Memorandum by Urban Forum (GRI 29)
Urban Forum is a national community and voluntary
sector organisation with 450 members across England. Most members
are local community and voluntary groups with a wide range of
experience in regeneration and neighbourhood renewal.
Urban Forum is the only national voluntary organisation
with an urban policy focus and is widely recognised as being the
lead body in the voluntary sector on urban regeneration and neighbourhood
Since the Forum was established in 1993, it
has built effective channels of communication between community
and voluntary groups and local and national government. Urban
Forum provides a heavily used and comprehensive information and
advice service on regeneration issues, including a web site that
attracts over 20,000 visits monthly. The Forum runs an extensive
events programme around the country and produces various publications.
Urban Forum is the first ever voluntary organisation to receive
"strategic funding" from the ODPM.
Highlights of the Forum's current and recent
work are listed below:
Currently conducting research on
the impact of the wind-down of SRB and the introduction of the
RDA "Single Pot" for the ODPM;
Currently running an "Active
Partners" project, funded by the Home Office, designed to
maximise community and voluntary sector involvement in Local Strategic
Partnerships (LSPs) and neighbourhood renewal;
Currently co-ordinating a national
network of residents from New Deal for Communities (NDC) areas
including two national conferences and a further national event
planned in Bradford;
Currently leading a national project
looking at the role of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in
supporting social regeneration;
Currently organising four regional
feeder events and a fringe event for the Urban Summit;
Led the Government's national consultation
and dissemination exercise on the National Strategy for Neighbourhood
Renewal for community and voluntary groups. This involved organising
over 20 consultative events attended by over 2000 groups in 2000-01;
Members of several national research
advisory groups for example the ODPM national SRB evaluation conducted
by Cambridge University and national LSP evaluation led by Warwick
Members of the ODPM Regional Co-ordination
Unit (RCU) Area-Based Initiatives (ABI) Forum.
Urban Forum would be pleased to supplement this
written evidence with oral evidence if called upon by the Select
1. Contribution of area-based initiatives
to broader regeneration initiatives and regional strategies
This issue has been well covered by recent published
research, including a study by the University of the West of England
(UWE) in Bristol led by Professor Murray Stewart. Area-based initiatives
have dominated recent regeneration initiatives including Single
Regeneration Budget (SRB) and even more so with neighbourhood
renewal initiatives, which are exclusively area-based.
One concern for Urban Forum is that with the
wind-down of SRB, opportunities for community and voluntary organisations
(CVOs) to engage in thematic regeneration initiatives or to reach
"communities of interest" are becoming more restricted.
In extreme cases, this can contribute to a breakdown in community
cohesion as evidenced by the riots in several English towns and
cities in 2001.
Local ABIs have opportunities to contribute
to broader regeneration and regional strategies through LSPs and
regional networks. Urban Forum gives considerable support to local
and regional CVOs to help facilitate these linkages but the resource
and funding base of local and regional CVOs is patchy and fragile.
The recent Treasury cross-cutting review of the voluntary sector
(September 2002) aims to address this issue.
2. Characteristics of successful regeneration
There is now a massive body of research in this
area, including many studies commissioned by ODPM and its predecessors.
Many of the recurring findings are really just common sense, such
as the importance of having a clear and shared vision of what
is to be achieved, realistic goals and targets and a genuine commitment
to partnership working across sectors. The commitment of individuals
in leadership roles to making things happen also crops up frequently
as a critical success factor.
Beyond generalisations, other success factors
can be determined by the unique nature of individual schemes.
For example, taking account of the local culture or geography.
A key issue for government here is whether or not there is enough
flexibility in national and regional programmes to allow for local
diversity. Successful schemes are likely to share the aims of
central programmes and successfully engage with all interested
and relevant scheme participants and beneficiaries.
Urban Forum research and experience suggests
that the greatest barriers to success are local authorities who
are unable or unwilling to work in genuine partnership and a lack
of involvement of CVOs and residents in the beneficiary areas.
This issue is addressed further in 3. below.
3. Involvement of local communities
This is a core issue for Urban Forum and lack
of involvement was the main reason why local groups set the Forum
up in the first place. Again, government research conclusively
shows that where effective community involvement is present, the
chances of success are higher. This was a clear finding in the
interim report of the national SRB evaluation published by Cambridge
University in 2001.
Government has progressively made regeneration
schemes more "community friendly" since the mid-1990s,
notably by making SRB Guidance more explicit in the need to involve
CVOs and residents. This trend has continued with the introduction
of neighbourhood renewal and LSP guidance and the introduction
of direct funding from government to CVOs, such as the Community
Empowerment Fund, Community Chests and regional CVO networks.
The biggest weakness is the capacity of CVOs
to engage due to lack of funding. Unlike the public sector and
business, there is no strategic funding for local CVO infrastructure,
which results in the lack of capacity for CVOs to engage in regeneration
effectively and consistently. The Treasury cross-cutting review
of the voluntary sector (September 2002) aims to address this
issue at least in part.
Community involvement in regeneration initiatives
led by the RDAs through the single pot (which has replaced SRB)
is under threat by the economic and physical development bias
of RDAs, as reflected by national targets set by government.
4. Democratic accountability
Government regeneration initiatives pose a real
challenge to local and regional democratic accountability. Combined
with the Regions White Paper, reforms to modernise local government
and low voter turnout in many areas, the role of democratic institutions
is in a state of flux. The enhanced role of regional Government
Offices (GOs) as the "ears and eyes of Government in the
regions" and the continued central control of some public
bodies such as DfES and Learning and Skills Councils (LSCs) further
complicates the picture.
Perhaps the most glaring challenges are at neighbourhood
level. Billions of pounds of public money is now being invested
in neighbourhood ABIs, with no corresponding form of local governance
at neighbourhood level. Elected neighbourhood forums in some areas
may be a partial, stop-gap solution but they are no substitute
for elected and participative democracy at its best. Nobody wants
an extra layer of bureaucracy but the role of local councillors
needs an urgent review in this light. In some areas, community
representatives elected at ward level are polling more votes than
local councillors raising fundamental questions about neighbourhood
Urban Forum has long advocated for the Government
to take a lead in supporting the evolution of new forms of neighbourhood
governance to bring local government closer to the people. This
issue cannot be avoided for much longer.
5. Whether and where area-based initiatives
have brought about sustained improvements to deprived communities
In a physical sense, there are many examples.
These would typically be housing improvements (as in Royds Estate
in Bradford) and city centre improvements as in Birmingham, Liverpool,
Manchester and parts of London. However, these types of improvements
do not always benefit deprived communities as much as they might.
For example, not enough is done to make sure
that residents from deprived areas are able to take up employment
opportunities generated by renewal due to lack of skills and support.
Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities often receive a particularly
bad deal, for example the lack of employment opportunities generated
in the Liverpool City centre renewal.
Another feature of "successful" regeneration
is that deprived communities can become displaced as areas become
gentrified or turned into "urban villages" where houses
become unaffordable. Where physical improvements fail, "those
that get on, get out".
6. What arrangements need to be put in place
at the end of a regeneration initiative to ensure that benefits
to local residents continue?
Sustainable improvements will leave behind a
legacy of support for local residents. This could take many forms,
including community buildings, community development and youth
facilities, training resources and mainstream funding for initiatives
that prove their worth following regeneration investment. This
could include sustained investment in CVO "infrastructure"
where residents and community groups can go for advice, support
and learning opportunities.
Residents and intended beneficiaries need to
be involved in all stages of regeneration schemes (design, delivery,
evaluation and forward strategy) to ensure that what is left behind
is what they want and need.
7. Whether policy has taken account of long
term impacts as well as the outputs created
Current policy is largely progressive in this
area, as evidenced by the 20 year neighbourhood renewal strategy
including the 10 year NDC programmes in 39 local areas. Whether
the funding and political commitment is maintained for that long
is a moot point.
The impact of area-based schemes on surrounding
areas (which may be almost as deprived) is an emerging problem,
as recognised by the new Community Cohesion Unit set up in the
8. Whether initiatives have had an effect
on the major Government and local government programmes
The extent to which regeneration initiatives
impact upon mainstream public programmes is disappointing. This
was graphically illustrated by a recent study carried out by UWE
led by Professor Murray Stewart. In short there is precious little
evidence that initiatives have made much impact, but at least
this is now more explicitly recognised by the Government. One
example is the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit initiatives on learning,
knowledge and skills, which actively seeks to promote learning
across initiatives and mainstream initiatives.
9. Whether lessons have been learned from
previous initiatives, like City Challenge, and applied to new
regeneration initiatives, such as the New Deal for Communities
and Local Strategic Partnerships
In terms of community and voluntary sector involvement
(Urban Forum's main interests), yes. At least in terms of Government
guidance on current initiatives. This is all so recent that it
is too soon to say whether the lessons have been learned in practice
or the change will remain rhetorical only.
In terms of what happens at the end of special
initiatives (forward strategy), investment in CVO infrastructure
and linking learning from initiatives to mainstream activity,
the lessons do not seem to have been learned to the point of significant
differences in practice. There is, however, now more debate and
consideration of these issues than before, which is an encouraging
10. How the Government should decide when
to introduce an area-based initiative, and whether there are successful
Urban Forum welcomes the initiative by the RCU
to co-ordinate area-based initiatives across Government and the
aim to reduce duplication. New area-based initiatives should only
be considered where existing ones are unable to meet identified
need. This may well be the case, for example, in areas that are
not eligible for Neighbourhood Renewal Funding (NRF).
Successful alternatives would include thematic
regeneration initiatives, city-wide and region-wide initiatives
to complement the emphasis on neighbourhoods and initiatives that
reach disadvantaged communities that are not concentrated geographically
(communities of interest such as single parents, disabled people
and people on low incomes in smaller towns and rural areas).
Government should consult widely at an early
stage with local public bodies, businesses and CVOs before introducing