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

Memorandum by The Wildlife Trusts (GRI 22)


  1.  The Wildlife Trusts welcome this opportunity to contribute to the enquiry of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's Select Committee into the effectiveness of Government regeneration initiatives.

  2.  The Wildlife Trusts are a partnership of 47 local Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK and the Isle of Man, supported by a UK Office. The partnership shares two over-arching strategic aims: to achieve a UK richer in wildlife and to develop people's enthusiasm and ability to engage with wildlife and the environment. Contact with people from all sectors of society, in urban and rural areas, is fundamental to the ethos of The Wildlife Trusts.

  3.  The Wildlife Trusts have approximately 382,000 members, and 22,900 volunteers. They manage almost 2,500 nature reserves, covering more than 76,000 hectares of land, ranging from inner city urban sites to the UK's finest wildlife areas. These reserves provide an opportunity for people to enjoy, get involved in, and learn about wildlife close to their homes: 80 per cent of the UK's population live within 10 miles of a Wildlife Trust nature reserve.


Summary of key points

  1.  Long-term regeneration is more successful if environmental considerations are placed at the centre of a multi-functional approach.

  2.  Regeneration initiatives must start with local people's priorities, and develop these slowly and steadily.

  3.  Local people need to be supported and trained to enable them to participate effectively in their local regeneration initiatives.

  4.  Regeneration must be based on effective partnerships that are balanced and genuinely share power.

  5.  A pragmatic and flexible approach to the development of regeneration initiatives over time enables them to evolve with the community's needs and aspirations.

  6.  Small, popular "early win" projects, in which people have a stake, are vital to stimulating and maintaining local involvement.

1.  The contribution of area-based initiatives to broader regeneration initiatives and regional strategies

  In our experience, the key contributions of area-based initiatives to the delivery of broader regeneration initiatives are:

    —  Area-based initiatives target much needed resources to areas of social disadvantage, economic need and/or environmental degradation, and can benefit other parts of the city, sub-region, or region that are linked to the target areas.

    —  Area-based regeneration initiatives provide a mechanism for focusing and co-ordinating the actions of several different agencies to achieve shared goals that would not be attainable by the partners working in isolation. As the problems of disadvantaged areas often stem from complex interactions between social, environmental and economic disadvantage, the solutions need to be holistic. This requires creative thinking, co-operative working and co-ordinated planning and delivery, which are easier to achieve within a defined target area.

    —  Area-based regeneration initiatives can provide an effective mechanism to balance the needs of local people and local circumstances with those of regional and national political processes, plans and strategies. It is often difficult for local people and communities to interact effectively with city-wide, sub-regional, regional or national processes—particularly in areas suffering from multiple deprivation. As local people are at the heart of any regeneration process, it is essential that they participate and engage in the process. This is easiest to achieve if action is planned and delivered at a scale at which local people can relate, and if the mechanisms enabling engagement are tailored to local circumstances.

2.  The characteristics of successful regeneration schemes

  The experience of the Wildlife Trusts Partnership highlights 11 principal characteristics of successful regeneration schemes:

  1.  Successful long-term regeneration is more easily achieved if environmental considerations are placed at the centre of a multi-functional approach than if they are treated as a separate issue, woven around a traditional economic development core. A holistic view of the needs of an area, developing initiatives that address social, economic and environmental issues are more successful than programmes with a single focus. For this to be achieved, mechanisms that encourage joined-up thinking and action, and avoid the problems of compartmentalisation, are essential.

  2.  Rigorous and inclusive planning is essential for developing programmes that address local needs and aspirations, within real local constraints, building on local strengths and opportunities, in the context of broader strategies and plans.

  3.  Regeneration initiatives must start with local people's priorities, and build slowly and steadily from there. Initiatives that parachute in without first getting to know and enlist the support of local people, or ones that drive the agenda at a pace faster than local people are willing to go, are likely to fail. Equally, political timescales of three to five years are not adequate to achieve lasting regeneration, or to measure the real impacts of these initiatives. The need for regeneration processes to operate as slowly as required by the local community to ensure long-term success must be matched by a long-term approach to funding regimes.

  4.  Successful large scale delivery of capital programmes should only follow satisfactory community-based strategic development and planning, but small, popular "early win" projects, in which people have a stake, are vital to stimulating and maintaining local involvement during the development and planning phases.

  5.  Effective communication is central to successful regeneration. It is important for regeneration funders and delivery agencies to communicate their thoughts and intentions clearly, in ways appropriate to their target audiences. They must also develop mechanisms that allow honest dialogue between the many stakeholders and those responsible for the regeneration process.

  6.  Local people need to be supported and trained to enable them to participate effectively in their local regeneration initiatives. Without appropriate support, training and development, people in the most disadvantaged communities can often fail to engage effectively. Active opportunities for involvement other than consultation, for example through intermediate labour markets or community businesses, can be accessible entry points.

  7.  It is important to base regeneration on effective partnerships that are balanced and genuinely share power—with each member of the partnership truly having a share in decision-making and carrying responsibility for making things work. Proactive recruitment of project partners from all sectors is more successful than an agency-led approach.

  8.  Initiatives that are underpinned by flexible, creative and non-bureaucratic funding regimes, that account properly for money whilst being easily accessible, succeed far better than those where the purse-strings are held by agencies more intent on managing and auditing the process than achieving outcomes. Community buy-in to a regeneration programme is vital for success, but funding regimes and reporting processes often act to increase paperwork and bureaucracy beyond the ability of local organisations and individuals to deal with it. Funds can be properly accounted for through more user-friendly and accessible funding structures. 100 per cent funding, expert advice for time-limited periods, or funding for training can all help initiatives get off the ground and overcome local suspicion or apathy. Sustained revenue funding is essential to maintain the benefits of regeneration initiatives beyond the life of capital projects. Successful regeneration initiatives attract matched funding from non-governmental sources—charitable or commercial—which makes such programmes more sustainable.

  9.  Social inclusion is fundamental to urban regeneration, but regeneration initiatives often suffer from inadequate skills and inappropriate participation mechanisms to engage all sectors of the local community—especially young people and ethnic minorities. Real access to the process at all levels through appropriate consultation and opportunities for participation by all sectors of the community is vital.

  10.  Regeneration should be sustainable, and must be planned from the outset with this in mind. Sustainability must be measured in the short, medium and long term, and should have social, economic and environmental components. The establishment of a locally controlled capital asset-base as part of the regeneration programme can serve the dual function of giving local communities a real stake in the future of their local neighbourhood, and providing a source of ongoing revenue to support the future development and maintenance of local facilities, open spaces, landscaping and infrastructure.

  11.  Finally, a pragmatic and flexible approach to the development of regeneration initiatives over time enables them to evolve with the community's needs and aspirations and with changing social and economic conditions.

3.  The Involvement of local communities

  Local communities are central to the successful delivery of regeneration initiatives, as they represent the major potential solution to many of the problems experienced by their neighbourhoods. They will be the users of future infrastructure, services and facilities; the customers and workers for future local enterprises; the owners and occupiers of newly regenerated housing and the beneficiaries of local environmental improvements. Successful regeneration is carried out largely for, and by, the people who live and/or work in the area. They must be fully engaged in decision-making about the future of their neighbourhood, in developing priorities and strategic direction, and in the delivery of regeneration action.

  For this to happen, regeneration processes must have:

    —  clearly structured, widely publicised and well supported mechanisms through which local people can participate in planning, priority-setting, monitoring and delivery;

    —  locally accountable democratic processes operating at the scale of the regeneration area, involving local politicians, and local representatives of the community, voluntary, faith and business sectors;

    —  adequate consultation and participation mechanisms tailored to the requirements of all sectors of society—including young people, the elderly and ethnic minority groups, including support in terms of expenses and cre"che facilities;

    —  opportunities for local people to develop and deliver consultation, participation and evaluation programmes within their own neighbourhoods, and to be paid for doing so;

    —  grant aid and other funding regimes that have simple enough bureaucracy and clear enough application, reporting and claiming procedures to facilitate their up-take by local community groups;

    —  training programmes aimed at increasing local capacity to participate effectively in the regeneration process, and at increasing both skill levels and employability of local people;

    —  funding agencies that tailor their application, monitoring, reporting and claiming arrangements to suit the needs of community organisations, such as payment of funds in advance of incurring expenditure against them to avoid cash-flow difficulties;

    —  effective partnership arrangements in which local people and organisations from the voluntary, community and faith sectors engage as equals with local, regional and national government, public sector agencies and the private sector.

  Co-ordinated, integrated environment programmes for regeneration areas can provide excellent opportunities to deliver all of the above and link them into a range of economic and social regeneration activities. Small-scale environmental projects are a particularly good way of involving community members and stimulating a sense of community pride.

4.  Democratic accountability

  It is important to establish specific locally appropriate arrangements that involve local Councillors and elected representatives of the voluntary, community, business and faith sectors in the development and monitoring of plans and strategies. This will require the provision of training, support, and even payment, to those involved, if problems of "local decision-making paralysis", are to be avoided.

Democratic accountability can be increased by:

    —  Representation of all sectors of the community at all levels, with recognition that such representation is easier for statutory bodies than for voluntary or community representatives;

    —  Proactive searches for sector representatives rather than relying on the "usual suspects";

    —  Clear communication of the parameters of the initiative and managed expectations;

    —  The evaluation process should be part of the accountability system so that community members have opportunities to influence and challenge progress;

    —  A community development trust (see case study) increases local accountability.

  Whether through scepticism or other circumstances, members of the community may need convincing of the inclusiveness of initiatives. As a result, there is a need to cultivate democratic accountability over the period of a regeneration initiative, rather than assuming that the initial accountability mechanism is correct and that people cannot be bothered to participate.

5.  Whether and where area-based Initiatives have brought about sustained improvements to deprived communities

  Many regeneration schemes have a "quick fix" mentality which can provide large-scale physical improvement that produces a short-term cosmetic effect rather than sustainable improvement. Where physical regeneration schemes are linked to community regeneration, schemes become more sustainable. Project holders must have a long-term vested interest in the success and sustainability of the scheme.

  An example of an area-based initiative bringing about sustained improvements in deprived communities in Sheffield is given in Appendix 1 as a case study.

6.  Arrangements necessary to ensure that benefits to local residents continue after the end of a regeneration initiative

  The sustainability of a regeneration programme depends on the ability of the process to produce sufficiently strong partnerships, committed to taking initiatives forward after the regeneration funding runs out. In particular, existing budget-holders must be engaged in the regeneration process, and encouraged to shift their ongoing budget commitments towards the delivery of agreed common goals. This will require some form of locally endorsed action plan agreed between the key partners, both during and after the regeneration process.

  Creative solutions to the onward resourcing of regeneration programmes must be built in at the outset—such as the establishment of community enterprises around the delivery of environmental services, some of which can be delivered under contract to the local authority, and some of which can be sold on the open market. From day one there must be a post initiative strategy so that sustainability is always a part of the equation. Access to further funding opportunities will remove some of the vulnerability from organisations and groups. The establishment of a capital asset base in local community ownership, to provide ongoing revenue income for community use, can be effective.

  Careful linking into other strategies, particularly the Community Strategy, so that there is some ongoing process rather than an abrupt termination of activity, will increase sustainability, as will the encouragement of organisations such as local community development trusts.

7.  Whether policy has taken account of long-term impacts as well as the outputs created

  In the economic and social arenas, regeneration policy is encouraging a more joined-up and flexible approach to developing initiatives that increases the likelihood of their success.

  A major failing of regeneration policy is a lack of acknowledgement of the social and economic benefits of a well-managed environment. The Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy, for example, has only two environmental targets out of circa 150, on waste and air quality. The report of the Urban Green Spaces Task Force, which demonstrated the policy and funding vacuum for the urban environment, needs to be integrated into mainstream regeneration priorities.

  There is considerable evidence that environmental regeneration has a major impact on the social and economic well being of an area, including increased educational attainment, greater community cohesion and confidence, enhanced public health, reduced crime rates and increased local affluence. It can bring local employment, jobs, training and other economic benefits such as reduced heating costs in buildings, decreased cost of health care, decreased cost of flood defence and drainage works and increased property values. Even so, regeneration initiatives in which all these elements (health, education, social inclusion, housing, flood defence, safety and economy) are hung around a central environmental core are generally regarded as innovative and ground-breaking, rather than simply delivering high quality regeneration in appropriate, effective and efficient ways.

  The environmental elements of regeneration schemes have proved successful in engaging people from ethnic minorities and other "hard to reach" groups. This is because the environment can provide a more neutral basis for involvement and communication, as well as a mutually understandable "language" and common ground. Regeneration initiatives would be far more sustainable and successful if the local environment were placed at the heart of the programmes.

8.  Whether initiatives have had a effect on the major Government and local programmes

  Many local Wildlife Trusts are involved in successful regeneration partnerships, using local environmental improvements to build confidence and skills in addition to their positive impact on the area. Despite these examples showing the need to raise the profile of the local environment in regeneration initiatives, inadequate funding and planning for environmental projects is the norm. Examples such as the innovative and successful Manor and Castle case study (attached) need to be incorporated into policy development.

9.  Whether lessons have been learned from previous initiatives

  Some current initiatives are adopting a more community and revenue based approach to regeneration, building on the success of previous programmes, such as the innovative current SRB6 programme in Bolton. This programme, however, is struggling to maintain its innovative approach, in part because it requires a different approach to regeneration and thus is a learning process for all partners.

  A clear lesson from previous programmes is the need for funding to be available over a longer period of time, with a greater emphasis on capacity building in all sectors of the community. The impact of social, economic and environmental deprivation frequently becomes embedded in the psyche of the communities concerned and requires a great deal of effort to change. In such communities, buy-in will be incremental at best. As a result, the process of community engagement must be continuous and gradual rather than bulldozing. Partnerships are rarely equal and due recognition must be given to the varying speeds of participation.

  Another lesson from previous programmes is that the low economic base from which the community is starts can be a barrier to success. Enabling small industries to come into an area can lift a community onto the first rung of the economic ladder. The case study shows how environmental projects can employ people and produce things to sell, and how this economic activity is a key element of the initiative's sustainability.

10.  How the Government should decide when to introduce an area-based initiative, and whether there are successful alternatives;

  A reactive, short-term approach to area-based initiatives can lead to situations, such as in Halliwell, Bolton, where, despite some improvements, the underlying problems persist at the end of funding programmes. When no more area-based funding is available for some years, the downward spiral continues.

  Area-based schemes can foster resentment from communities outside their boundaries that have similar problems but are not being offered solutions- area funding is divisive in nature. Burnley is proving susceptible to extremist (BNP) politics because of this perception of apportionment.

  Community development trusts (see case study in Appendix one) are an innovative alternative to the traditional area-based initiative. There should be more encouragement of such schemes where the community has inherently much more ownership and control of the process.

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Prepared 28 October 2002