Owning land makes regeneration work
Regeneration and Renewal magazine
After a slow start in which I played a key role as an ineffectual chair trying to stop a great man from spending all morning showing us slides of houses which would send the UK’s urban design police into orbit, the first Regeneration & Renewal national conference was great. I learned a lot anyway.
I learned most about two things. The first was the need for area-based regeneration initiatives to get hold of land. Whether it was Pete Garcia from Chicanos por la Causa in Arizona, with his now $50 million budget, the Coin Street community, with its chunk of prime London real estate or Sherwood Energy Village with its former colliery site, you cannot get round it. Without land -and the money and independence which it can give you -we have the alternative of the dead hand of the state at- tempting to do regeneration to communities and not doing a very good job of it.
Not because of ill will or incompetence: on the contrary, some of the best-intentioned people in the country are seeking to use tools which just cannot work to achieve the positive ends we all seek. In my view, it is established beyond question that effective regeneration requires ownership of assets and control by the agency or group given the task of carrying it out. Anything less than that is at best sub-optimal and at worst an expensive sideshow.
The second lesson related to agency in the sense of ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’. We are generally confused about this subject in the UK. Central government regularly sets up agencies which have no cash, therefore do not pay the piper, cannot call the tune and so do not have authority.
They may seek to have influence, but this is difficult to achieve and can be confusing and debilitating in practice, creating institutions which have responsibility but no power or resources.
I said at the end of the conference that, if the re- generation industry didn’t acquire assets and thus responsibility with the capacity and freedom to deliver, we would become merely a wholly owned subsidiary of the state and would be bound to fail accordingly.
The new Government is invited to go to Arizona (or indeed Coin Street) and learn the real lesson, which is this: the UK state is too centralised and needs to enable communities and local authorities to properly govern
themselves, to own and trade in land and to generate their own income with which to regenerate their own communities. I hear a lot about the need for new skills. We need a new state.
Dr Tim Williams is chief executive of CPR Regeneration. Email: email@example.com