Regeneration - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

4  Learning the lessons

62. The Government claims that Regeneration to enable growth represents a "different approach" to regeneration. It asserts that "over the past 10-15 years regeneration became overly reliant on large-scale direct public sector investment, and this was not only unsustainable, but there is anecdotal evidence that it may also have discouraged private investment"; it states that "previous models of regeneration are now simply unaffordable".[117] Its memorandum goes on to say that "even if funding considerations were more favourable, we [the Government] wouldn't pursue the same model", and that "the limitations of previous approaches signal the need for a new approach". These limitations, the Government believes, include: "modest results" in spite of "10 years of intense investment"; an overreliance on "direction and control from Whitehall"; a "failure to involve local people"; and excessive "bureaucracy", with "multiple activities and funding streams" each having their "own silo bureaucracy and reporting arrangements". The Government references a number of studies and evaluations in support of its views.[118]

63. Some witnesses agreed that recent regeneration schemes have not always been effective. Chris Brown, Chief Executive of Igloo, for instance, stated that "over the past 15 years, we have had some substandard regeneration programmes in this country".[119] He referred to the Single Regeneration Budget, through which he said, "we spread a lot of money very thinly, so we failed to regenerate a lot of those places".[120] Urban Forum criticised many of the approaches taken since the 1980s:

While these have resulted in some improvements in some areas, overall they have not been successful in providing enough affordable homes, stimulating significant growth of enterprise and employment, reducing inequality between communities and geographical areas, or in working in partnership with residents to improve areas and increase social capital.[121]

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, asked about the failure of previous regeneration schemes, said that money "had been thrown at a problem without due understanding of the connectivity and relationships that take place in any given locality".[122] He also said that past projects "did become a bureaucracy and became process driven".[123]

64. Other evidence was more positive about previous programmes. The Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder Chairs said:

This country has built up considerable expertise in regeneration that stands comparison with anywhere in the world, especially in integrating the various sectors to be improved and involving fully the private sector and the local community.[124]

The Sustainable Communities Excellence Network believed that "regeneration programmes such as the New Deal for Communities and the Market Towns Initiative [...] really did explore community engagement in both the rural and urban context and have much to 'teach' the new localism agenda".[125] IPPR North acknowledged that there was "a legitimate critique of the effectiveness of large-scale, capital-driven regeneration projects or indeed more community-led holistic approaches like New Deal for Communities" but spoke of "the counter-factual that without such investment over the past decade many places might have been considerably worse than they are today".[126]

65. While views about the effectiveness of past programmes differed, it was generally felt that Government had not given sufficient consideration to the lessons that could be learned from them. Professor Paul Lawless of Sheffield Hallam University said:

One marked weakness in this strand of policy has been a reluctance on the part of new administrations to learn from previous regeneration initiatives. There is every possibility of this happening again, as a new government launches a regeneration programme with little if any acknowledgement of lessons from previous interventions.[127]

IPPR North suggested that there was "little evidence that very much has been learned from past regeneration projects other than perhaps that significant targeted intervention does not always represent value for money".[128] Jim Coulter, representing the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder Chairs, felt that the document reflected a "year zero approach", adding that "it ought to have reflected rather more on what past strategies have been successful and unsuccessful at".[129]

66. Witnesses argued that the Government should pay greater heed to evaluations of previous regeneration programmes. Michael Gahagan of the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder Chairs stressed that there was "a tonne and a half of evaluations around including, in terms of housing market renewal, very substantial pieces of work [which] have [been] commissioned by CLG itself, done independently by the NAO, done independently by the Audit Commission".[130] Keith Burge of the Institute of Economic Development asserted confidently that there was "enough past practice to look at; we can go back to Urban Development Corporations, City Challenge, Single Regeneration Budget, Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, New Deal for Communities and so on". He felt that no one had "taken the trouble to sit down and look at what has worked and why, or what has not worked and why".[131]

What can be learned?

67. The evidence points to a number of consistent lessons that can be learned about regeneration and what makes it successful—lessons which we often found reinforced by our experience of speaking to those affected by regeneration 'on the ground'. Among them was that regeneration required a multi-faceted approach: time and again, we heard that there was no "silver bullet" with which all regeneration problems could be solved.[132] Leeds City Region told us that regeneration "requires a range of interventions that tackle a number of issues in a holistic and complementary manner".[133]

People and places

68. Hull City Council was one of a number of witnesses to tell us that "delivering regeneration requires a balance of people and place based approaches".[134] Barbara Harbinson, Chief Executive of the Halifax Opportunities Trust, a social enterprise, said that in her view "what have really worked are the schemes where you integrate people and place".[135] Katie Schmuecker of IPPR North agreed, arguing that "simply to support individual mobility out of lagging places" would place a "severe strain on the sustainability of some places"; her organisation therefore believed that "while individual mobility and supporting people to improve their personal circumstances is extremely important, improving places has to go hand in hand with that".[136]

69. The Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, referred to this mobility phenomenon when asked why there remained significant deprivation in his Borough in spite of large amounts of Government money having been spent on job creation: "What happens is they come into Newham, they get work, they get jobs and then they move out of the area and another group of people come in who are poorer".[137] He said that "public subsidy" was "one of the things [he wanted] to break away from".[138] Asked how places could escape from a "cycling of public money", Ros Dunn, Chief Executive of the Thames Gateway London Partnership, said there was a choice:

I would say it depends on what you think you are doing and what you think you are creating, and whether or not you have a place that you are trying to make a destination, which you would then expect to change, or whether you just accept there are going to be places where there will always be a need to provide further support because the people who go there are always going to need it and then they move on.[139]

She said that "one of the big legacy benefits of the Olympics is that, not just for the Olympic Park, but for the whole of that sub-region, you will start to transform it as somewhere that feels more like an acceptable destination for people to want to stay".[140]

Long-term approach

70. The evidence emphasised the importance of a long-term approach to regeneration. UK Regeneration stated:

The most successful towns and cities have always placed individual projects, and particularly the use of government's tailored initiatives, within a long term strategic approach to the economic, social and physical development of their areas. They recognise that regeneration is long term, that some complex projects may take many years to complete, and that consistency of approach is needed.[141]

Places for People suggested that, while "some improvements can be achieved" in a period of "three to five years", it believed that "twenty years is where long-term impacts can be measured".[142] The Building and Social Housing Federation said that "one of the key issues for any funding for regeneration is providing long-term stability", reporting that "uncertainty is one of the main concerns expressed by residents experiencing the regeneration process".[143] Mr Shapps made a legitimate criticism of the Housing Market Renewal Programme, saying that it had not provided "any guarantee of funding whatsoever", with the result that people "were left stranded in streets where there is nobody else there".[144] Discussing this issue, the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder Chairs said that "Government and regeneration timescales do not coincide". They referred to the "commitment to a ten year horizon [...] given to the New Deal for Communities programme" as "the exception rather than the rule".[145] During our visit to Rochdale, we met some residents from the Langley area who also stressed the importance of a long term approach. One compared regeneration to losing weight: it was relatively easy to make progress at the start, but much harder to sustain it over the longer term.

Working in partnership

71. We heard that close partnership working was critical to successful regeneration. England's Regional Development Agencies said that "tackling deep seated structural and social problems requires a joined-up, multi-disciplinary approach to regeneration which brings together a range of partners locally".[146] Newcastle and Gateshead agreed that "partnership working is a key part of successful regeneration", adding that "depending on the scale, this might include working across local authority boundaries, as well as with other agencies, community groups, private partners and local residents".[147] In Greater Manchester, we saw that the strong partnership between neighbouring local authorities, other public sector bodies and local businesses had been critical to successful regeneration.

72. A number of witnesses placed particular emphasis on the importance of close working between the private and public sectors. The development company Kier Group described the need for "a combination of private and public sector intervention working effectively and creatively across several disciplines (covering both expertise and funding)".[148] The Royal Town Planning Institute told us that one of the "critical features" of "previous successful regeneration programmes" had been a "reliance on public sector funding to pump prime the programme while [the] private sector is nurtured".[149] Lord Heseltine, who as Secretary of State for the Environment from 1979 to 1983 and 1990 to 1992 was the Cabinet Minister responsible for regeneration, said that in his experience, the lesson "that in many ways was the most profound" had been "the decision in 1979 to make the use of public money conditional on private sector partnership". He felt this had brought benefits in making more resources available but had also strengthened "the human relationships":

In 1979, the public and private sectors were very distant. They just did not know each other, did not work together, and many of them had great reservations about each other. Within a year or two, they were friends because they had come together to share the experience of first clearing, then developing, the sites. It created a human relationship, which is now standard orthodoxy in urban policy, which it was not then.[150]

Strong local leadership

73. Witness spoke of the need for strong leadership at the local level. Neil McInroy of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies used the term "stewardship of place":

If you look at regeneration success round the world, you will find there is great regeneration done without lots of public money being thrown at it, but what it does need is a strong stewardship of place, be it from the local authority or from a [Local Enterprise Partnership] that has the power and some resources to act as a steward effectively.[151]

The Centre for Comparative Housing Research said that "strategic leadership by local authorities is essential if community-based regeneration is to flourish", adding, "Councils have a vital role in setting the strategic agenda and providing a supportive environment".[152] The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities referred to three examples of successful regeneration in its area, saying that in each, "the local authority has taken a leadership role in initiating the regeneration programmes"; it believed that the "consistency of leadership was critical in ensuring that the areas benefited from substantial public sector investment over a long enough period of time to make a real difference".[153]

Community involvement

74. The evidence also points to lessons to be learned about community involvement. Urban Forum said that an "overarching lesson is that all activity to regenerate neighbourhoods must be properly integrated so that citizens benefit from it, and have a genuine say over how the area where they live is regenerated".[154] Kier Group commented that "lessons have been learned from past approaches which have often left local people disenfranchised and excluded from the development of the regeneration initiatives that they are supposed to benefit from".[155] Slough YMCA said that "often the people that can influence change are those that are working within the troubled/run down areas" and stressed the importance of "discussing issues upfront with these groups".[156] When we visited the New Islington development in Manchester, we heard that often informal approaches to community engagement were more successful; meetings had taken place in the local pub and residents had valued the efforts of professionals to speak to them in straightforward, jargon-free language.

75. Others struck a note of caution and identified some issues that can arise when communities are involved in regeneration. Professor Lawless, who directed the evaluation of the New Deal for Communities Programme, said that it was "disingenuous to assume neighbourhoods contain the experience, expertise and capacity accurately to reflect on local needs and sensibly to define solutions to local issues".[157] The Building and Social Housing Federation felt that the Government had not considered "what will happen if the priorities of the local community conflict with those of national politicians and policymakers". It suggested a "clear, shared understanding of the problems and challenges facing regeneration areas" was needed.[158]


76. Some witnesses suggested that the City Challenge programme of the early 1990s was a particularly successful regeneration initiative. Chris Brown told us that City Challenge was "the best [regeneration programme] we ever got", saying:

If what we are looking at are small areas that we now do not think about, because they are operating as normal places, it was the case that when we had those area-focussed teams and we did the social, economic and physical together, we succeeded.[159]

Lord Heseltine, who as Secretary of State led City Challenge, said that on the basis of some initial research, he had found "that people regard it as a very successful initiative".[160]

77. During our visit to Greater Manchester, we saw one of the places that had benefitted from the City Challenge initiative, the Hulme area of Manchester. We found that the transformation of Hulme reflected much of what our evidence told us about successful regeneration. It brought in investment from both the public and private sectors; the focus had been both on the place, with a transformation of the physical environment, and people, with investment in job creation and community projects; efforts had been made to involve local residents in the process. It had also been a long-term process with a decade of sustained activity: the approach had not been immediately effective and in the early stages had involved a degree of trial and error. However, the eventual results had been the creation of a "normal" place in which the community took pride, and a change in the mindset of many residents, who believed they now had things to which they could aspire.


Hulme is one of the areas to which City Challenge status was awarded in the early 1990s. Prior to this, the area suffered massive deprivation. It was dominated by the imposing crescent blocks built in the 1970s, which suffered infestations of cockroaches and mice, had major structural problems, and through their design encouraged crime and anti-social behaviour.

As a result of the City Challenge programme and other related investment, the area was transformed. The crescents were demolished, the street scene was restored, and funding was provided for economic development and physical, environmental and community projects. ASDA opened a store in Hulme and, through strong local labour agreements, created a number of jobs for local residents.

After 10 years of sustained activity, Hulme became a much more settled and "normal" area. It is now a much more cosmopolitan community, unemployment and crime have fallen, and property prices are comparative with those in the City Centre. Manchester Metropolitan University has plans to build a new campus in Hulme; this will include services and facilities for both students and local residents.

78. Lord Heseltine, who said that he regarded the regeneration of Hulme as "one of the most successful things I did",[161] believed that the competitive element of City Challenge played an important role in ensuring the proposals were of a high quality. He told us that in the first bidding round ten cities had been successful and 20 had not but, "the second year, the different quality in the 20 that lost was very encouraging, because they all went off to see how people had won and they all traded their bids up".[162] Chris Brown agreed that "a competitive process [was] valuable", but cautioned that "the onus is then on the people judging the competition, because what you cannot have is the hardest places losing all the time". He added, "You have to be very good at judging those competitions and understanding where their starting point is".[163] While views about the effectiveness of the competitive element varied, our evidence and what we learned on the visit suggested that City Challenge brought a number of benefits. Such benefits included:

  • the requirement for private sector leverage;
  • a five year programme subject to satisfactory review;
  • the mixture of revenue and capital projects;
  • dedicated resources committed to delivery;
  • the commitment from the private sector, public sector and community involvement;
  • the high level of expertise built up;
  • very strong community involvement; and
  • the commitment to complete regeneration, including housing, education, job creation and all quality of life improvements.
  • In looking to future regeneration schemes, the Government should have regard to these elements.


79. There is a great deal that can be learned from past approaches to regeneration. It is as important to learn from mistakes as from successes: for instance, from recent programmes such as the Single Regeneration Budget, where it has been argued that money was "spread [...] very thinly".[164] Amongst the key lessons set out in our evidence, it is clear that there is no 'silver bullet' and that regeneration has to involve a multi-faceted approach focusing both on people and the places in which they live. We have heard that successful regeneration takes many years, and requires the formation of strong partnerships and input and investment from both the private and public sectors. Moreover, it cannot succeed without the close involvement of the communities at which it is targeted.

80. While these messages are in many ways unsurprising, we are concerned that the Government has apparently done little to learn from them and to build its approach on what has gone before. Having concluded that previous approaches to regeneration were "unsustainable" and "unaffordable",[165] it appears to have dismissed them all and chosen to start again with a 'blank canvas'. Whatever view is taken about the effectiveness of previous schemes, it is clear that they offer plenty of opportunity for learning. We can see little evidence that the measures in Regeneration to enable growth draw upon an understanding of what has worked or not worked in the past.

81. In Hulme we saw that an intensive focus on a particular area over a sustained period of time can deliver real and lasting results; we believe there is much that can be learned from the City Challenge initiative under which much of the regeneration of Hulme took place. We would like to see an approach to regeneration that incorporates the successful elements of City Challenge and leads to the creation of more places like Hulme. Such elements include the focus upon local leadership and the emphasis upon proposals put forward by the local area. While public funding is clearly limited at present, there is no shortage of creative solutions emerging from local areas; in the following chapters, we consider particular ideas put forward by Greater Manchester for using existing resources more effectively. Government should not only be looking to learn from the past but also encouraging local areas to learn from each other. We recommend that the Government carry out an urgent review of the various regeneration programmes that have taken place over the past and utilise the lessons learned for future programmes. In particular, we note that there is widespread support that City Challenge was a successful programme in concentrating resources on specific areas to promote wholesale regeneration. We further recommend that the Government invite local authorities and their partners to put forward innovative ideas for tackling regeneration in their areas. The most robust of these should then be designated as 'pathfinders' and taken forward with government support. Their success should be evaluated to determine the potential for wider implementation.

117   Ev 171, para 13 Back

118   Ev 171, para 14 Back

119   Q 234 Back

120   Q 235 Back

121   Ev 219, para 2.1 Back

122   Q 6 Back

123   Q 9 Back

124   Ev 111 Back

125   Ev w26 Back

126   Ev 155 Back

127   Ev w1 Back

128   Ev 155 Back

129   Q 42 Back

130   Q 44 Back

131   Q 80 Back

132   Qq 4, 52, 180; Q 127 refers to there being no "magic bullet". Back

133   Ev 189, para 3 Back

134   Ev w36, para 1.2.1 Back

135   Q 279 Back

136   Q 16 Back

137   Q 163 Back

138   Q 166 Back

139   Q 164 Back

140   Q 162 Back

141   Ev 162, para 3.2 Back

142   Ev w133, para 4.8 Back

143   Ev w14, para 4.1 Back

144   Q 379 Back

145   Ev 114 Back

146   Ev w61, para 18 Back

147   Ev w21 Back

148   Ev 202 Back

149   Ev 168, para 5 Back

150   Q 287 Back

151   Q 13 Back

152   Ev w27 Back

153   Ev w180, para 4 Back

154   Ev 219, para 2.3 Back

155   Ev 205 Back

156   Ev w179 Back

157   Ev w5 Back

158   Ev w14, para 3.7 Back

159   Q 234 Back

160   Q 287 Back

161   Q 293 Back

162   Q 297 Back

163   Q 214 Back

164   Q 234 Back

165   Ev 171, para 13 Back

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Prepared 3 November 2011