Regeneration after Grenfell

Tony Hutchinson, Senior Associate at Campbell Tickell, discusses what an effective regeneration programme looks like.

We are perhaps still too close, with emotions too raw for it to be possible to grasp the breadth and depth of the consequences of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Clearly though, it has crystallised a sense of alienation between regenerators and those being regenerated.

For some, the word ‘regeneration’ is becoming interchangeable with ‘gentrification’ and expressed as a negative. Residents often say they feel their views are ignored and, in London, the mayor is now proposing resident ballots for all regeneration schemes involving demolitions.

It is also worth reflecting on how other drivers, such as changes to the benefits system, make it harder for lower-income families to live in more expensive neighbourhoods, and for public bodies to consider how their assets can best be used to generate the funds to deliver essential services.

An effective regeneration programme begins with a commitment to being open, inclusive, transparent and collaborative. Every programme starts from how to deliver better homes, improve quality of life and greater opportunities in neighbourhoods.

So how can local authorities ensure the best chance of these aims being realised?

1. Focus on communities

We should turn the telescope around: what do communities, businesses and people want? How can the needs of t he council and its partners be aligned with those expectations? There will inevitably be an iterative process to understand aspirations and competing tensions, reconciling these into a coherent programme, seeking the compromises needed to make change happen.

This must be a conversation between equals. It is too easy to make promises about timescale and the consequences of any programme. Honesty about what is possible and how to achieve it is central to developing truly community and neighbourhood based investment strategies.

Professionals must recognise that local people have a level of knowledge and understanding about their neighbourhood, their be replicated or replaced. Even if what they say is challenging or inconvenient, taking time to listen and respond is invaluable.

“Every regeneration programme starts from how to deliver better homes, improve quality of life and greater opportunities in neighbourhoods.”

2. Communicate

Make a commitment to regular communication and stick to it, even when there has been no progress. Encourage dialogue and discussion. Multiple channels can be used: find out what channels people want to use.

Communication should be a learning experience to help people contribute to the process, gaining additional confidence and skills.

3.  Think about language

Regeneration affects homes, livelihoods and cherished neighbourhoods. Devaluing and demeaning the places people live, for instance by referring to ‘units’ rather than ‘homes’, is unhelpful. Even that seemingly unused garage court, a nest of anti-social behaviour, may have social and emotional value which needs respect.

4. Keep promises

Before making a promise, be sure you can keep it. If you find you can’t, explain quickly, openly and fully. Don’t compound the error by making a glib promise that has to be broken again.

5. Governance and probity are fundamental

Where authority is delegated to a community, it has to be totally clear exactly what has been delegated and what the limits of that authority are. It is too easy to ‘sell’ an advisory role as decision-making when in reality the views expressed are an input to a wider process. Equally, where community representatives are involved in procurement decisions, the role and limits of autonomy need to be clearly understood. This is particularly the case where local agencies are able to bid for work on the programme.

Grenfell, like Hillsborough or 7/7, is transformational.

For everyone in public services, these events change the way we think, speak and work. Housing services and in particular the renewal of homes came under caustic criticism in the weeks after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Understanding, responding to and accepting that visceral sense of alienation is the starting point. We must accept that, while our professional accountabilities require action, whatever we do requires the active, informed and freely given consent of the communities we serve.

Hopefully this time we will we learn the relevant lessons and make sure our procurement activity is thought-out and our arrangements robust.

To discuss the issues raised in this article, contact: maggie.rafalowicz@campbelltickell.com

This article also appears in CT Brief, Issue 35