Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Ven Bob Langley (GRI 05)


  1.1  I have been involved in urban regeneration for the last 14 years. Initially this was as the person responsible in the Church of England Diocese of Newcastle for following up the report "Faith in the City". This work had two major dimensions; first, to encourage church communities in economically deprived areas to work with others in the renewal of their communities, and to engage with some of the powerful initiatives which were being taken at that time by secular agencies, notably Development Corporations; second, to help parishes to develop community projects of various kinds, using the resource of the Church Urban Fund. This second aspect of the work was often a support to the first, showing that the church could be a credible partner with resources, and that by putting in some resource, more could be levered in from elsewhere. A key driving force behind this work was the conviction, drawn from the Faith in the City report, that people should be as involved as possible in determining the future of their communities.

  1.2  In 1994 I began work with others to establish a development trust for the Lower Ouseburn Valley in East Newcastle. Less than a mile from the City Centre the Valley provides an attractive environment, a steep sided valley on either side of a water course spanned dramatically by three bridges. The Valley can claim to have been at the centre of the industrial revolution in the north-east, glass, lead, flax works, warehousing for the livestock trade, coal staithes on the Tyne linked by a two-and-a-half mile tunnel to a colliery in north Newcastle. While the last twenty years had seen a gradual revival, small business workshops, a city farm, and the conversion of a large warehouse into workshops for artists and craft workers, the vast majority lay derelict.

  1.3  In contrast to the Development Corporation's approach on the adjacent Newcastle Quayside, the aim was to enable the regeneration of the Valley in a way which involved as far as possible those who lived and worked in the Valley or the adjacent areas in shaping its future, and which built on the existing mixture of small businesses, enhanced the environment, honoured the industrial heritage, brought more people back to live in the Valley, expanded the leisure use through the city farm and its linked riding stables and a water sports association at the mouth of the burn.

  1.4  Together with eighteen other partners the Trust led a successful Single Regeneration Budget bid in Round 3. The Ouseburn Partnership completed its five-year programme in March 2002. There have been many visible benefits to the area and its communities, conversion of a warehouse for social housing with two housing associations, establishment of a heritage programme for adults and children (winner of the Interpret Britain award), further development of 36 Lime Street, already home to forty small cultural businesses, to include exhibition and performance space and café/bar, enhancement of the environment, development of a major indoor riding facility for the community-based riding project with a major Sport England grant, as well as an annual week long Festival involving a wide range of local groups.

  1.5  Alongside these more visible outcomes of the programme, perhaps the major achievement has been the raising of the profile of the Valley as a place for investment in such a way as to retain its uniqueness. The result is seen in the location in the Valley of the National Centre for the Children's Book, three major sites being the subject of a development competition, and the recognition of the role the Valley can play, as containing a cluster of cultural industries, in the bid being made by Newcastle Gateshead to become the European City of Culture 2008.

  1.6  A strategy for the Valley has been drawn up with and agreed by the City Council which expresses the principles of mixed development set out above. The delivery of the strategy is overseen by the Ouseburn Advisory Committee, of which I am Chair, made up of equal numbers of nominees of the Trust and Council Members.

  1.7  I was also for four years one of the Vice-Chairs of the East End Partnership (SRB2 Scheme) and am currently a member of the City's Local Strategic Partnership and Chair of the Preparing for Change Board, a sub group of the LSP responsible for overseeing the City-wide SRB6 programme, and the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund projects.


  2.1  The involvement of local communities is crucial in any sustainable regeneration. This point has been made many times in evaluations of regeneration programmes (see Evaluation of City Challenge in the West End of Newcastle). Yet working with people takes time. It also requires a different way of working than that involved in the delivery of commercial or directly practical objectives.

  2.2  There is often a great deal of past harm to undo—particularly where there has been a bad experience of relationships with those in authority whether that be the local council or other government agencies. There have been usually two sources of this, disillusionment with consultation where people have felt that they have not been listened to, and promises made, grand schemes proposed, which fail to improve their quality of life. They have seen the refurbishment of housing estates at huge expense one year, only for them to be demolished two years later. Expressed desires are not for grand schemes but simply for an improvement in their basic services and a clean environment to live in.

  2.3  There is a need for a holistic approach, which pays attention to the environment and community safety, housing and the provision of family support, good schools, and access to training, above all leading to real employment, and the development of the local economy through jobs and structures which encourage money earned locally to be circulated locally. Most important of all is to set that approach in a context of the development of community and of the capacity of people to participate in the decisions about their future, and feel some ownership of the decisions made.

  2.4  Area based schemes have not always been sufficiently related to identifiable or coherent areas community wise. They have often been areas identified by local authority officers, usually in relation to statistics of deprivation, and sometimes seeing the opportunity to gain funding for a project which has been on the stocks for some time, rather than working with people from below to identify what the people's perceived needs are and starting from there. An added complication can be brought in by powerful local Council members or powerful voluntary or public sector groups, national charities, police, universities, introducing their favoured projects, which inevitably skews any logical approach the local authority officers might have wished to take.

  2.5  In the Ouseburn we have had to stress that in addition to the residential communities, on the edges of the Valley and increasingly in the Valley itself, there are a range of communities of interest; the community of small businesses, the community of artists and craft workers which occupies 36 Lime Street, the community of heritage enthusiasts, the community around the City Farm and the Stepney Bank Stables, the communities around small interest groups such as the Newcastle Motor Boat Club and the Homing Society, and the community of visitors. Inevitably the level of involvement by stakeholders varies. Motivation is higher if they can see themselves benefiting, or particularly if there is some threat to their present position. But efforts need to be made to include all in the process of regeneration.

  2.6  There has been clear evidence of a progression from Development Corporations, through City Challenge and Single Regeneration Budget to New Deal For Communities, in favour of the greater involvement of communities. Unfortunately the theory has not always been borne out in practice. Evaluation after evaluation has made the point that involvement of communities at an early point is key, yet time and again that recommendation seems to be ignored. In the case of the NDFC in Newcastle West End, the time scale which was allowed for the development of the programme, even with the innovative approach of money and space for a development period, was insufficient to allow for a proper developmental approach, particularly in an area which was historically divided and contained several diverse communities. These tight deadlines can then have further consequences which do not help to build the necessary relationships of trust between the various parties. Because of the time constraints, the local authority officers had to make choices about the areas which should form the basis of a bid, because their political masters quite properly did not wish Newcastle to lose out on this opportunity. They then had to try to make it happen against a background in that area of lack of community cohesiveness and a history of distrust of government or local authority initiatives.

  2.7  In the progression from the era of Development Corporations a similar shift has taken place towards the greater involvement of the public, private and voluntary sectors, particularly through SRB Partnerships. While this has been a commendable development, it has raised issues about the nature of the partnership into which the partners are being drawn. The local authority is often the most powerful partner. It does after all have responsibility for the development of its area and the delivery of services, and it has full-time staff. In contrast, the voluntary and especially the community sector is usually in a much less powerful position, unable to deploy the same scale of resources, and dependent on people giving up a great deal of time voluntarily. The private sector is in a different position still, its motivation for involvement a mixture of a principled belief about the social responsibility of business, but also quite properly, an eye to the future advancement of their business. On the positive side the variety of experience, skills and power, makes for rich contributions to the debate, but there is a need for constant awareness of these underlying issues and reflection on how things are working.

  2.8  Taking further steps in the same direction, the LSPs have been a brave attempt to build on the success of partnership working in SRB Schemes. I suspect that where they are most successful has been because they have succeeded in harnessing the capacity for partnership working in voluntary, community and private sector gained through involvement in local area based schemes, the networks developed and trust built. The points made about partnership in the previous paragraph continue to be relevant. In addition questions of the authority of the LSP over against that of the local authority and its elected representatives are also raised. My experience in Newcastle has been that whilst these issues are now being worked at very constructively, they were not sufficiently recognised at the outset. The danger is that unless they are thought through and acknowledged, some partners, especially in the private sector who could have much to contribute, may dismiss the LSP as a talking shop, unless there is clarity about the respective roles and responsibilities of LSP and City Council, and the kind of influence they can have in decisions.   

  2.9  There is absolutely no doubt in my experience of the value of partnership working. This has been borne out time and again in the success of the Ouseburn Partnership, and now again the Preparing for Change Board. The breadth of experience in a group drawn from the voluntary sector including faith communities, from the Chamber of Commerce, from activists in communities, from housing associations as well as local council members, enriches the decisions taken, but also gives a wider sense of understanding and ownership of those decisions way beyond the group as they network in their various organisations. The Council members have a particular role. They must be confident in arguing the case for the decisions made in the wider arena of the Council, and the other members of the Partnership Board must respect their responsibilities in this regard. A great deal depends on trust between members and the shared belief that this is an effective way of working.

  2.10  There is a need here for a fresh understanding of democratic accountability. Council members must be prepared to work with local people, seeing their democratic accountability in terms of enabling local people to express their interests, concerns and hopes and to see those in the wider context, so that the decisions they take as elected members are as widely informed as possible by people's well-informed views.

  2.11  The need to do much more work on the nature of "consultation" has emerged time and again. There needs to be an understanding of a range of meanings, from consultation as primarily informing people of decisions already made, at one end of the spectrum, to consultation designed to engage people in shaping the decisions about their future, at the other. For most people consultation of a kind which is not towards the latter end of the spectrum ends in disillusionment. People see little point in participating. That in turn can lead to a judgement by the authorities that people have been over consulted and then less opportunity is given in the future. More education needs to take place in two related areas; first, in helping members of local communities to see what it is within their expertise to control or make decisions about, and where they need to trust others with relevant skills; second, in helping those in local areas to understand some of the tensions between the local authority's responsibility to city as a whole, building an image of their city with prestige projects necessary to attract inward investment, raising the level of the economy, creating jobs and providing attractive housing, and taking local people's views seriously.

  2.12  The thinking behind LSPs must be right in its attempt to take a longer term and more strategic view, the lack of which has been one of the weaknesses of area based schemes. But there are inevitably tensions between the localness needed for effective participation and the LSP as it fulfils its task of providing a coherent strategy across a local authority area, and tensions again between the LSP and the sub-regional partnerships as they take a wider strategic view. This second set of tensions comes particularly to the fore in relation to finance, for it is at the sub-regional partnership that most of the new Single Programme money is allocated. Not only LSPs can feel frustrated because the projects they put forward from their local authority area have been rejected, but also local groups now have to go through the LSP to the sub-regional partnership with project ideas where once they could have gone direct to the local area SRB Board.

  2.13  The LSP also offers the opportunity to influence mainstream policies and funding in a way that area based SRB Schemes found it difficult to do, provided that some of the issues concerning the roles and responsibilities of partnerships referred to above have been resolved. In SRB Schemes the task of delivering a programme within a specific timescale inevitably created a sense of separation from the wider context. Where succession strategies were worked at sufficiently early this difficulty has to some extent been overcome, though still often suffers from being piecemeal.

  2.14  Tensions are also experienced within the local authority between the need to take the local community seriously, the desire to pursue principles relating to such matters as design, sustainability, conservation, building community, and the need to build an image of "their" city with prestige projects necessary to attract inward investment, raise the level of the local economy and create jobs, which often demand bowing to the demands of the market.

  2.15  There is concern that with the move from SRB to Single Programme, not only has accessibility to funding become more difficult for local communities, but that, exacerbated by the shift of responsibility to the DTI from the old DETR, the emphasis is increasingly on economic factors and less and less on community development and social inclusion, and because decisions are made by the sub-regional partnership, they are more likely to be biased in favour of projects with a sub-regional significance.


    —  the increasing encouragement of private, voluntary and community sectors to work together and the recognition of the richness brought by the different perspectives both in terms of the decisions made and the sense of ownership gained.

    —  the attempts being made to establish a longer term, strategic, more holistic and joined-up approach.

    —  the various measures which have sought to empower people to participate in the processes of regeneration eg Community Empowerment Fund.

    —  the development of funding mechanisms which enable people to develop their own ideas, eg Lottery and Community Chests.

    —  recognition of the role of faith communities in regeneration, eg Inner Cities Religious Council.


    —  more support for people, especially those most on the edge, to engage in the processes of regeneration.

    —  greater recognition of the importance of process, eg in the setting up of partnerships.

    —  greater acknowledgement that projects take time to develop, especially in the voluntary and community sectors, and therefore finding ways of avoiding the announcement of initiatives which demand a response on an impossibly tight deadline.

    —  the development of funding mechanisms which give more control to people in a locality or interest group to work on ideas and which have built in support in developing them and making funding applications, eg delegated amounts to local partnerships, simpler application forms.

    —  further work with both council members and officers on the nature of partnership working, and their particular roles within it.

    —  more work on the variety of approaches to "consultation".

    —  making better connections between the aspirations of such documents as the Urban White Paper, and the various requirements of Planning Guidance on such things as design and sustainability, and how regeneration happens on the ground.

    —  further work on the relationship between local area partnerships, LSPs and sub-regional partnerships, and how information, ideas and funding can flow more effectively between them.

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