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Creating thriving communities: the role of communities in regeneration

12 February 2016 Author: Victoria Pinoncely

One month ago, on 10th January, the Prime Minister announced a programme pledging to transform the UK’s worst housing estates or so-called ‘sink estates’, which Secretary of State Greg Clark described as offering “huge potential to be revived so that they become thriving communities and places which people want to live and work in”. The Government has announced a £140 million fund to regenerate 100 estates and the establishment of an Estate Regeneration Advisory Panel.

In the responses to this announcement, many points were made about the importance in involving communities in this initiative and in regeneration projects. Alastair Parvin in New Start magazine called for a “Right to Regenerate” which would give communities the power to propose, vote on and own new development of their estates, and even the wholesale replacement of buildings if they choose to. Olivier Sykes from Liverpool University highlighted on The Conversation the importance of engaging with residents of urban renewal projects, instead of presenting them as unable to create change in their communities.

For an example of the former, see the community-led regeneration of Central Govan. The Central Govan Action Plan (CGAP), which won the 2014 RTPI Award for Planning Excellence for ‘Leading the way in planning for the community’ and the RTPI’s Silver Jubilee Cup. CGAP is a ten year, community-led, planning partnership and investment framework, guiding the physical regeneration of Central Govan. Since 2006, £88m has been invested through the CGAP framework and has not only resulted in a physical transformation of Govan but also in raising the quality of life and instilling a sense of positive and lasting change in a community and place.


Golspie Street, Govan, Glasgow. Photo credit: John Lord/flickr

The Interface section of the latest Planning Theory and Practice (which is free to access) also focuses on citizen-led initiatives. In the introduction to the Interface, Patsy Healey from Newcastle University and Hendrik Wagenaar from Sheffield University outline that in the present economic and policy climate in Europe there is both a demand and an opportunity for community initiatives and civic enterprises to develop alternative ways of promoting development and delivering services on a significant scale.

Communities should be involved in development, and not in a ‘tick box’ way (see the advice outlined in Planning Aid's Good Practice Guide to Public Engagement in Development Schemes and the RTPI's guidelines on effective community involvement and inclusion). Communities should play a central and leading role in delivering social goods and services and meeting local needs.

For instance, the Turner Prize last year went to the Assemble collective, which helped the local community to renovate homes and gardens in the Granby Four Street areas of Toxteth, Liverpool. The community had felt disenfranchised for years, with houses demolished or left to dereliction. This relates to Nobel Prize winner Elinor’s Ostrom observations that the state–market dichotomy that ruled much of the twentieth century neglected the reality where citizen-driven collectives, or the “commons”, have often been remarkably effective at resolving social and environmental issues.

What role does this leave for planners and practitioners? RTPI’s 2016 President, Phil Williams, talked last month in his investiture speech about the triangular relationship around place of people, politicians and planners and how planners need to be at the centre of this. For the CGAP, high quality planning practice and planners were at the heart of the process alongside a grassroots community response to regeneration challenges. Another example is outlined by Robin Hambleton in his book The Inclusive City - the reuse of the High Line, a former disused railway in New York, as a linear park and public space. The project was led by a non-profit group of residents called Friends of the High Line, however planners provided an important leadership role and contributing to overcoming some of the obstacles facing the project. Closer to home, Planning Aid England is closely involved in Neighbourhood Planning and is advising a number of communities on engaging with planning.

These types of examples show that planners can work with communities in community-led projects and empower local communities to shape places. Equally, grassroots initiatives on neighbourhood regeneration can become established and turn into significant local development actors without losing their initial vision, as shown in the case of the Ouseburn Trust in Newcastle upon Tyne presented in Planning Theory and Practice.

View Across The Ouseburn Valley Credit Phil Tirkell

View across the Ouseburn Valley during an Ouseburn Trust walk. Photo credit: Phil Tirkell/flickr.

As highlighted in our Promoting Healthy Cities report, an important factor in wellbeing is the sense of control people have over their local environments and their capacity to influence and even 'co-produce' it. The rationale behind the Localism Act was the idea to give more power to local people, including to shape their neighbourhoods. Michael Heseltine, launching the Estate Regeneration Advisory Panel this week said that regeneration had to be “locally led” and work with residents. Whether the programme will reflect this discourse remains to be seen.

Victoria Pinoncely

Victoria Pinoncely

Research Officer, RTPI - @vpinoncely