The Politics of Regeneration

The Management Committee of pressure group Compass (www.compassonline.org.uk) (of which I’m a member) is often asked to give talks to groups wishing to learn more about Compass’ work.

Last week, I went to Parliament on Compass’ behalf, to give a talk to the influential Labour Finance and Industry Group (http://www.lfig.org), who act as an internal Labour party think tank on issues linked to finance and industry and produce some superb reports on a wide range of matters.

The Labour Finance and Industry Group was keen to have a brief overview on Compass’ view of ‘The Politics of Regeneration’.

I’ve posted a noddy version of my notes below.

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Communities and Collectivism – where Compass is coming from

– Worrying trend towards marketisation of our public services and our public spheres.

– Compass not advocating return to wholesale nationalisation of services but we do believe that there is a need to speak up for the public sphere, whose prominence we feel is declining at the moment.

– We have recently published a Programme for Renewal – within which papers published so far are ‘A new left political economy’ and ‘The Good Society’.

– Compass is very interested in community and communitarianism and new forms of collective identity.

– We recognise that there has been a decline in traditional forms of collectivism – trade union membership, church attendance and so on.

– But we still feel it is important for society to celebrate communities and collectivism.

– We believe that organisations like TELCO, which bring together churches, trade unions, social enterprises and so on perhaps symbolise the way forward.

The Politics of Regeneration

– So what does regeneration mean for Compass?

– What would the Compass view of the Politics of regeneration?

– Well, starting point would obviously be about the community.

– We are deeply worried about the breaking down and fragmentation of communities within British society today, which are leading to mistrust, fear and alienation from the public sphere.

– For example, all the official reports tell us that crime has fallen since 1995 but 70% of the population believe that it’s rising.

– Some would argue this is a direct result of atomised and polarised communities….

Just three quick points about how Compass would see this debate.

The first point is about ‘Buildings Versus People’.

1) We’re in a period of exciting post-industrial change but this also brings challenges.

– Where many towns throughout Britain were once thriving centres of manufacturing and industry with plenty of work, they are now shells in which we have seen worrying rises in alcoholism and often drug dependence.

– This is why Compass believes that we need to move away from a current debate about regeneration that seems to be about buildings rather than people.

– I was up in Newcastle on Monday at the Local Government Association’s Urban Commission Conference and there was a large feeling amongst local councillors, and officers, that people feel at the moment as if regeneration is something is being done to them rather than done with them.

– And as we’ve from the horrid news stories about the recent and shocking shootings in South London, millions of pounds spent on regeneration have not deal with the underlying structural inequalities that exist: low skills bases, unemployment and the effects of broken homes.

– Compass therefore agrees with these councillors that regeneration is something that should be done with communities rather than to them.

– We welcome what the Government has done so far to encourage the formation of neighbourhood forums and panels – especially through the New Deal for Communities and Neighbourhood Renewal Funding (NRF).

– In the ward where I’m a councillor, ward forums and NRF have really helped engender a sense of community and cohesiveness in my extremely ethnically, economically and socially diverse community.

The Public Realm versus the Private Realm

2) The second point we would wish to make is about the public realm versus the private realm.

– Increasingly now we’re seeing a merger of the two – gated communities and Business Improvement Districts, where hot spots of affluence exist next to cold spots of exclusion.

– There is definitely a place for partnership – Local Strategic Partnerships are an excellent idea but their role and focus needs clarifying. Many councillors at the conference I attended on Monday said they still do not understand what Local Strategic Partnerships do.

– Another area where the relationship between the public and the private spheres needs clarifying is housing.

– Where social landlords now exist, local people are still confused about who they go to sort out their problems. – Is it their publicly accountable elected representative or their private social landlord? This confusion is causing no end of tensions.

– This is why, in the area of housing particularly, where our problems are so acute, we would call on Government to level the playing field between Local Authority Council Housing, Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) and Registered Social Landlords (RSLs).

– Compass is not calling for the government to dispense with ALMOs and RSLs altogether but we believe that where local people wish their local authority to manage their housing stock, then these local authorities shouldn’t be financially penalised for their residents wanting to remain in the public sphere.


The Marketisation of our Public Sphere

3) This leads me onto my third point linked to the politics of regeneration, which is the marketisation of our public sphere.

– Compass believes we need to reclaim our public sphere for the public.

– It has always been a great source of sadness to me that too many of Britain’s high streets look the same – a “McDonaldisation” of Britain.

– We can now rejoice that in London, at least, things are beginning to change.

– The Mayor of London, in particular, is taking bold steps on Planning, to try and reshape the way we are designing and regenerating London’s towns.

– Ken has actively championed the public sphere – with Trafalgar Square just one excellent example of a public space doing exactly what it says on the tin – encouraging the public to enjoy the space.

– On housing, London is also taking steps to reclaim its public sphere back from the market, with plans to introduce binding standards for play and recreation space in all new housing developments.

– This is politics bending regeneration to the needs of London’s communities, acknowledging that if we wish children to grow up in communities where it feels natural for them to interact with their neighbours – and if we wish to encourage their development into socially confident and balanced adults, then we need to set aside public space for them.

The profit margins of developers must be balanced with the need to strengthen community cohesion.

Conclusion

– So to conclude this brief overview, I would sum up Compass’ approach to the politics of regeneration as the few sub approaches I just mentioned:

– People rather than buildings;

– Doing regeneration with people rather than to them;

– A call for the private realm to work in true partnership with the public realm – based on national Government creating a level playing field rather than disproportionately shifting the balance away from the public realm.

– And lastly, to accept that markets have limits and should be bent to the needs of communities rather than the other way around.

– Markets alone will not correct the structural inequalities that many communities in desperate need of regeneration face.

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