Regenerating neighbourhoods: creating integrated and sustainable improvements

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

This review of JRF research to date highlights the key elements identified in achieving sustainable urban regeneration.

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The Government, not least through the Social Exclusion Unit, is looking at problems on the most unpopular council estates. Other inner-city areas of older housing also face a range of social problems.

Since 1992, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has been trying to discover what works in the regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods. The research findings show that each area is different, with its own distinct problems and opportunities. Local initiatives must be allowed the room to 'grow' and find their own ways of responding to local needs and priorities. Nevertheless, JRF research also highlights clear similarities in the issues and processes that all regeneration initiatives must address.

Only comprehensive approaches are likely to succeed; and appropriate action must be taken in all of the following areas. Failure to do so can undermine the long-term sustainability of regeneration.

  • Understand disadvantaged neighbourhoods Understand how the regeneration potential of the area is affected by its history, the particular problems it faces, the views of local people, and the local assets and wider resources which are available to tackle regeneration.
  • Bring residents to the centre of regeneration Resource local residents with funds both before projects start and throughout their course to enhance confidence and skill levels. Train professionals and residents to work effectively together in partnerships.
  • Transform mainstream services at the local level Develop a clear neighbourhood focus for services and experiment with new local service agreements and partnerships, progressively establishing city-wide arrangements.
  • Target economic development services on disadvantaged areas Create the training, jobs and fiscal infrastructure that link economic growth with neighbourhood regeneration - increasing local jobs and access to the wider labour market.
  • Strengthen communities and maintain the momentum Ensure income in the long term by establishing local community organisations with assets or by identifying agencies to provide ongoing funding.
  • Ensure a long-term commitment to sustainable neighbourhood regeneration at all levels of government Provide a strong ministerial lead, regional co-ordination and visionary city leadership to create: co-operation between departments and agencies; effective partnerships; policy integration at the neighbourhood level; links between funding streams; and consistency in community consultation.

This Foundations brings together under six headings what has been learnt to date from the JRF's Action on Estates Programme (33 projects carried out between 1992 and 1995) and the current Area Regeneration Programme (which has so far supported 36 projects). Some specific reports from these programmes and the estates on which the particular activities discussed have occurred are listed on the back page.

Understanding disadvantaged neighbourhoods

A key first step in regenerating any neighbourhood is to understand the problems affecting it and to identify the assets and energies that can be harnessed to the work at the local level and within wider strategies.

The Foundation's Action on Estates Programme confirmed that neighbourhoods of concentrated poverty and unemployment often experience a host of related problems: low educational achievement, low aspirations, poor access to labour markets, crime, vandalism, poor facilities and lack of choice. The demand in these areas on overstretched services and on informal support systems is very high. Coupled with negative stereotyping from outside, the problems take a heavy toll on local residents. Those able to find work look for opportunities to move away, and only those with no choice tend to stay behind.

This cycle of exclusion needs to be broken at two levels. At the local level, action needs to start with a rigorous assessment of the particular nature and history of each neighbourhood, mapping assets and areas of potential growth as well as problems. In North Tyneside, local residents carried out a skills survey of more than 1,000 households, which revealed a wealth of unexpected talent that led to resident-run community activities. Preparatory work of this kind allows local residents to express their needs and also to develop their own ideas and plans for tackling local problems. This work can clarify the complexities of an area and the varying needs of different communities, ethnic groups and interest groups and should inform the design of projects by agencies involved in regeneration.

Beyond the local level, national, regional and city-wide strategies are also needed to address the wider circumstances that create exclusion, and to provide a framework for action which has a clear focus on the neighbourhood, but which is also tied into mainstream policies. Neglect in the past has caused problems in disadvantaged neighbourhoods to grow and fester. This was evident in the old inner city slums and today has become equally obvious on the most unpopular council estates. Current housing policy has emphasised breaking up such concentrations through selective demolition, transfers to new landlords, mixing tenures and other means. Within clearly thought-out city strategies, these methods can work well to stabilise difficult areas. Used indiscriminately, however, their effect is to displace problems into other areas. Policies such as these need to be used hand-in-hand with measures to strengthen communities, bringing residents to the centre of area regeneration and transforming the delivery of mainstream services.

Bringing residents to the centre of regeneration

Many studies within JRF's Action on Estates Programme showed that urban regeneration schemes only work with a solid base of community participation. Involving residents late - or in tokenistic ways - is damaging. Residents are major stakeholders and bring enormous local expertise: in a number of areas (Manchester, North Tyneside and Devonport) it was resident-led initiatives that levered in resources for major improvements.

Getting started

When areas have been neglected for years, the self-esteem of local residents is at a low ebb. Using a variety of imaginative approaches is crucial. Within projects studied by JRF these have included visits to other areas, Planning for Real in North Tyneside and a Community Planning Week in York, featuring a caravan touring the estate with an exhibition, a panel session with local professionals, and the involvement of children in an environmental stock-take. Start-up events need to: work at the pace of local residents and involve their priorities; be fun; and be allowed enough time to be effective. Small amounts of money to kick-start these activities need to be available before main projects start, but should also be on tap throughout the life of regeneration programmes.

Resourcing residents

Community regeneration is a long haul and some current special initiatives last for up to 10 years. Budgets are needed to resource resident involvement throughout - including provision for office space, telephones and other administrative costs.

Residents also need support and training. Enabling them to play an equal part with professionals in partnerships can be time-consuming. Before the programme started, residents in Devonport worked for several months with a community architect to prepare plans for the comprehensive renewal of their estate. On five London estates in another project, housing association staff worked for six months with residents to put together joint Action Plans. Training needs might include understanding how the council works, a range of community development techniques and a host of specialist subjects.

Involving residents and professionals in partnerships

Local residents have to learn to work within partnerships and professionals have to learn to work with residents. For residents, the challenge is to push for action on local needs and problems and to negotiate with agencies which have differing agendas. Their own practical input on issues like community safety, street cleaning and truancy can be a powerful bargaining tool.

Professionals work within cultures that are often resistant to change. Successful work with community groups will require agencies to reshape organisational structures and radically change the style of meetings. Like residents, professionals require training; this might include bringing them up to speed on targeting services, codes of practice, forward planning, community participation, and project evaluation.

One project in Middlesbrough showed key factors in a community liaison group achieving significant influence within City Challenge. These were:

  • Key officers of both City Challenge and the Borough Council demanded that a community view was presented on every issue.
  • Matters scheduled for discussion at the Board were first presented to a meeting of the community liaison group two weeks prior to board meetings.
  • Local representative structures with community development support existed, which made community inputs possible.
  • The community liaison group had direct influence over a small grants fund.

Transforming mainstream services at the local level

In parallel with putting residents at the centre of regeneration, an essential ingredient of success is the sound management of neighbourhoods and the solving of local problems by transforming the way that local services are delivered.

Decentralised management and local service agreements

The development of localised housing services in the 1980s and 1990s has paved the way to this new thinking. PEP (Priority Estates Project) did pioneering work on decentralised housing management, with local repair teams and decentralised budgets. Tenants began to play a central role in managing estates through Tenant Management Organisations. In Glasgow, the transfer of council estates to community-based housing associations had similar effects, with even greater resident control.

From this housing base, local actions broadened out to include a range of other issues. On an estate in Leeds, partnership between the police and local residents improved trust in the local police and removed fear of reprisal if crime and vandalism were reported. In Devonport residents set up a Credit Union. Residents and staff in five London housing association estates worked on community safety initiatives, employment and training schemes, lettings policies and facilities for young people. On an estate in York (which successfully bid for Estate Action funding) residents wanted an agreement that could respond to all issues that they found problematic. This agreement included separate service-level agreements for community policing, street and environmental cleaning, jobs and training, leisure services, social services, housing, a dog warden service, the local adventure playground and the community education service.

Reshaping the delivery of local services

A particularly sophisticated experiment in multi-agency working was piloted in Coventry and in Burnley. Both authorities employed a senior council official to pull together a range of departments for co-ordinated action at the local level. The departments work interactively with resident groups to identify priorities and problems. In both areas, action plans were put together covering health, community safety, families, leisure, community development, employment and training, and action against drugs. In Coventry, the area co-ordination approach has been extended to all the city's priority areas and in Burnley the approach is also being adopted in other parts of the city. Developing strategic approaches across all disadvantaged neighbourhoods is crucial. Without this, the improvement of conditions on one estate alone can lead to a 'displacement' of problems to other marginalised areas.

Targeting economic development services on disadvantage areas

JRF's Action on Estates Programme confirmed the importance of work in restoring individual self-esteem and bringing income back to households and deprived neighbourhoods. However, the ground gained through local employment initiatives can be difficult to hold when broader policies take a contrary direction. Many new employment opportunities are being developed outside cities on greenfield sites. Transport links to inner-city and peripheral estates are often non-existent.

There is therefore an urgent need to reconnect urban regeneration and housing policies with city and regional economic development strategies.

Local jobs

There have already been many experiments in creating local businesses, developing local work spaces and exploiting large capital programmes in order to create local jobs. In Tyneside redundant steel workers were employed making security grilles designed by youngsters on the estate. In Manchester, a highly effective register for construction jobs was created for residents, which helped them get building work within the local City Challenge programme, as well as obtain jobs in the wider labour market. Developing Resident Services Organisations on social housing estates, following a successful French model, could help provide jobs for local residents in the maintenance of housing and its environment.

Improving access to the labour market

An alternative to creating local jobs is to help residents access jobs of all kinds in the wider labour market. The Waltham Forest Housing Action Trust (HAT), covering four high-rise estates with a total population of about 6,400 people, has made a major effort to improve access to work and it has backed this up with childcare provision for local residents. Each of the Waltham Forest estates has a Career Advice and Placement Project (CAPP) which follows and supports people through the whole process of training and finding a job. Thousands of people have registered with their local CAPP. Each CAPP links up with two HAT training centres: one for construction skills and the other for business administration and information technology. The HAT also runs a programme of skills development for local firms to help them with public sector tendering procedures. The main contractors offer local firms the opportunity to tender as sub-contractors, provided that they employ a proportion of local people.

One of the most successful ways of re-introducing the long-term unemployed to work is through the 'intermediate labour market'. As developed by the Wise Group in Glasgow, this model provides a training and work programme which includes induction, work experience in a number of fields (e.g. home insulation, central heating systems, home security and environmental improvements) and high quality accredited training. Although this approach is more expensive than many mainstream training programmes, it has been shown to be significantly more successful in placing the long-term unemployed in full-time work. The scheme is now spreading to other cities in the UK.

Projects like those mentioned above can also be helped by national policy reforms, such as extending the earnings disregard for those on benefit and raising tax thresholds for low-income households in order to ease the transitions from welfare to work. The 1998 Budget and the Green Paper A New Contract for Welfare propose actions on a number of these issues.

Strengthening community organisations and maintaining momentum

A difficulty facing many neighbourhood regeneration projects is that they are overly dependent on special initiative funding. Problems develop when the special initiative funding dries up and leaves the neighbourhood without the resources it needs to keep the momentum going. In the past, the emphasis has often been on finding 'homes' for projects - for example, in local authority departments prepared to adopt particular projects.

Community-based regeneration organisations

However, recent work on the structure of community regeneration organisations suggests that the momentum of regeneration is best sustained through local bodies of this kind. These are locally based charitable organisations, accountable to their neighbourhoods. They have their own assets, bring about social or economic change in the neighbourhood, set up free-standing projects and operate in partnership with other local organisations.

In Leeds, one such body, established in 1987, has an annual turnover of some £650,000 and 22 employees. It runs 67 workspaces for local companies (140 employees), offers an advice service for small businesses and provides employment training courses for local people. In addition, it gives grants to local community development projects. In Belfast, a community-based trust founded in 1976 has an annual turnover of £5m and 300 employees. Its activities include the management of workspaces (70 businesses employing nearly 200 people), building homes, delivering business development services, operating day care and domiciliary services for older people and running training courses.

Community-based regeneration organisations are not easy to set up, manage and sustain. In particular, the sector needs an improved legal structure and regulatory framework, and an improved national financial infrastructure for these organisations to attract private finance.

Commitment to sustainable neighbourhood regeneration at all levels of government

The previous sections point to the need for policy integration at the neighbourhood level. It is clear, however, that the appropriate changes are not sustainable without long-term commitments from players at the city-wide, regional and national levels.

Leadership and strategy at the city level

At the city level, strong leadership and strategic thinking are needed to drive the regeneration effort. Regeneration strategies should be city-wide and contain an explicit social inclusion strategy. In Sandwell a Regeneration Department co-ordinates government and European special initiatives and, in advance of bids, co-ordinates the priorities of various borough departments with those of the targeted communities. Good practice of this kind has been incorporated into the Local Government Association's 'New Commitment to Urban Regeneration'. This approach calls for local authorities and their partners to develop five-year strategies, including the regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods. Prototypes for the New Commitment approach already exist in city-wide strategies that have been developed in cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Co-ordination at the regional level

If regeneration is to be sustainable at the local level, it is crucial that the new Regional Development Agencies and Government Offices for the Regions work with the Housing Corporation, local authorities and community representatives to: avoid wasteful competition between authorities for inward investment; develop strategies enabling mainstream programmes to target disadvantaged areas; encourage the development of long-term city development strategies, including neighbourhood plans; and make the crucial link between neighbourhood regeneration and economic growth opportunities. It has been argued that a proportion of Challenge Funding should be channelled away from spending programmes to develop innovative support mechanisms that would help the regeneration of neighbourhoods. These could include providing funds for partnerships - allowing them to hire a Chief Executive and core staff - and creating a Community Resource Fund which would support communities to develop visions and priorities for their own areas.

The advantages of a strong lead from central government

It is normally argued that central government should not be prescriptive, thus allowing the regions and local authorities to develop the solutions that best respond to local conditions. This is true, but JRF's work in this field supports the view that a robust national framework is needed, within which there can be local diversity. A strong lead in this respect, most probably from the DETR, would ensure:

  • The government would think 'city' and 'neighbourhood' across a whole range of policies such as social security, housing, education and health.
  • Policy integration at the neighbourhood level and the development of community capacity would be given greater priority in government.
  • Government would spell out how it sees neighbourhood regeneration as contributing to competitiveness, cohesion, better governance and sustainability.
  • Effective monitoring of neighbourhood regeneration would take place and best practice would be disseminated widely.

Good practice in urban regeneration

This Foundations has cited good practice in the following estates and areas:

Amhurst Road estate, Hackney; Beaver estate, Hownslow; Drayton Bridge Road estate, Ealing; Mitchellbrook Way estate, Brent; and Ramsden estate, Bromley. These five estates were part of the JRF 'Quality of Life' project.

  • Ardoyne, Belfast: The Flax Trust
  • Bell Farm estate, York
  • Chapeltown, Leeds: Chapeltown and Harehills Enterprises Ltd
  • Halton Moor estate, Leeds
  • Hulme, Manchester
  • Meadowell estate, North Tyneside
  • Pembroke Street estate, Devonport
  • Waltham Forest; four estates: Boundary Road; Cathall Road; Chingford Hall; Oliver Close.
  • West End estates, Burnley; Wood End estate, Coventry .