Initiatives must involve local people in renewal, say community groups

Regeneration came under the spotlight last week when the
government’s £2bn initiative to revitalise deprived areas was
criticised for not being inclusive enough.

The Right Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, said the New Deal
for communities was not putting local people in the driving seat as
Gordon Brown and John Prescott promised the scheme would when they
launched it in 1999.

Addressing the first hearing of the House of Commons’ urban affairs
sub-committee on regeneration initiatives, Bishop Jones, who is
chairperson of a New Deal scheme in Liverpool, also accused the
government of failing to give local communities sufficient time to
solve their problems.

The sub-committee was announced in July and it invited community
organisations to submit their views on the operation and impact of
regeneration schemes. The terms of reference range from the
contribution area-based initiatives make to regeneration
initiatives and regional strategies; to the characteristics of
successful regeneration schemes; and what arrangements need to be
put in place at the end of an initiative to ensure local residents
continue to benefit.

In his written evidence to the sub-committee, Bishop Jones says
there are eight key questions urban regeneration must address. He
argues the government needs to look at how the benefit system can
be used as an incentive rather than a hurdle to community
involvement and how schemes reconcile the government’s need to set
targets and timetables with the needs to engage and secure the
support of the local community.

The umbrella group for community initiatives the Urban Forum also
gave written evidence to the sub-committee in London last week. It
argues that the winding-down of the single regeneration budget
announced by social exclusion minister Barbara Roche last month
(see panel)would reduce the opportunities for voluntary
organisations to reach communities.

It says: “In extreme cases this can contribute to a breakdown in
community cohesion as evidenced by the riots in several English
towns and cities in 2001.”

Urban Forum policy development officer Caroline Bond says the forum
is concerned about the government’s plans to end the single
regeneration budget and replace it with a single pot of funding
administered by the Regional Development Agencies.

“What will community groups do when SRB comes to an end?”, she
says. “Will they be able to access the single pot of funding
fairly?” In fact, the Urban Forum is in the process of conducting
research into the impact of the new single pot on the deputy prime
minister’s behalf.

Bond says in order for initiatives to be successful they require
“genuine community involvement” along with the resources to operate
schemes long term. “It is unrealistic for the government to expect
to turn around a deprived area in a short period. What is needed is
long-term investment,” she says.

Andrew Webster, director of public services research at the Audit
Commission, also appeared before the sub-committee. He says the
primary reason some regeneration schemes fail is because they are
not clear what they want to achieve from an early stage.

Webster supports the move to axe health action zones and says they
provide just one example of where agencies duplicate each other’s
work. He says: “Health action zones are doing the work of primary
care trusts and if the trusts are not doing that then it’s a
problem that needs to be investigated.”

He believes the government should adopt a new method of financing
regeneration schemes that removes the emphasis on community groups
in deprived areas applying for funding to meet needs defined by
government. He says: “Local people have to chase pots of money
designed to meet specific targets instead of working out a case for
what their area’s needs are and then asking the government for
funding to address them.”

So does the sector believe the government has learned from the
success and failures of its previous regeneration initiatives? The
Audit Commission does. Its written evidence says: “If you look at
the way regeneration policy has evolved over the past 20 or 30
years it is clear that lessons have been learned from past
experience. This is true both at the broad policy level and in
relation to the design of individual initiatives.”

However, it warns against the government rushing into launching new
initiatives that repeat past mistakes. It says the neighbourhood
renewal fund makes it difficult for applicants to properly develop
and consult on their proposals with their local community because
it has such short deadlines.

The second hearing of the sub-committee takes place in Sheffield on
26 November and is due to receive representations from Birmingham,
Sheffield and Stoke on Trent councils, Nottingham New Deal for
Communities, and Manningham Housing Association in Bradford.

Anil Singh, chief executive of Manningham Housing Association is
eager to share his views with the sub-committee. In particular, he
wants to ask its members why the decision was already made to halt
the funding of some area-based initiatives before the
sub-committee’s first hearing was held.

He says: “What is the point of this debate? Isn’t it a cosmetic
exercise if the government has already made the decision to end the
funding of some area-based initiatives? I can’t understand the
government’s lack of consistency on this.”

Singh is a strong supporter of area-based initiatives and has sat
on the boards of a New Deal for communities scheme and on the now
defunct city challenge initiative.

He says: “The New Deal for communities approach is excellent
because it is bottom-up and is not controlled by local authorities.
Although it takes longer to achieve improvements, its results are
inherently more sustainable.”

Singh says the effectiveness of regeneration initiatives comes from
retaining its independence from local government. “To run a
regeneration programme properly they have to be staffed properly.
If it is run as an arm of the local authority it will have the
power over what decisions are made and will alienate the local

He believes the sector and central government must look at what can
be learned from area-based initiatives before throwing their weight
behind new initiatives.

Bond is equally perplexed by the decision on area-based initiatives
and describes Barbara Roche’s announcement as “premature”.

She says: “It seems a bit odd for a committee to be called and then
have the government announce such a decision before the first

However, a spokesperson for the deputy prime minister says the
social exclusion minister’s decision is entirely separate to the
sub-committee’s investigation.

“The sub-committee’s inquiry will feed into the general debate
about regeneration and the government is very interested to hear
people’s views,” adds the spokesperson.

Convincing a sector that doubts this will take sustained effort on
the government’s part.

Regeneration reorganisation

Since the Labour government came to power in 1997 it has
introduced a variety of short and long-term regeneration programmes
to rejuvenate some of England’s most deprived towns and
cities. The sub-committee’s current remit of investigating
the “effectiveness” of such initiatives fits neatly in with the
government’s overall policy of reviewing them.

This started in 2001 when the regional co-ordination unit
reviewed area-based initiatives such as Sure Start, the single
regeneration budget and health action zones. It resulted in the
social exclusion minister Barbara Roche announcing last month
dramatic changes to the way area-based schemes are to be funded in
the future (News, page 8, 24 October).

She said a total of 13 initiatives will be merged into three
existing funding streams, and five schemes – including the single
regeneration budget and health action zones – will end as a result
of merger, mainstreaming or non-renewal of their funding.

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