Overdue report will highlight failures

Remember the study into the impact of the credit crunch on regeneration, commissioned from Professor Michael Parkinson of Liverpool John Moores University? The report was apparently finished ages ago, but we still haven’t seen it. Did the draft upset the wrong people, and is it now at the bottom of the Mersey wearing concrete shoes?

If so, it’s not hard to imagine why. The credit crunch and the ensuing bust are having a catastrophic effect on regeneration strategies, especially in the northern cities. There are stories of house prices dropping by 60% and apartment blocks left empty in city centres. The entire model of housing-led regeneration has failed.

Early indications are that Parkinson will say that things will get worse before they get better, especially in places that were already vulnerable, and that investment should be focused on place-making, not building houses for their own sake.

He’s right – pinning regeneration to rising house prices was always daft, because it confused a speculative asset bubble with real economic growth. A city’s “housing offer” may help it attract investment, jobs and people – but only marginally. People generally move to new places to get jobs, or to be by the sea, or close to their families, and then look for a home. Few relocate to central Leeds because those shiny executive flats are so appealing. Ultimately, housing is more of an effect than a cause.

Thirty years ago we would not have said that the imbalance between the North and the South required a housing solution. We would have blamed the lack of employment in the North, and the response would have been industrial policy. Now that the bursting of the housing bubble has exposed the weakness in regeneration policy, we need a return to real regeneration: economic development, jobs and the infrastructure investment that underpins them.

One report that has seen the light of day – the recent Crosby commission for the Northern Way – has called for long-term investment in our cities. I can only presume Professor Parkinson will say something similar – if we ever get to see his report.