We don’t plan and invest for the long term. £140m will help identify the issues on particular estates but it won’t tackle the root causes
A new year, a new announcement. The great thing is that it is housing. Even better, it’s not about housing numbers, important though we all know they are. This announcement, made by the prime minister was about fixing the country’s 100 worst sink estates. It’s regeneration. It’s about place and it’s about economic renewal.
That’s the good news and must be welcomed.
However, after the fanfare, there is the slow light bulb moment when it becomes clear that the amount is £140m for 100 estates. You might be forgiven for thinking that the decimal point is in the wrong place and it should be £1.4bn, to make a difference. It also becomes clear that this is as much about gentrification and starter homes, as it is about area renewal and affordable homes and successful places.
There is nothing wrong with that as a principle. In fact, go back a few decades and Labour’s Estates Renewal Challenge Fund and their Neighbourhood Renewal Unit was about tackling the most deprived estates and the poorest neighbourhoods.
Economic regeneration must sit alongside whatever is done with the landscape. Jobs, opportunity, the prospects for people in and around the estate must feel positive and must be real
The problem is that we don’t learn from our past and we don’t plan and invest for the long term. £140m will help identify the issues on particular estates and may provide cosmetic, transitory make overs for those failing estates. It won’t tackle the root causes.
During last summer, the London Evening Standard ran a series of articles on the Angell Town estate in Lambeth, which despite millions of pounds of investment still had high rates of crime, high levels of poverty; and poor life chances for many on the estate. Housing associations have been involved through the years. The local authority, central government, and the community have all tried to find solutions. Yet real success has generally eluded that estate.
Having seen regeneration work as well as fail; for me there will always be three key ingredients to success:
Firstly physical regeneration, the way buildings are designed and work with each other and the area is crucial. Estates that are closed are cul de sacs both metaphorically and in reality.
Secondly, economic regeneration must sit alongside whatever is done with the landscape. Jobs, opportunity, the prospects for people in and around the estate must feel positive and must be real.
And thirdly, the people themselves must feel a sense of pride and belonging to an area. The place that is called home should not be the ‘sink estate’ or ‘my
territory’. It should be the place where I’m proud to say I grew up, and perhaps where I still live.
The challenge for this latest initiative is that its success will be for future generations. Regeneration is a long term investment. Let’s hope both the funds and the interest is also for the long term.
Steve Douglas is a Partner at Altair.