Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence




  The Committee has asked for evidence from urban regeneration policy and practice to assist its inquiries into innovations in public participation. Regeneration provides some useful examples as for the past 30 years a series of urban experiments have led to a succession of different agencies and forms of governance overseeing area-based initiatives. It is also an area of activity in which participation has achieved a high profile, even if not always matched with influence. This memorandum sets out some key lessons from recent regeneration initiatives focusing on: regeneration agencies (structures); the processes of decision-making and participation and the impact of participation. Finally the memorandum considers what lessons can be drawn from regeneration to strengthen democratic government in other areas.


  Regeneration agencies provide a good example of the implications for participation and influence of new forms of urban governance. This section looks at the factors leading to inclusion and exclusion of the structures of these agencies, while the following section focuses on processes. However, we would stress that, in practice, structures and processes have to be looked at together.

  Urban Development Corporations produced one of the most telling recent lessons for participation in the structure of regeneration agencies. The controversy that UDCs rode roughshod over local interests was fuelled by the decision-making structures of UDCs, which consisted of boards of largely government appointees who met in secret and had no requirement to consult or seek participation. Despite the fact that some UDCs (eg Tyne and Wear and later in its life the LDDC) adopted processes that enabled participation, the conclusion that effective regeneration entails participation in decision-making structures is frequently underlined by reference of the supposed "failures" of UDCs.

  Since 1991 with the advent of City Challenge and now the Single Regeneration Budget and New Deal for Communities, the main vehicle for regeneration are partnerships between the public, private, voluntary and community sectors. (The distinction between voluntary and community has been made to separate often funded and staffed voluntary organisations from less formal organisations such as tenants and residents associations). There is no one set form for partnerships, they can be committees, boards, or companies limited by guarantee however they have to have a lead partner to liaise with central and regional government. They contract with central and regional government to produce an agreed set of regeneration outputs in return for funding.

  The reason for the advent of partnerships is largely a result of central government making them a pre-requisite for the receiving of funding under various regeneration budgets. To be successful, partnerships also have to demonstrate that they have consulted local interests. Many have set up community and/or business forums to achieve this consisting of sub-groups organised around topics (eg employment); areas or interested (eg ethnic minorities) that feed in to the main committee. Some examples of the structures of these partnerships are given in Annex I.

  Experience from regeneration practice has shown that as a structure for participation, partnerships demonstrate both positive and negative aspects:

  Factors enhancing participation:

    —  Regeneration partnerships differ from LAs in having the community and voluntary sectors directly represented in decision making by being board members.

    —  They can be led by community or voluntary organisations, although in practice such partnerships are rare.

    —  A holistic focus on a relatively small area has the potential to draw in a range of interests and organisations.

    —  Criteria and monitoring required by central and regional government focuses activity.

    —  Provide a useful form for the development of innovative practices eg social entrepreneurship and individuals.

  Factors limiting participation:

    —  Unequal partners; despite the semblance of equality the different interests do not have equal influence over decisions. This is returned to in the discussion of processes below.

    —  Partnerships are time limited.

    —  Partnerships have no requirements to ensure equality of opportunity in representation. Some sections of the community can therefore be excluded, particularly minority ethnic and women's organisations.

    —  Membership can be based on who you know and networks rather than other arguably more democratic criteria.

    —  The fragmentation of governance that partnerships represent can lead to there being a confusing array of agencies in an area. Local interests may not know of a partnership's existence or may not have sufficient information to distinguish one agency's responsibilities and personnel from another's.

    —  Lines of accountability are largely financial to the DETR and not down to the community.

    —  Are partnerships agencies of governance or delivery mechanisms?

  The structure of agencies has a knock-on impact on attitudes to participation, another concern of the committee. Making consultation a pre-requisite for funding undoubtedly focuses minds in agencies and promotes consultation. However, there is a wide variation between partnerships in terms of their commitment to consultation. Some, particularly in the early days of SRB, have approached consultation exercises in a fairly cynical fashion, doing the minimum to satisfy the funding requirements. Others, for example Sandwell, have enthusiastically embraced the notion of participation as a process and have promoted strategies to achieve this (see Annex II below).

Other Structures

  Community Development Trusts; these are community-led organisations concerned with achieving regeneration. An example is Coin Street Community Builders, which has received public and private investment for regeneration on the South Bank.

  City-Wide Partnerships: some local authorities are setting up partnerships to co-ordinate activity within their area. E.g. Coventry has drawn up a Community Plan through such a partnership that aims to set targets for LA and others to achieve.


  Having the structures is only a first step: on their own they cannot ensure meaningful participation. The committee's concern with processes is a particularly important area as how agencies operate and styles of working have a major impact on participation. Seeing participation as a process is vital in moving from consultation as an add-on extra to governance. The following section firstly draws some lessons from the processes of participation in regeneration and secondly sets out some examples of strategies and initiatives that have sought to promote participation throughout all stages of the regeneration process.


Participation takes time and costs money

  One of the most important lessons from the regeneration experience is that it is important to be clear about the limits of influence on offer in particular initiatives. Participation and consultation are not the same thing but represent varying degrees of power over decision-making. Participation implies some involvement in decision making while consultation means views can be expressed which may or may not influence decisions. Similarly, residents can be quick to rename consultation on decisions that have already been made public relations. Agencies and communities need to be open and honest about what is on offer and what is expected. Different agencies are likely to be on different parts of the spectrum from tokenism to community power over decisions as can the same agency be at different times and over different policy areas. Also what is appropriate to particular areas and circumstances needs consideration. Some communities may not want full participation eg some estates vote against Estate Management Boards because they see it as the local authority's responsibility, not theirs. Some may not have the capacity initially but aspire to greater control in the long-term.

  There are different roles which communities can play in regeneration: representatives of opinion and consultees; beneficiaries and users of services; deliverers of services and outputs; sources of general activity and long-term partners in decision-making. Ultimately all these need to be considered within participation along with the full range of approaches needed to achieve them.

  It is impossible to talk about the community in an area. Different interests in an area have different concerns and can be included or excluded from participation and different processes are needed. Conflict between the interests is likely. Diversity can be strength, not a weakness.

  Local circumstances are important. Some areas have a long history of participation and have a strong infrastructure of active groups (social capital); other areas may have no history of active involvement. In some areas local and regional government has been very active in promoting participation, in others less so. This needs to be borne in mind when blanket recommendations are made.

  Partnerships change and develop over time; therefore strategies need to be flexible and to concentrate on different issues at different times.

  At the end of the day it is important to be realistic about the levels of participation which can be achieved. The numbers of active residents and community members is likely to remain fairly low. For some, participation represents a burden of time and commitment that they cannot bear; for others they feel they do not have the skills or confidence. Bad experiences of past participation may lead others to feel that it won't change anything anyway and finally some may feel it is not their responsibility.

  Partnerships indicate a number of issues associated with the processes associated with new forms of governance. In terms of partnerships committees, many community representatives have found that they have been unable to influence decisions because they may be outnumbered or have no resources to bring to the table. A further factor is the way committees operate which needs familiarity with jargon, procedures and skills. Partnerships bring together sectors with very contrasting styles of operation and styles of power. For example, community representatives may feel they have to seek endorsement for decisions from their organisations while private sector representatives are used to making decisions on the spot. Partners may also hold stereotypical views about each other leading to a lack of trust and understanding. Looking at implementation, new ways of working based on speed, outputs and officer discretion (what has been termed entrepreneurial governance) have been shown to militate against involvement, particularly in terms of the tight timescales for bidding for funds. The result can be paper partnerships, where the structures appear to exist, but the reality is different.


  The following section draws on some examples of strategies and initiatives that have sought to ensure participation as a process is integrated into all stages of regeneration. Such strategies are not intended to be blueprints that all agencies should follow but to show how barriers to participation may be overcome. A combination of top-down and bottom-up action is needed and any strategy should be flexible and open to change during the lifetime of a project. Some examples are included in Appendix 2. Elements of such strategies include:

Community Profiles

  One of the barriers to participation is that some organisations are missed out of networks and the strength or otherwise of local organisations is unknown. An integrative approach needs to start from a sound knowledge of the local area. Profiles can include data such as population, ethnicity, employment but also of community activity and the local community and voluntary sectors, the number and types of groups, how representative they are, ethnic minority involvement, links with other organisations are all areas needing to be explored. The way in which this information is collected can itself be participatory.

  On North Tyneside's Meadowell Estate local residents carried out a skills survey covering over 1,000 people. In Kings Cross the Asian Women's Hopscotch Organisation set up a course for young people to learn community research and to use these skills to feed information through to the council. Oxfam is looking at translating initiatives from the South including participatory rapid appraisal which involves facilitating local groups to define needs and feed them through to decision-makers.

Developing a Vision and Strategy

  A number of initiatives have involved the community in drawing up an overall vision for the area using a variety of participatory techniques as a basis for a long term strategy for the area.

  The North Hull Housing Action trust held a series of community planning weekends including workshops; presentations, models, drawings, displays and "planning for real".

Partnership Structures and Processes

  Barriers to participation include exclusive structures to partnerships and process issues such as lack of skills, styles of power etc.

  The Greenwich Waterfront Development Partnership has an equal opportunities policy that ensures places on the board for ethnic minority representatives.

  JRF has published a training manual for partnership members to build skills and develop trust and understanding between all partners

  The Women's Design Forum has produced a good practice guide on consultation to enable partnerships to involve a wide variety of interests in regeneration areas

Developing an Infrastructure for Participation: Capacity Building

  Lack of skills and organisational infrastructure and poor understanding between partners has been identified as major barriers to participation. Capacity building is seen as one potential solution to these problems. It can operate on a number of levels: the capacities of individual representatives eg in terms of committee procedures, reading balance sheets and understanding the culture of other partners; the spread and strength of local organisations and any identified gaps; the links between these organisations to provide networks to enable participation and influence and the capacity of agencies to promote participation.

  For the last two years partnerships have been able to spend up to 10 per cent of SRB funds on capacity building

  Sandwell MBC secured funding for a 5 year SRB programme aimed at strategic intervention to increase the capacity of organisations in the area. Which involves building networks, in particular an ethnic minority forum and a women's forum, to access decision making through identifying gaps in organisational capacity, it also seeks to improve links between the business and voluntary sectors.

  Sandwell also has a Regeneration Division with a Director who sits alongside other Directors in the Corporate Management Team. The same unit oversees community development and supports the voluntary sector in the borough.

  A West Midlands Black Voluntary Sector Regional Regeneration Network has been established to strengthen black organisations and to influence regional and sub-regional policy in the area.


  One of the barriers to participation identified in current regeneration initiatives is the focus on speed outputs and targets. Strategies have been identified to overcome some of these barriers which have shown how these can become part of a process and not ends in themselves.

  Involving local organisations in delivering outputs. For example in Blackbird Leys in Oxford local co-operatives have been set up around building maintenance and providing care to meet the regeneration targets of job creation, improvements in housing and supporting elderly residents.

  SRB partnerships are allowed a Year Zero in which they do not have to produce outputs but can concentrate on building the infrastructure and processes necessary to ensure participation.

  The Community Development Foundation suggests the following in relation to consultation using targets to build the process of consultation

  Baseline survey: 4 per cent of responses to consultation exercises are ethnic minorities; 5 per cent active in 1+ groups; no women on the committee.

  Targets set: responses to consultation from ethnic minorities to increase to 20 per cent; 15 per cent + active by year 5; 50 per cent of partnerships committee to be women

  Implementation: community development work; resources allocation; making information accessible; equal opportunities policy for committee

Monitoring and evaluating participation

  As with targets, monitoring and evaluation can become a key to building a process of participation. Not only can the use of targets assist in monitoring but also looking at outcomes rather than just outputs and developing more qualitative indicators and techniques is important. Evaluation needs to be built in from the start and not left to the end of initiatives.

  Government Offices for the Regions and now RDAs have proven to be key in monitoring partnerships and encouraging them to adopt more robust participation practices.


  While it is tempting to consider the impact of participation largely in terms of the influence it has had on particular decisions, experience has shown that a wider view is important. In particular, the process of participation has impacts linked to the development of what has been termed social capital and of empowerment. Participation can build the infrastructure within communities to promote involvement, widen knowledge about governance issues and encourage individuals to get involved. At the end of the day particular decisions may not have been changed, but some positive outcomes have been achieved.

  This is also important, as it is easy to be cynical and say there are very few examples of where participation/consultation on its own has had a major influence on regeneration decisions. Interestingly many of these are in the area of housing, design and environmental programmes, indicating that some issues which produce immediate and tangible benefits attract greater success than more abstract strategic discussions. In Angel Town in Brixton and the Bloomsbury Estate in Birmingham, for example, resident participation in the redevelopment of the estates had a major influence on the final plans and appearance of the areas. Alongside this has run major economic and social investment.

  Participation can have an opposite effect. In Oxford, participation has delayed one regeneration scheme as local residents are objecting to the siting of a foyer in their area. Raising false hopes can be another more negative impact. For example, Oxfordshire County Council undertook nine months consultation around an ultimately unsuccessful SRB bid in Berinsfield. Many in the area felt disillusioned as a result, although again it could be argued that the social capital in the area had been strengthened

  Another feature is that influence varies across policy areas. Influence is more evident in areas such as community development and environmental improvements than eg general strategy, inward investment and overall levels and areas of spending. This is linked to the relative power of partners, perceptions of the speed with which schemes need to go through.


  By way of conclusion we want to draw four particular points to the committee's attention. Firstly, experience from regeneration has shown that the emergence of different forms of governance has a contradictory potential when it comes to participation. On the one hand regeneration agencies have encouraged participation by giving interests a seat at the table, funding organisations and building social and political capital in areas. On the other they have restricted it through operating through networks, targets and particular styles of operation. One important issue is about the fragmentation of governance. Many agencies operating in one area can be confusing if information is not made clear. Yet, focused agencies operating in a holistic fashion can provide a focus for participation in the way agencies with wider concerns maybe cannot.

  Secondly, the role of central and regional government has been shown to be important. The evidence from regeneration is that central guidance has a clear role and impact. The requirement that agencies have to consult in order to be considered for funding has undoubtedly promoted consultation. Furthermore, both the DETR and its regional offices (now RAS) have been concerned with promoting the process of consultation through constant revision of the bidding guidance for programmes and through promoting good practice. The question of whether more central government guidance is needed within regeneration is therefore interesting. Funding is a particularly powerful carrot and overall, is fairly effective. The benefits of allowing agencies autonomy to develop to suit their own local circumstances should not be ignored. However some areas needing further intervention include:

  Thirdly, while significant barriers to participation exist, examples form the area of regeneration show how they can be overcome and how strategies can ensure participation is integrated into all stages of the regeneration process.

  Finally it is important for all to realise that participation is not just about structures, but about processes that include sharing power, building trust, managing conflict; embracing diversity, adjusting organisational cultures and changing priorities and timetables.


  Sue Brownill is a principal Lecturer at the School of Planning Oxford Brookes University. She has practical experience of community regeneration in Birmingham and London Docklands and has recently produced a report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in race, gender and regeneration.

  Neil McInroy is a research fellow at the School of Planning Oxford Brookes University. He has extensive experience of evaluating regeneration initiatives and of cultural regeneration programmes.

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