It's fun, of course, to slag off governments and moan that nothing works, but here's a thing: sometimes government initiatives really do work. Regenerate asked a bunch of experts to tell us what's gone right in regeneration. By Josephine Smit

With John Prescott gone from the department that bore his job title and Tony Blair preparing to pack his bags, we could be coming to the end of an era in government regeneration policy. What the next cabinet could bring is a matter for conjecture, but there are sure to be more initiatives. Shadow minister for communities and regeneration Alistair Burt has embarked on a tour of the country to see which regeneration initiatives, whatever their political colour, have worked well.

So Regenerate asked 15 experts from the regeneration sector which government initiatives they believe have been successful.

A few respondents simply muttered darkly: "Government initiatives - we've all had quite enough of those." Others highlighted the importance of seeing initiatives in context. Mark Bottomley, partner with Bptw Architects, points out that initiatives have to be measured against a backdrop of declining public funding: "We've gone from funding of £50k per dwelling under the Estate Action programme to £10k per unit under Decent Homes," he says.

However, while initiatives may leave a legacy of uncertain duration for people living in deprived communities, there are doubts about what lessons they leave for the industry. Nigel Armstrong, director of social housing consultancy Weedon Grant, which has studied what regeneration processes work, says: "Clearly some of the big local authorities that have done a number of these projects have the knowledge within their corporate memory and experience. But only the largest local authorities and housing associations have these opportunities flowing through. It takes a lot of experience to get them right. A lot of regeneration is about dealing with a problem - we start from the premise that something must be done - but these are actually great big opportunities." Here are the initiatives that our experts rated as the most successful.

Delivery vehicles

There was no shortage of candidates here as the present government has generated a plethora of delivery vehicles. One of its creations stood out for the experts surveyed: urban regeneration companies. Others disagreed, rating their Conservative-inspired predecessor, the urban development corporations, as more successful.

1 Urban development corporations

The local delivery vehicle that our industry experts considered most successful was that ultimate product of the Thatcherite era: the powerful but remote urban development corporation. Some respondents name regional favourites. Yolande Barnes, director of research at consultant Savills praises the London Docklands Development Corporation: "The LDDC did shape the nature of the development, and design-wise it is standing the test of time." Bob Lane, chief executive of North Northants Development Company, mentions the achievements of Speke Garston Development Company, which he led for six years: "It transformed a difficult area of Liverpool, renovating listed buildings and developing a high-quality business park, public realm and art works," he says.

David Chapman, associate director of planning practice Urban Initiatives, sums up the positives of the UDC approach: "For good or for bad, it was a central government initiative that changed the face of urban policy, and is still partly inspiring the present government, with the URCs. Its aim was to re-create an attractive physical environment to send a strong signal to potential investors and unblock supply-side constraints. There were some major successes, and a number of failures and criticisms."

James Alexander, managing director of project manager KUD International and a director of Central Salford URC, says that in spite of its faults, there was great merit to the UDC: "Today, there's little doubt that the URCs have been set up to facilitate development and investment in much the same way UDCs were. However, many commentators quip that URCs would be a lot more effective were they to have the land or money or power of their predecessors."

UDC facts

When launched: 1980, and wound up by mid-1990s, but the initiative was given a new lease of life by the sustainable communities plan three years ago

Key features:

  • UDCs acquire, hold, manage, reclaim and dispose of land
  • They have some planning powers
What's the latest? The government has revived UDCs to drive activity in the growth areas, and established UDCs in Thurrock Thames Gateway, London Thames Gateway and West Northants in 2003/2004. The Milton Keynes Partnership is similar to a UDC. The new UDCs have fewer planning powers and take a more collaborative approach than their predecessors.

2 Urban regeneration companies

Created on the recommendation of Lord Rogers' Urban Task Force seven years ago, URCs are now a key driver of regeneration throughout England. Mark Ryder, chief executive of Isis Waterside Regeneration, argues that the modern delivery vehicles are a significant advance on the old UDCs, saying: "The old UDCs were too one-dimensional in remit and execution. Land was all that mattered to them. Because of the context of URCs - emerging from the Urban Task Force report - they have had a more difficult task in having to unite challenges, and they have responded. Take New East Manchester URC - that has been critical to the success of Manchester and has brought together environmental, social and economic factors. URCs can operate in a way the old UDCs couldn't."

URC facts

When launched: 1999

Key features:

  • URCs aim to champion and stimulate investment in an area by bringing together private and public sectors
  • Development follows a strategic regeneration framework or masterplan for the broader area.
What's the latest? 23 URCs have now been established, including one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland.

Hammerson and Hermes are doubling the size of the Shires retail centre in Leicester Regeneration Company’s territory
Hammerson and Hermes are doubling the size of the Shires retail centre in Leicester Regeneration Company’s territory

3 English Partnerships

These are interesting times for English Partnerships - it is awaiting the outcome of a government review that could see it merging with the Housing Corporation (see page 12). Whatever the findings, survey respondents recognise EP's increased role in delivering regeneration. Faraz Baber, director of regeneration and development at the British Property Federation, says in support of the quango: "It has been a good intermediary in interfacing between the public and private sector".

Some respondents highlight particular EP initiatives. Stan Hornagold, partner with management consultant Hornagold & Hills, singles out EP's Design for Manufacture competition, better known as the £60k house contest, for its achievements in design. Hornagold says: "The concept of the £60k house has been much criticised but it has focused the industry on how to design for the way we live today and, at the same time, to exploit modern methods of construction which are commonplace on the continent."

Ben Derbyshire, managing director of HTA Architects, says that EP's site disposal programme stands out: "EP is to be congratulated on raising the bar on urban design, sustainability and modern methods of construction by setting highly demanding design briefs and often favouring design quality over pure commercial considerations in selecting bidders."

4 Cabe

Phil Barton, director of North West regional centre of excellence Renew, maintains that the Urban Task Force recommendation that resulted in the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment led to improvements in the quality of regeneration. Barton says: "Since its establishment huge strides have been made in raising the profile of design, developing methods and standards and supporting practical delivery of built environment schemes."

Regeneration programmes

Urban Housing Renewal Unit, Housing Action Trusts, Estate Action, City Challenge, SRB, Decent Homes … every decade seems to bring a flurry of regeneration programmes. The jury is still out on whether many of the former ODPM's programmes have worked. New Deal for Communities has had its problems, Decent Homes is still three years away from its target of bringing all affordable homes up to a decent standard, and the mixed-income communities initiative is just getting under way.

Instead, it is an estates regeneration initiative of the 1990s that our experts considered the most successful. In that decade, private-public partnership was harnessed to tackle the country's run-down housing estates, and its most notable incarnation was City Challenge, our experts' top choice.

5 City Challenge

This was the initiative that brought councils of the most deprived inner city areas together with private developers, and Bill Stevenson, chairman of Bellway City Solutions, says it proved significant in the evolution of UK urban policy. Stevenson explains: "In spite of its short life and limited funds, it acted as a catalyst for wider regeneration. For the first time it brought together two significant elements: the incorporation of inner-city residents into the mainstream of urban life; and the development of a policy process that empowered local residents. At the same time it introduced a different institutional mechanism for delivery and management of regeneration schemes: the three-way partnership comprising local people, business and local government."

Jackie Sadek, chief executive of Park Royal Partnership, believes City Challenge focused regeneration efforts:

"It forced local authorities to work in partnership with the private sector, to look at geographical areas of need. It was bottom up, which is much more sustainable, and there was exactly the right element of competition in the prospectus to help people develop effective working relationships."

City Challenge facts

Duration: Ran from 1992 to 1998

Key features:

  • It was the first main partnership-based regeneration programme
  • Tried to provide jobs and qualifications as well as homes
Where were they? Thirty-one partnerships were established across the country

What was the money? Each challenge authority could bid for £37.5m in funding over the five years of the programme. On average, £240m of public and private money was spent in each area.

6 Single Regeneration Budget

The Single Regeneration Budget was City Challenge's successor, and a poor follow-up in some people's eyes. Park Royal Partnership's Sadek says: "It was useless because it took away the competitive element and everyone collapsed back into being supplicant again."

But Bptw Architects' Mark Bottomley disagrees and says in SRB's defence: "SRB was more comprehensive. For us it worked well, but it was too thinly spread. All of these initiatives become victims of their own success."

Bottomley's opinion of SRB is coloured by his experience working on the Peckham Partnership SRB project in south London. He says: "It was a great success but you couldn't apply it across the country because it cost so much money. The SRB was in many ways the most successful because it produced good design and there was joined-up thinking with other agencies."

SRB facts

Duration: The programme was launched in 1994. After six bidding rounds, central funding for SRB ended in 2002 and its remit passed to the regional development agencies.

Key features:

  • it focused on worklessness, crime, health and education
  • Partnerships had to demonstrate "best value"
Where were they? SRB projects were carried out in all 88 Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas.

What was the money? The government put £5.7bn into bidding rounds 1-6. Total public/private spend for rounds 1-6 was £23bn.

Homes for Change, part of the City Challenge-funded redevelopment of Hulme, Manchester
Homes for Change, part of the City Challenge-funded redevelopment of Hulme, Manchester

7 Housing Action Trusts

The six Housing Action Trusts established under the 1988 Housing Act have now all but drawn their activities to a close. Although many consider HATs to have been over-lavishly funded, BURA chief executive Jon Ladd gives them his vote: "The strategic vision and delivery they brought across the whole spectrum of regeneration was ground-breaking and has certainly had a major influence in the way we look at issues today. HATs were one of the first vehicles to recognise that in order to facilitate sustainable change in a deprived area, long-term and significant funding was required. Equally HATs were perhaps the first vehicle that addressed the over-arching complexities of regenerating deprived estates."

Policy documents

The case for regeneration has been most persuasively set out in the densely typed reports emanating from HM Government - think back to Lord Scarman's report into the riots in Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side of 1981. Our experts' prime choice, however, is the more optimistic document produced by a government working group led by architect Lord Rogers: the Urban Task Force's report, Towards an Urban Renaissance.

8 The Urban Task Force/Towards an Urban Renaissance

Lord Rogers' Urban Task Force and its report, Towards an Urban Renaissance, won plaudits for recommendations that have since become essential elements of the development framework, such as URCs.

But the report was also considered a success for opening people's eyes to what regeneration really meant. Mark Ryder, chief executive of Isis Waterside Regeneration, says: "The Urban Task Force crystallised the concept of placemaking and good urban design. The task force report was ahead of its time, but the next wave of regeneration is showing the value of placemaking. A lot of words like sustainable and community have been misused since, however."

Former Urban Task Force member Alan Cherry, chairman of developer Countryside Properties, says:

"Its report has had considerable influence over regeneration. For the first time in 50 years there has been a change of culture in favour of towns and cities. People have started to move back into city centres such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. Major investment has been levered into the cities which now have greater powers to control their own destiny."

Urban Task Force facts

When published: 1999

What was its aim? To ascertain the causes of urban decline and recommend solutions

What's the latest? The task force published a follow-up report last November, urging government to focus more on regeneration, and less on housing growth areas.

James Callaghan, the prime minister behind the 1977 white paper
James Callaghan, the prime minister behind the 1977 white paper

9 The white paper: Policy for the Inner Cities, 1977

This landmark in urban policy was issued almost 30 years ago by the Labour government. David Chapman of Urban Initiatives sets out its achievements: "It highlighted that the sources of the problems of inner cities lay outside the inner city, that the urban problem was due to the collapse of the economic infrastructure of the inner city. The effect of the urban-rural shift and de-industrialisation on inner cities was widely recognised. The white paper called for economic and social improvement via the encouragement of existing jobs, support to small businesses and the development of transport and training. Local authorities were to be the main agency for this task, and the setting up of quasi-governmental organisations was recommended to promote a more effective management through partnerships with the private sector and voluntary organisations."

10 PPG3

Soon to be superseded by PPS3, the planning policy guidance note on housing introduced in 2000 was notable for its impact on density and design. Bellway City Solutions' Bill Stevenson says: "PPG3 is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to impact on the built environment and urban design. The higher density specified and greater variation in house types has removed the standard design approach, and focused attention on creating more sustainable environments. It also spearheaded regeneration by giving priority to brownfield development."