sum of its parts. Most importantly the "fuel" that drives the process is community engagement—community can be defined either in terms of location or as a "community of interest". Bolton believes that regeneration is primarily about energising communities and that the actual capital works are a means to an end, not an end in itself. Past experience has shown that regeneration schemes have limited success when too much emphasis is placed upon delivering structural improvement and not enough on community capacity building or on solving potential organisational cultural conflicts and staff retraining.

  The aims of regeneration tend to be about creating a mix of the following sustainable outcomes:

    —  Engendering or recovering a sense of community with individuals acting as citizens.

    —  Exploiting local strengths as much as addressing local needs.

    —  Increasing the "worth" and perception of an area both by those working and living in the vicinity as well as by the "outside world".

    —  Extending choice both qualitatively and quantitatively throughout the local community in key aspects of daily life.

    —  Ensuring that local democratic structures are firmly in place, which operate to enhance and perpetuate community involvement whilst also making sure that community issues are accurately represented, prioritised and that nobody is excluded from the process.

    —  Greatly reducing poverty, dependency, fear of crime, and disadvantage. Making the bringing about of these outcomes a widely accepted community priority.

    —  Placing social cohesion as a cornerstone of community dynamics and community life. Making differences in things such as culture, ethnicity, social background, age, gender or needs (physical, mental or other special circumstances) to be seen as "enriching" factors rather than as potential points for conflict.

    —  Improving the physical and environmental outlook that includes upgrading property and premises, increasing security and enhancing the "streetscene".

    —  Providing the basis for balanced growth patterns and mixed neighbourhoods with more jobs created.

    —  Improving transport infrastructures, health and leisure facilities, education and training opportunities and welfare services.

  In order to meet these diverse and challenging aims Bolton's approach to housing regeneration has not just concentrated on "bricks and mortar"—though the importance of delivering a good quality home environment cannot be underestimated—rather emphasis has also been put on getting the processes right. This is why we have developed over a number of years, a series of Local Community Partnerships in (both public and private) residential areas that have been identified as having the highest levels of deprivation and poverty. In some of these areas, the index of deprivation is amongst the highest in the country, let alone the region. Local Community Planning (LCP), by seeking local solutions to local problems through involving communities as active participants in the regeneration process, has obvious links to the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy and is the major resource priority of the Council's Corporate Investment Strategy. Focusing on a cross-tenure approach has ensured active learning and application with added value outcomes for communities, which is tenure neutral.

  Without first establishing a high level of local community involvement and active participation, the risk of not achieving long-term sustainability is greatly increased. Short-term success followed by slow decline is a poor return for any substantial public sector investment and it is Bolton's experienced view that it is only by seeking to regenerate from below, adopting a holistic perspective, that cost-effective solutions are secured. This means that equal importance need be given to capital and revenue resources so that we arrive at the situation where regeneration takes place as a consequence of unlocking the potential held within a local community to accurately articulate their reasonable priority needs and wants. It is not something that can be imposed from above by experts or by telling people what is best for them. Rather, the approach involved is multi-layered and highly challenging as the area in need of regeneration is usually fragmented and contains residents who are disempowered, with low morale, poor expectations, and lacking the confidence to believe things can improve. Bolton's experience in this field has shown that initial discussions over physical improvement options lead on to exploring/identifying other priorities such as those relating to other local issues such as health, leisure, security, the wider environment, education and the general use of facilities. Once these wider issues have been identified we can then identify who are the relevant additional stakeholders/providers and how best to engage them as in a comprehensive or holistic (jointly agreed) action plan. Housing interaction is often the catalyst to engage others effectively.

  The exit strategy is of crucial importance to the overall regeneration process because it charts the strategy for future long-term sustainability once the initial peak of capital expenditure and intensive regeneration activity has passed. It can be about bending mainstream resources to provide a continual funding flow or to identify possible sources of additional capital and/or revenue. But it must be about creating formal and informal community structures/networks and an on-going programme of community capacity building. Whilst also maximising the level and nature of local democracy and ensuring that local people have easy access into the decision-making forums. It is also about energising a wide range of stakeholders—from the community, voluntary sector, organisations etc—to continue the impetus for change, development and growth began at the start of the regeneration process.

  The over-arching importance lies with getting the process right. It is about establishing a solid strategic foundation that is not primarily about establishing precise outcomes and how to meet them, but is focused on the means to maximise community/stakeholder involvement and participation. This means that ownership of the specifics that make up the particular regeneration agenda is shared and therefore can only be described in very general terms at an early stage. The detailed programme fully emerges only after negotiation, consultation and discussion between stakeholders. Even then it is constantly revised, revisited and refreshed as a consequence of the consultation/empowerment process.

  Bolton's success in this overall approach is largely achieved by making the examination of wider regeneration issues a natural outcome of the consultation dynamic whilst concurrently establishing a progressive relationship with customers and stakeholders that naturally moves through the consultation continuum towards empowerment. It accepts that a great deal of effort is sometimes required to re-establish an individual's trust in the democratic process and in their understanding of the potential locked up within local communities. Importantly it is also sensitive in allowing people to get involved in the regeneration process at the level and at the pace they feel most comfortable.

  In general, housing regeneration in Bolton is a vehicle for:

    —  Creating a balanced local housing market across the Borough by eradicating "hotspots" of deprivation and "coldspots" of demand in both private and public sectors and intervening before market collapse.

    —  Integrating more fully the present local fragmentary housing situation by promoting/creating a mixed housing environment. By improving and/or remodelling poorer housing areas we can help to remove the perception that social housing is, by its very nature, a poorer quality product.

    —  Increasing community engagement, social inclusion, and ultimately empowering our citizens. Doing this by jointly articulating and then jointly meeting the holistic/comprehensive needs of the local community.

    —  Challenging traditional methods of professional practice and organisational culture.

    —  Influencing and challenging mainstream activities of diverse agencies to engage in housing regeneration. Especially where the task of integration is hindered by potential partners following potentially conflicting agendas, objectives or perspectives. Better and more integrated information systems and communication practices is the key to establishing a joint vision.

    —  Improving the overall quality, affordability and suitability of housing to meet present day and future housing needs/choices, as identified through a robust yet flexible and sensitive predictive modelling process.

    —  Improving the overall image of the Borough, as place people would want to visit, work, live, learn and do business.

    —  Achieving, in collaboration with activity in other neighbouring Authorities, a more substantial sub-regional regeneration that reverses the wider urban / rural decline that has been experienced over the last thirty or so years.

  Bolton's biggest housing challenge is to successfully bring about positive market change in the private sector without having been granted Housing Market Renewal Fund pathfinder status. Whilst the initial tranche of funding has gone into areas of the sub-region where market collapse has already taken place, there is a strong case to further develop the overall programme to re-introduce into the model a twin pronged approach to market renewal. This second strand, although requiring fewer resources, needs to concentrate on assisting Councils in taking a preventative approach to regeneration helping them to intervene in areas that would plunge into full market collapse if left to their own devices. This needs to be seen as a regional regeneration priority because:

    —  These "twilight" areas are much more common than those that are in full market collapse. Therefore they are much more representative of the region/sub-region's private sector housing problems and often sit adjacent to the latter requiring joint action.

    —  The regeneration of these areas now provides a long-term cost-effective solution both economically and socially rather than waiting until full collapse takes place before intervening.

    —  Intervention in areas of potential collapse now constitutes a balanced approach to regional/sub-regional regeneration, in the sense that it shields them against them being residualised or their decline being accelerated as a direct consequence of the proposed massive investment into the collapsed areas. So the option makes sense in terms of establishing a much more comprehensive and interactive market renewal structure.

    —  Identifying the market impact of regeneration in these areas can be achieved with much more accuracy with the aid of the local predictive housing model and its wider impact will eventually be traced once the sub-regional model has been perfected.

    —    The regeneration of these areas provides a useful early test of the increased flexibility inherent in the recent Regulatory Reform Order on Housing Renewal.

  There is an overall feeling that government approach to regeneration is still too centralised and lacks a degree of continuity across disciplines. However it is acknowledged where local authorities develop local initiatives that are shown to deliver, such as Bolton's local community planning approach, our experience is that the Government welcome such initiatives of good practice. We would encourage the government to set broad themes for regeneration and give local authorities greater discretion to formulate local solutions with their communities.



 
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