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

Memorandum by Urban Bishops' Panel of The Church of England (GRI 41)


  1.  We are grateful for this opportunity to comment, from the experience of Panel members and those for whom they are responsible, in urban communities and congregations across the English regions.

  2.  The Church of England has committed considerable resources of personnel, plant, training, resources and funding through its active presence in every urban community in England. This has been complemented by the widespread impact made by the resources of the Church Urban Fund with its emphasis on supporting local initiatives. A substantial body of experience and expertise has been accumulated that addresses a number of the Committee's lines of enquiry.

  3.  The 1985 report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Urban Priority Areas: Faith in the City. A Call to Church and Nation provided a significant call for urban and community renewal, and has proved influential in the development of subsequent social policy. The commitment by the Government, in the Urban White Paper and the New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal, to involve faith communities in strategies, partnerships and programmes acknowledges their significant role in civil society. The ongoing commitment of the Church to community renewal is apparent in many local programmes and partnerships, as well as the work of its national agencies and officers.

  4.  This vigorous engagement with the vision set out in the Urban White Paper and the New Commitment for Neighbourhood Renewal was the subject of a key debate at the July 2002 meeting of the General Synod, with a background paper from the Urban Bishops' Panel—The Church of England and the Urban Renaissance: A discussion paper. (GS 1446 available from Church House Bookshop 020 7898 1300).


  5.  The sustainability of the impact of local regeneration programmes is a matter of concern. The failure of many large housing schemes of the 1960s resulted from the lack of community endowment and this pattern appears to be repeated. The handing back of areas previously subject to Estates Action, City Challenge and other schemes has often been accompanied by a deterioration in upkeep of public spaces, street cleaning and maintenance services. Exit strategies need not only to look at the maintenance of the quality of service but also how the quality of service in adjoining areas can be brought up to the same standards.


  6.  Greater faith needs to be placed in those for whom the areas of regeneration are home. New initiatives are often accompanied by a culture of consultancy and intervention as experts from outside the area are engaged and a resource-starved voluntary sector move into an area where new resources are available. Local people are often acutely aware that programmes act as a funnel through which designated funding is channelled to professionals who do not live locally or spend in the local economy.

  7.  While welcoming the indications that regeneration culture is changing to a "bottom-up" approach, the changes are often more apparent in greater burdens of expectation being placed on local people before their skills are appropriately developed and in the development of collaborative planning and decision-making skills with agency employees or local authority staff.

  8.  We are convinced that there needs to be greater interaction between areas to be or in the process of regeneration. The stigma of the "reverse beauty contest" in which communities are forced to compete need to be replaced by greater collaboration. This has been particularly apparent in the New Deal for Communities programmes where areas are often isolated particularly after a local competition. The geographical particularities of regeneration initiatives have often left communities unable to learn from the experience of similar situations. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on forming broad alliances of such within a local authority. This may mean the regeneration process takes longer but would prevent "problems" relocating into other neighbourhoods through the decanting process or implementation of new ordinances in some neighbourhoods and not others.


  9.  We are convinced that regeneration must be accompanied by investment in local communities which is designed to develop skills, and a sense of "ownership", as well as invigorating local democracy.

  10.  "Consultation" is uneven and often misunderstood as a tool for testing opinion instead of drawing individuals and communities into the planning process. Decanting and relocation mean that often it is difficult to identify those who's involvement will lead to a long-term engagement with the area and the changes being implemented. "Right to return" schemes need clearer expectation about how temporary "exiles" can be involved with on going work. Local regeneration initiatives need to be accompanied by a review of community structures—the introduction of district level committees and for a for young people have, in a number of cases we are aware of, provided a greater sense of ownership and participation at a level where social regeneration issues can be more appropriately tackled. This is of urgent importance in communities of ethnic and religious diversity. We would agree with Professor Patsy Healey that—"Planning systems and practices . . . have their power and justification in the role they play in helping the political communities of places work out how to manage their collective concerns about the qualities of shared spaces and local environments". (Collaborative Planning. Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies. Macmillan 1997 p.3)


  11.  We are aware of uneasy relationships in many regeneration partnerships. Beyond the rhetoric of "partnership" must be acknowledged the need to be aware of how power is exercised. That exercise is as apparent in the ability to call meetings and their location and timing, as it is in access to resources and information. Dynamic and respectful relationships can only be built through the investment of time, thought and care involving a recognition of strengths and weaknesses which seeks to empower rather than exploit the weaknesses of other partners. There is a need to break through old cultures of paternalism and philanthropy.

  12.  In many places Local Strategic Partnerships have provided new impetus for collaborative working and envisioning of a community's future. The flexibility allowed has been a bonus for some but, for others, a more formalised structure would have been appropriate. The gatekeeper role of the local authority is key to the LSP's development; as with other aspects of the regeneration agenda the changes in culture and perception, particularly in relation to the voluntary and faith sectors has been uneven. The most "successful" seem to be those LSPs which have built on existing good practice and trust between the voluntary, community and public sectors into which the private/business sector has been inducted as an equal and not a dominant partner.


13.  The implementation of schemes, particularly those involving the decanting and relocation of significant parts of the population, has often left local residents isolated and resentful. The experience of those left in the final phases of regeneration schemes has of

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