On why grotty estates need more innovation than glamorous growth areas …

THE spotlight is on the government’s housing growth plans and our ability to create new sustainable communities. But at the same time, let’s not forget the difficult challenges of the hard-to-let inner city housing estates.

Despite waves of public funding regimes, the housing stock on such estates – and the health of their communities – are in decline, and are compounding the need for new housing.

There is a push to meet the government’s Decent Homes standard, which sets a target for all homes to be brought up to a decent living standard by 2010. In the light of this, most local authorities have formulated or implemented solutions for the street properties and low-rise units in their care. But local authorities have only recently completed the stock option appraisals on larger estates that will determine what action they need to bring these homes up to the standard. These appraisals are likely to highlight the shortfall in funding to remedy the huge numbers of housing on the worst estates.

So how will the regeneration of these estates be tackled? Government money is in demand, the New Deal for Communities programme has not been the success that was hoped for, and the other side of the election may see this funding stream in decline. The government is now asking the private sector how it can regenerate these communities with minimal, if any, grant funding.

For their part, traditional developers, large housing associations and their consultants will face a capacity issue. Currently, there are tenders for more than 20,000 new homes running in central London. Given the opportunities in the Thames Gateway alone, it is easy to see why developers are focusing on creating new communities rather than embracing the more resource-intensive challenges in existing ones.

Often residents are resistant to transferring housing stock out of council hands. New models need to be developed that allow residents a choice of landlord but still allow them to benefit from a new home. In my experience, residents understand that additional homes pay for an improved environment and facilities. They also identify with better local services and can appreciate that community-based housing associations manage their environment better.

Delivery vehicles need specific expertise: housing associations must understand that often their key skill is management, not development

Local authorities must be forward-thinking in inviting new forms of delivery model that are not just predicated on the transfer scenario. Delivery vehicles need specific expertise, and long-term investment must stabilise the short-term needs of developers and constructors to give stability to communities and to create trust. Housing associations must understand that often their key skill is management, not development.

Schemes must be predicated on zero government subsidies. In addressing the scarcity of resources and the scale of the requirements, new types of developers and investors will see the opportunities presented by large-scale regeneration. Projects bring long-term stability and growth, and the ability to plough resources back into the community to foster social and economic activity will become self-perpetuating.

We focus resources on growth at our peril. New procurement, new partnerships between public and private sectors, new players and relationships have to be fostered to ensure that the heart of London’s community is not left to decline while the Gateway grows.

Peter Wilson is managing director of Tribal Urban Futures