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  • 3 Mar 2017
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A strategy for housing regeneration

Portobello Square in London had a long lead in to develop a “brief for change” through effective community engagement

Andy von Bradsky, design and delivery adviser at DCLG and chairman of The Housing Forum, outlines the government's strategy for estate redevelopment.

Introduction

Amid the political changes that characterised 2016, there was continuity in aspects of housing policy. Landowners, communities, developers and professionals on the front line of the regeneration of rundown housing estates will be encouraged that the government maintained its commitment to deliver a national strategy with clear policy objectives and new resources.

After an intensive year of activity, the strategy was launched late in December 2016. It sets out the principles for regeneration, including the role of local authorities, rights and protection for residents and new ideas on financing.

A good practice guide sets out a model process with a check list for design, finance and delivery from inception to completion and management.

It is expected that the web-based toolkit will continue to be developed – a list of case studies that highlight good practice will be added to and there is new thinking that could lead to future innovations in the sector. The outcome should be more and better homes for existing communities and the creation of enduring and attractive places that are better linked to their surroundings.

"The policy encourages resident-led initiatives as alternative approaches to landlord-led schemes, with residents in the driving seat in all areas of regeneration."

In addition to the previously announced £140m loan fund for project implementation, a new £32m grant fund for this financial year was launched to support the industry in delivering feasibility studies, option appraisals, resident consultation and other costs associated with getting regeneration started.

Background

This policy initiative began in early 2016 when it was announced that 100 “sink” estates would be regenerated across England. The aim was to address the needs of forgotten communities that are often living in insecure, unsafe environments and poor-quality homes that are in chronic need of improvement. Many neglected estates are isolated neighbourhoods, cut off from employment and with poor social infrastructure and amenities.

Lord Heseltine was appointed co-chair with the housing minister of a group of industry experts from across the development, financial and consultancy sectors, as well as local government, to advise on the programme. A DCLG team was dedicated to support the panel, including representatives from the private sector (myself, Andy von Bradsky, architect and regeneration consultant, and Paul Clark, property and funding consultant) who provided practical advice on design, consultation, delivery and financing from our experience of delivering projects on the ground.

Key themes

The panel set out three key principles that underpin successful estate regeneration: to put residents at the heart of the process; to ensure local authorities are actively supportive; and to produce a financial formulae to deliver regeneration.

Residents at the heart: The strategy clarifies best practice for resident engagement. It recognises that existing residents living on an estate must be involved throughout the process in a transparent and consistent way that builds trust and an open relationship with the landowner.

The industry has many years’ experience of good consultation on high-profile projects in cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and London, as set out in the case studies. However, there is a danger that unless this is consistently applied, regeneration in areas that do not have the experience will stall.

New homes for private sale were developed as part of the estate redevelopment in Gorton

The process must be inclusive, demonstrable and reach all sections of the community, with hands-on engagement rather than tokenistic consultation and dissemination of information. It requires a full appreciation of the options for regeneration, including the physical, environmental and economic implications, through a rigorous appraisal process.

A model “residents’ charter” sets out a commitment between the landowner and its residents in terms of their involvement in the process, the commitment to rehousing and the programme. It includes the principles for fair compensation for owner-occupiers, including a right to return, fair financial settlement and alternative tenures.

A process for residents to select their preferred option to regeneration is proposed. This is necessarily flexible and depends on the project circumstances, however, it is recommended that the greater the intervention the more important that a formal process such as a ballot is used to determine residents’ preference.

The policy encourages resident-led initiatives as alternative approaches to landlord-led schemes, with residents in the driving seat in all areas of regeneration, including ongoing management.

Local authority role: As landowners and place shapers, councils must be innovative in their approach. Whole-hearted and ongoing support of local authorities is essential at the start and over the lifetime of the project, with strong leadership and the deployment of the necessary skills and resources. All departments and agencies, including health, education, leisure, community and social services, may need to be involved and cross-party support is necessary for projects to maintain momentum, regardless of political, economic and technological change.

Case study: Portobello Square, north Kensington

The 1970s built Wornington Green Estate in Kensington suffered from poor design, high crime rates and overcrowding. Great design, strong engagement and increased density have resulted in a well-supported and successful regeneration project.

A strong partnership between Catalyst Housing and the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, along with a GLA grant and effective community engagement led to a strong shared vision for the future estate.

Support for the redevelopment of 540 homes for social and shared ownership and 500 additional houses and apartments can be attributed to early and ongoing engagement with the residents and wider stakeholders.

A recurring theme in the policy is how the project fits with councils’ wider responsibilities for housing and regeneration as strategic place shapers. Budgets for transport and physical and social infrastructure investment in the wider context must be aligned with project objectives.

The many planning tools that are appropriate for regeneration are set out. There are advantages to bedding projects in local plans through development planning documents, area action plans and neighbourhood plans. Estate regeneration aligns comfortably with principles of neighbourhood planning and emerging policies, such as permission in principle, may offer benefits to some projects.

Planning authorities have an obligation to ensure the development meets quality criteria set out in local plans and building regulations. The policy endorses the use of design review processes offer independent urban design and to offer independent urban design and architecture advice to support the planning process. Community engagement, done well, will smooth the path for the planning process.

Financing regeneration: The final key theme for the policy is understanding the financial equation and most favourable delivery mechanism that will attract inward investment to an area. The strategy recognises that in the absence of significant public sector “gap” funding, a best practice approach in the early stages will help de-risk projects and establish a business case for regeneration, while avoiding the pitfalls of “gentrification” or “hyper-dense” development that can appear a threat to existing communities. 

Government funding is targeted at comprehensive resident engagement to ensure full stakeholder support, in-depth assessment of the most favourable option and identifying associated costs of buy-outs and land purchase.

The strategy stresses the benefits of early engagement with the private sector. It is possible to avoid long-winded procurement processes, for example procuring a partner and not a project is recommended as an alternative to traditional complex procurement processes that distance residents from the masterplanning process at a critical time. Joint venture vehicles where councils retain a commercial interest in the development are also encouraged.

Local authorities are increasingly engaged directly in mixed-tenure development, retaining a long-term interest in land for income to fund their programmes. Including additional council land supports the business case, provides an opportunity for a first phase and integrates development with wider objectives.

Many projects will be able to attract long-term investment with a return on investment, but areas with challenged values and costly enabling work may require additional public sector funding.

Principles of regeneration

Each estate is different and a thorough option appraisal process will lead to the most financially deliverable solution.
This must be measured against a “do nothing” option to demonstrate the true benefits of the preferred approach over the long term. This may lead to a variety of approaches, including re-use of existing buildings and remodelling, infill and densification, or full redevelopment or a hybrid.

The strategy is supported by a good practice guide and activity map sets out the model process from inception of a project through the many stages before it is realised, and demonstrates how the partners and community should work together to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. It includes key considerations during the process, making reference to the large body of reference material that is available from across the housing sector.

The key principles are:

  • A vision for change: The role of the landowner is to enable a vision to be developed for the estate together with the community. One of the case studies, Portobello Square, had a long lead in to develop a “brief for change” (see box, p31). Setting clear aims and objectives at the outset and remaining true to the vision will sustain momentum for the duration of the project. These may be related to the quality of the housing stock, addressing fuel poverty and building performance, for example. There may be a need to diversify the tenure in a mono-tenure neighbourhood. Or there may be a need to increase the housing supply in low-density areas. All estates will have different drivers for change.
  • Integrating with the wider context: An objective should be to break down the perceived “red line” boundary and better integrate estates with their surroundings, for example to improve access to amenities and areas of employment and to change the social stigma associated with estates. Linkages to other housing and regeneration initiatives in the area and the inclusion of other land can support a business case. For example, West Gorton in Manchester, famous as the setting for TV soap Shameless, is now an integral part of the city context.