Thursday, 17 March 2016

Three Steps to Estates Regeneration Heaven

In January this year the Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would be making £140Million available to transform the UK’s “Sink Estates”.

David Cameron talks to Andrew Marr 10th Jan 2016 0:26

The media interpreted his speech describing why he thought this was important in ways which really demonstrated their own political leanings.  The Guardian described the proposal as an attempt to “blitz poverty”, the Independent focused on the “brutalist” nature and high rise architecture of many of the worst estates, whereas the Daily Mail went for a focus on the aim to reduce gang culture.

Housing is a key issue for Government, and the recent election saw something of a manifesto war with each party pledging to address housing if elected.  Right to buy, affordable housing and starter homes were all high on the agenda.  And it is a high priority for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), with housing being mentioned in 2 of its 4 key responsibilities.  But this is by no means the first attempt to improve the UKs estates, or address the high levels of poverty of those who live in them.  Even Cameron himself alluded to the “nature of state failure over decades” in attempts to improve our housing estates.  Park Hill in Sheffield is a classic example of well-meaning and initially successful attempt to reduce hardship, poverty and cramped living conditions and instead producing a “hooligans’ playground”.

The history of Page Hall 28:42

Most recently there have been relative successes, born out of the Blair era New Deal for Communities approach to housing, which had both a physical and social focus. But grand plans take time and money.  Tony Blair made his first significant speech on the Aylesbury estate.  That estate is only now being re-developed.

There have been plenty of negative reactions to Cameron’s plan.  Jeremy Corbyn has called his new approach ill thought out and tantamount to “social cleansing”.  Others believe (as do I) that poverty is truly complex issue which cannot be “blitzed” by bulldozing housing estates.  And some estates residents are less than keen to embrace the announcement.

Residents on the plans to regenerate estates - 1:38

So does building nice new houses really help address the issues being associated with “sink estates”? Almost certainly not, but ways of approaching regeneration which may provide better results are being promoted by experts in the field and mirror effective approaches to improving services seen in Manchester, Essex and other places who have or are seeking devolution deals.

So my three steps to estates regeneration heaven (probably) are:

1: Co-design

It seems obvious, but designing something which people use with the people who will use it works.  Product development rarely happens without some user input to test ideas and feedback on improvements.  This clearly works with service design, were including service users, staff, local businesses, community sector and public sector in the design process work much better than those where a few council staff assume they know best.

As Nicholas Boys Smith of Create Streets says “Estates could be co-designed, with residents, neighbours, future residents, architects, developers, local planners and others working out a scheme together over several days. This is very different from the standard approach where architects design a scheme and then ask often inconsequential questions (“what colour do you want the doors?”) about it afterwards.”

2: Replacement Guarantee 

Currently the government has not been able to answer where current tenants and right-to-buy owners will live when their homes are destroyed. Those who bought affordable homes using the right to buy scheme should be guaranteed a home on the estate when work is completed.  This has been a problem for previous regeneration efforts like the Woodberry Down and the Heygate Estate in London and Park Hill in Sheffield where too few social housing properties were made available due to a focus on selling properties to fund the schemes, or when rental terms were changed.

3: Funding

£140 million has been earmarked for this work.  That’s across 100 estates.  And the money allocated is in loan, not grant form.  So it has to be paid back.  As Hank Dittmar mentions in his piece in BD Online, “By way of comparison, the US Hope VI effort, begun during the Clinton administration to replace failed social housing estates with walkable, mid-rise and mixed-use schemes, has expended more than $6 billion in the years that it has existed, tackling just over 200 projects. Current funding for what is now called Choice Neighbourhoods is reduced due to budget constraints, but ranges between $90 million and £120 million, devoted to planning grants and two to three projects per year. Clearly the £140 million should be an annual amount rather than a total.”  A long term commitment with funding is going to make success a lot more likely.

Call to Action

Working on this estates regeneration project will be my first role in DCLG.  DCLG are now asking for people who want to get involved to get in touch.  As I’ve said above, designing estates together may well be vital for the success of any regeneration effort.  The more people who care that get involved, the more likely this attempt to make life better for people living on the most deprived estates in the UK will be successful.
If you are an estate tenant, housing associations, a resident in areas around estates, an academic with an interest in housing, a planner, developer or just someone who cares, then you can help.

Register your interest here

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