Monday 7 November 2011

Learning from the past in regeneration?

Last week, a government select committee published their report into regeneration. This was all about regeneration (and its failures) in England, but much of it resonates more widely. Before I mention what was in the report, it is worth noting the composition of the committee: 5 Labour MPs (including the committee chair), 6 Conservative MPs, 1 Liberal Democrat MP. I should also mention that last week a paper of mine was published. This is significant not because I had something published (!) but because the paper was entitled 'Learning from the Past? A Review of Approaches to Spatial Targeting in Urban Policy' and it has a lot to say about the issues in the select committee report. Unusually, for me, it also has no maps or stats in it! I look at examples from across the world and my view is that there is a problem with the way we conceptualise the 'problem' in urban policy, but enough about that.

Back to the select committee report... The most significant thing the report says - and this was widely reported in the news and regen media - is the following quote, from the opening paragraph of the conclusion:

"Regeneration to enable growth offers little evidence that the Government has a coherent strategy for addressing the country's regeneration needs. The document lacks strategic direction and fails to target action and resources at the communities most in need. The measures it sets out are unlikely to bring in sufficient resources or to attract the private sector investment that in many areas is badly needed."

The part about investment being badly needed in many areas is perhaps most significant in some of the former housing market renewal areas - one example being the Welsh streets in Liverpool - see a Google street view of this here. This subject is covered more generally in Part 3 of the report where there is a particularly powerful quote from from Ros Groves, Chair of a Liverpool residents' association, who said:

"We need to think what my people are living in and the conditions they are living in. It is a famous line: we have kids in schools; you ask them to draw a house and they will draw you a house with boarded-up windows, not fancy little curtains or anything else. To me, that is not a future that we can build on, which is criminal. We have a right to have a decent life and place where we live, and that is the one thing that we ask Government. Can we have it? Can we let any Pathfinder area be left with what some people are being left to live in?"

As you can tell, the committee are not exactly thrilled with the government's approach to the housing market renewal programme. Regeneration and Renewal used the word 'damning' and that about covers it.

In Learning the Lessons in Part 4 of the report there is a quote from Paul Lawless, Professor of Urban Policy at Sheffield Hallam University. His views on learning lessons are summed up in one particular quote: 

"One marked weakness in this strand of policy has been a reluctance on the part of new administrations to learn from previous regeneration initiatives. There is every possibility of this happening again, as a new government launches a regeneration programme with little if any acknowledgement of lessons from previous interventions."

My small contribution to the literature effectively finds the same things, and not just in England but more widely in different parts of the world. Not learning from the past, however, is not restricted to regeneration but the implications of not doing so here are particularly severe for those living in areas targeted by urban policy. 

Full details of the inquiry associated with the report can be found here. That's all I have to say for today! Take a look at the report - it makes fascinating reading (though I couldn't find it a pdf version).