Memorandum by Local Government Association
The Local Government Association is pleased
to make this submission to the Urban Affairs Select Committee
Inquiry. The LGA represents all local councils in England and
Wales, and this response has been initiated by the Association's
Urban Commission. In doing so, we have benefited from in-put from
a range of the Association's executive committees as well as from
a number of responses received directly from authorities themselves.
The LGA welcomes the broad scope of the committee's
inquiry. Regeneration has been a key area of local authority work
over several decades now and we recognise it as a complex process
involving a range of partners. The LGA's influential New Commitment
to Regeneration initiative promoted this partnership approach
to regeneration which is now reflected in many Government initiatives.
We have been actively engaged in creating mechanisms for evaluating
what works and we strongly agree with the Committee's emphasis
on sustained improvements and long-term impacts.
Despite all the work which has gone into regeneration
initiatives over the last few decades, it is clear that there
is still much to be done to tackle the problems of Britain's poorest
neighbourhoods. While there is no single definition of poor neighbourhoods,
the English House Condition survey identified at least 3,000 neighbourhoods
with concentrated problems of run-down, vacant or derelict housing
and/or problems such as vandalism and graffiti. Forty-four local
authorities were identified by the Government's Social Exclusion
Unit as having the highest concentrations of deprivation in England
with nearly two-thirds more unemployment, one and half times the
proportion of lone parent households and almost a third of children
growing up in families on Income Support. More recently the Neighbourhood
Renewal Fund is targeted towards the 88 authorities with the worst
levels of deprivation.
Although poor neighbourhoods share many key
features, there are also critical differences between them. Some
areas are experiencing the consequences of economic re-structuring,
with the decline in manufacturing and heavy industry. Others,
such as parts of London, co-exist next to areas of great affluence,
but fail to share in that economic prosperity. Physical features
likewise differ, as do the structure and patterns of housing tenure,
from heavy concentrations of council or other social landlords
to areas of predominant home ownership.
The Audit Commission, in its report "A
Life's Work: Local authorities, economic development and regeneration,'
succinctly summarised the evolution of government-led regeneration
initiatives. They highlighted three critical turning points:
The publication of the 1977 Urban
White Paper which heralded the end of decentralisation and New
The development of business-led Urban
Development Corporations of the 1980s.
The 1991 launch of City Challenge
with local authorities being brought in and invited to form partnerships
to bid for resources. City Challenge was, in turn, followed by
the establishment of the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB).
Since 1997 the critical developments around
urban regeneration have been:
Launch of the LGA's New Commitment
New Deal for Communities initiative.
Launch of the National Strategy for
Rolling of SRB into a new single
funding pot administered by the Regional Development Agencies.
While City Challenge and SRB represented a welcome
advance on the business-led approach which had characterised the
1980s, it was clear that there were some important drawbacks.
In particular, the element of bidding, which was a key feature,
had some unintended consequences. It meant, for example that the
relationship between need and resource allocation could be hazy
as some areas with considerable deprivation lacked the capacity
to put together effective bids. Likewise, the process of bidding,
while it could unleash creative synergy, was also capable of leading
to disappointment and demoralisation amongst those who tried but
failed. But perhaps most fundamentally, the City Challenge and
SRB approach forced authorities and partners to think narrowly
rather than linking into a wider strategic policy framework.
Consequently there were a number if criticisms
which centred on:
The short-term nature of the funding
meant that retention of staff was difficult, particularly towards
the end of funding periods.
There was a lack of continuity or
progression in policy and service delivery.
The transaction costs involved in
bidding were high.
The bidding process could detract
from the "day job" of ongoing good management.
Administrative costs were often too
Long-term planning was difficult.
In addition, it was increasingly recognised
The mainstream resources going into
areas far outstripped the special regeneration funding and that
the potential for regeneration would be far greater if these could
It will always be difficult for time-limited
initiatives to tackle long-term and deeply embedded issues that
regeneration initiatives often expose.
The management of neighbourhoods
and their mainstream services significantly shape the quality
of local life.
Local players are powerless to influence
some of the most important factors shaping the local economic
context because they stem from wider trends and policies.
Time-limited programmes made sustainability
a problem, for example in meeting on-going costs.
The more recent developments around the use
of the single pot by Regional Development Agencies and funding
through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund are still attracting criticisms
around the lack of a joined-up approach at local level. There
are still real question marks around whether all agencies and
Government departments are fully contributing towards the development
and delivery of local community strategies and there are still
too many pots of funding which require bidding or which are too
tightly ring-fenced. The LGA continues to promote the need for
mainstream funding to under-pin the approach to regeneration with
Government departments being prepared to take a far more hands-off
approach to the development and execution of local priorities.
Through the development of the New Commitment
to Regeneration the LGA has contributed significantly to the wider
understanding of what works in regeneration schemes. NCR was less
a new initiative than a new approach to regeneration. It brought
no new money but was intended to encourage a strategic approach
and to foster longer-term thinking. In particular the NCR was
designed with the following features:
Focus upon a wider areacity
conurbation or countythan previous area-based regeneration
initiatives, involving whole local authorities or multiple local
Encompassing mainstream budgets and
programmes as well as special regeneration funding and activities.
Involving national government as
Seeking to encourage greater creativity
Perhaps most importantly, the NCR pioneered
the role of Local Strategic Partnerships which have now been taken
up by Government as a key feature of successful neighbourhood
renewal and community planning.
There is no doubt that meaningful community
involvement holds the key to successful regeneration efforts.
But engaging with dispossessed and alienated communities can be
difficult and maintaining a real sense of involvement is more
difficult still. There are problems overcoming cynicism, there
can be language and skills barriers, there are difficulties encouraging
people to find or make time and there are real challenges involved
with ensuring that the voice of a whole community is heard, not
just the motivated few. Local authorities have worked hard to
develop creative solutions to overcome these barriers.
Involvement and engagement need to happen in
different ways at different levels. Taking the strategic level
as a starting point, the advent of Local Strategic Partnerships
have now become a mainstay of regeneration initiatives. Local
authorities need to be in a position to offer good quality political
leadership through broad partnerships which include health authorities,
the police, the Benefits Agency and others as well as the private
and community sector and education institutions. Good partnerships
require trust and an understanding of the perspectives, fears
and aspirations of others and they take time to develop.
Strategic level partnerships are not, however,
sufficient to meet the needs or understand the ambitions of neighbourhoods.
At this level there are different challenges in ensuring that
all sections of communities are able to engage effectively. Many
local authorities make use of skilled community development staff
in helping marginalized communities to help themselves. Effective
deployment of Community Development Workers has been found to
be a critical factor in ensuring a good quality of community in-put
to regeneration projects and maintaining a two-way dialogue. However,
there are issues of recruitment and retention amongst this group
of staff, and of the development of good shared professional practice,
which the committee might like to consider further.
Likewise, the organised voluntary community
sector should be seen as a vital partner in developing communication
strategies. Many local authorities already fund much of this sector
and have established relationships. Ensuring good two-way communication
is not always easy, and issues of trust and understanding can
arise which sometimes take time to resolve.
The methods used to involve the local community
can be critical in determining success. The model of residents'
meetings, area forums or other mechanisms for bringing people
together has much to recommend it, creating the scope for dialogue
and discussion. Using small-group formats and imaginative ways
of securing feedback can help to prevent such gatherings from
simply being dominated by the confident, the articulate and the
professional meeting-goer. However, it is still the case that
meetings are unlikely to attract many of the hardest to reach
and those in poor areas are entitled to ask why they are attending
meetings when their middle class neighbours are enjoying their
leisure time. Other means of community engagement, from opinion
polling to citizens panels can therefore be effective in supplementing
the meetings format.
Under-pinning all of these approaches to involvement
and communication is the place of locally elected representatives.
Councillors can act as the key bridge between the regeneration
"professionals" and the community as a whole. They start
with a base of local knowledge which is generally unparalleled.
Their range of contacts, understanding of the issues facing a
community and position as local leaders can be critical in determining
the way in which projects are seen through. Local councillors
are also the only players in the process who are accountable,
through the ballot box, to the community as a whole.
The criticism that the professionals "pack
their bags" when the funding comes to an end, or that disproportionate
funding flows out of the area into the hands of consultants, architects
and other associated beneficiaries, is all too familiar to local
councils who have been working to lift communities over the long
term. Much of the thinking behind the New Commitment to Regeneration
arose in an effort to ensure that project-based work brought the
real, long-term benefits which can transform communities.
In the first instance it is necessary to draw
distinctions between the under-lying issues and the different
contexts in which regeneration projects are operating. These can
vary from the economic re-structuring necessary in the context
of the loss of a significant industry, such as the former coalfields
areas, to the areas of widespread and persistent low housing demand,
such as in areas of the North East or North West, to a focus on
physical up-grading in areas of decay. Sustaining improvements
and ensuring that they flow into the communities which need them,
represent a significant challenge for local authorities and for
all those concerned with regeneration.
It is clear that regeneration is not an activity
which can be delivered by one agency alone. The role of partnerships
is therefore vital, a fact which is being recognised in the Government's
approach to Neighbourhood Renewal Funding. It is important to
remember, however, that there is a capacity issue around sustaining
LSPs and that this generally falls upon local councils. There
is also a need to ensure that LSPs themselves do not develop their
own democratic deficit. The LSP should be used to enhance involvement,
not become a substitute for wider engagement.
Successful long term regeneration requires a
level of economic activity which can support communities. Without
jobs all other regeneration measures are unlikely to succeed.
The long process of industrial decline and skills mismatch are
creating chronic problems in many areas. The role of local authorities
in attracting and supporting inward investment is often insufficiently
recognised. They adopt a range of measures, including the direct
provision of industrial and commercial premises, the offer of
grants and other business support services and through supporting
"grassroots" economic enterprises with activities ranging
from schemes for credit unions to local exchange and trading schemes.
On the other side of the equation, many councils
are involved with a range of "supply side" measures
to help people in to work. There are many barriers to work, even
in areas of considerable labour shortages. These can include lack
of childcare, access to transport links, lack of skills and confidence
and discrimination on ethnic or other grounds. Local authorities
can help with some of these issues both in their role as mainstream
service providers and through specialist schemes aimed at targeted
groups. In order to be effective councils need to operate in the
context of strong links with the range of other agencies, again
reinforcing the importance of partnership at the strategic level.
Councils themselves are also large scale employers
and contractors of labour. They employ a considerable proportion
of very local labour, and of the skilled and semi-skilled labour
which can be particularly significant in areas of economic decline.
The impact of council and other public sector employment as a
driving force in local economies remains relatively under-examined,
but many authorities would like to be able to make greater use
of flexibilities around the use of local labour.
Regeneration often involves complex issues of
land assembly and development. The LGA's recent inquiry into the
development of Brownfield land provided the opportunity to share
experiences and draw a number of conclusions on how to improve
this complicated process. One of the key findings to emerge from
the inquiry was the way in which fiscal policies still tend to
discourage Brownfield land development and there is a need to
address these, as well as the planning issues, in order to encourage
further substantial Brownfield land development. The inquiry also
highlighted the need to situate the approach to Brownfield land
issues within overall local authority community strategies. Bringing
together the physical and community planning processes are the
key to this. In addition, a number of underlying funding issues
emerged, including the idea of establishing a new Land Reclamation
Grant Programme to replace the former Derelict Land Grant.
The other major factor affecting quality of
life in poor neighbourhoods is the condition of the housing stock.
Earlier regeneration initiatives took place against a backdrop
of large-scale public housing, with councils as the predominant
"social landlords". The last 20 years have seen big
changes in the pattern of housing tenure. There has been a steady
growth in home ownership and a significant increase in the number
of Registered Social Landlords now providing affordable rented
accommodation. Set alongside these developments have been the
twin issues of housing abandonment in many parts of the North
of England and the severe squeeze on affordable housing in areas
of London and the South East.
These complex dynamics need to inform local
regeneration strategies. The lack of investment in public housing
means that up-grading of the physical infrastructure of estates
is often long over-due. Finding the resources to fix roofs, replace
window frames, up-grade lifts and install estate security measures
can make a huge difference in some areas. However, it is also
clear that estates renewal alone is not enough. Regeneration strategies
need to embrace more than just physical repair to tackle the underlying
factors contributing to decline and despair.
Despite the criticisms, initiatives such as
City Challenge and many SRB projects could and did yield real
community benefits when they were able to be followed through
in the right context and could resonate with wider economic developments.
What emerged from those experiences were the following key ingredients
to inform more successful approaches to regeneration:
Partnerships which are anchored by
the local authorities able to demonstrate high quality political
Investment at levels sufficient to
make a real difference to the physical infrastructure and to support
sustained economic development.
Well developed community engagement
and empowerment strategies.
Strategies which link with wider
economic and infrastructure developments.
The need to ensure that different
local initiatives and individual funding streams "join-up"
effectively at the local level.
Ensuring that mainstream funding
is properly focused to meet local needs to help lift deprived
areas over time.
The LGA's long involvement with regeneration
issues has led us to conclude that the most important lesson has
been that there are no quick fixes to sustainable regeneration,
it's a long term process:
We strongly believe that what is
needed is better targeting of mainstream funding towards areas
of need rather than relying on Area Based Initiatives. While small
scale area based approaches such as New Deal for Communities can
bring benefits, they should be seen as complementary to adequate
Local Strategic Partnerships have
emerged as an important framework for the regeneration process.
There is a need to ensure that all the partners are fully involved
and working towards a shared commitment to the "vision"
for their area. The LGA has been working with local authorities
helping them to develop their leadership role around LSPs and
we are committed to continuing that work.
The involvement of the community
is critical. It is quite apparent that schemes or initiatives
which are not "owned" or supported by the community
are not sustainable over time.
The Government needs to look closely
at how it can do more to support local authorities in bringing
Brownfield sites back into use. It is clear that local authorities
have a key role to play but they need to be able to access appropriate
funding streams, they need resources for planning and a supportive
statutory framework and they need partner organisations to work
with them collaboratively.
Finally, successive Government's
have come to understand that working with local authorities is
the critical factor in bringing areas of decline back to life.
The business-led model of the early 1980s simply failed to deliver.
Local authorities provide the key ingredients of leadership, vision
and commitment which are the requirements of long-term success.
The Government should be working to support councils in driving
forward those improvements and helping them to turn their urban
visions into reality.