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Issue:- 16 December 2010


THE Government’s approach to physical regeneration in England’s ex-industrial cities will not work for local residents and a new way forward is needed, according to a new report by the Centre for Cities.

Over the past decade, the blueprint for city regeneration has been to build houses, offices, apartment blocks and science parks on the assumption that this could spark economic growth in any urban area or neighbourhood. £5bn has been spent on physical regeneration by regional development agencies outside London.  And new Coalition incentives like the New Homes Bonus, expected in the Localism Bill, will encourage all cities to build, regardless of how well placed they are to expand, rather than creating room for cities to pursue plans that work for them.

Many regeneration projects have not ‘turned around’ local economies or the lives of local residents in the way that had been hoped. It’s thought that the average underperforming regeneration project in England generated 40% fewer jobs than anticipated when originally planned. Vacant housing in these areas has often remained and office space is often difficult to let.  These projects have been battling against long term economic forces like industrial decline and globalisation, which have meant the population and job opportunities in some urban areas and neighbourhoods have grown and others shrunk.

With public funds for regeneration now scarce, it’s critical that regeneration projects of the right size and scope are planned.  The Centre is urging city leaders and national government to adopt an ambitious new approach, focused on addressing the scars of industrial decline directly and learning from pioneering initiatives used in US and German cities.

The report recommends:-

► Local and national politicians should accept that using regeneration plans to ‘go for growth’ hasn’t worked in every urban neighbourhood and can have negative as well as positive consequences on a city’s economy and residents.

► A new way forward might mean building a park rather than a science park, or turning tiny terraces into larger homes, rather than knocking them down and building one bed flats. Communities should be given the power to decide on plans, testing out the neighbourhood planning approach expected in the Localism Bill.

► The Coalition introduces a permanent Transformation Fund in the next Spending Review to help cities introduce these kinds of projects – and to help improve quality of life in neighbourhoods undergoing industrial and population decline.

► The Coalition urgently needs to find new money for the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder areas. The programme needs reviewing. Frequently its sound principles were poorly implemented. But the Coalition’s decision to leave the scheme unfinished means the communities concerned will bear an unfair cost.

Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of the Centre for Cities said:- “The Coalition is encouraging all urban areas to ‘go for growth’ through incentives like the New Homes Bonus, but the neighbourhoods grappling with industrial decline and the impacts of recession and cuts need to stabilise first.   In the past, city leaders and national government have championed the replacement of out of use steel works and empty terraces with office and apartment blocks. These projects did not improve opportunities for local residents in the way they had hoped, and public and developer finance is now limited. Shifting plans from building a science park to creating a public park in these places is not about giving up on growth – it’s about improving the area for local residents, who should be at the heart of the decision making process. This is an approach that has worked for US and German cities. Ambition and innovation from city leadership are the key ingredients.”

Government withdraws protection for low paid workers

UNISON, the UK's largest public service union, reacted angrily to news that the government is to abolish the 2 tier fair employment code, saying it heralded a "race to the bottom". The code is designed to ensure that companies who take over public sector contracts, provide pay and conditions for new staff broadly comparable to that of the former public sector staff, they work alongside.   Dave Prentis General Secretary of UNISON, said:- "This is another attack on mainly low paid women workers. The two tier code is essential to stop companies that are in the process of bidding for public sector contracts, competing on how low they can pay their staff. Even many companies that bid for these contracts are privately worried that this will result in a "race to the bottom" in pay and conditions. The new Principles of Good Employment Practice are purely voluntary. With no enforcement mechanism these will have no bite and are merely wishful thinking on the part of the government. This move will hit many low paid women workers hard, particularly catering and cleaning staff, and UNISON is calling on the government to carry out an equality impact assessment as a matter of urgency.  We do not want to see a return to the bad old days of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT), introduced by the last Tory government, which resulted in big cuts in pay and conditions, a huge turnover in staff and ultimately worse standards in public services."

Government's council cuts target Northern cities

NORTHERN towns and cities unfairly face the biggest cuts in local spending reveals research by the National Housing Federation. The announcement of the Government's cuts in local councils' spending hits twice as many Northern communities and concentrates on those areas where residents are poorest and neighbourhoods.

Research by leading housing campaign group, the National Housing Federation reveals:-

► 19 of the 37 councils facing highest level of cuts are in the North

► This is 51% of the total

► On a fair share of cuts only 25% of Northern councils would be in the top bracket.

Northern communities facing the greatest cuts include: Manchester, Liverpool, Bradford, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Deputy Prime Minister's home city of Sheffield.

The reductions in expenditure will affect essential council services such as street lighting, road maintenance, snow clearance, community wardens, care and support services and education. This means a downward cycle of more unemployment and less profits for local businesses which means fewer jobs. For a city like Liverpool, this represents over £100 Million that will be removed from the local economy.

Commented, Northern housing campaign leader, Derek Long:-"Council services are crucial for keeping communities safe and viable. That these cuts target the most deprived communities and the weakest economies is short-sighted as well as unjust. Coming on top of the abolition of housing market renewal and the Regional Development Agencies, this is a further blow to hopes of a Northern economic recovery and a strong housing market."


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