Neighbourhood regeneration: Routes out of disappointment

There is a sense in Scotland that the substantial effort in regeneration is simply not producing the results on the ground in terms of measurable outcomes. There is reason to think that this may be the result of the nature of that effort: the large regeneration agency, with its substantial funding, its single-minded focus on defined and quantified ‘outcomes’, its network of partners all working towards the same ends seems like the very model of impressive modern efficiency. But it may be that, by not creating the conditions in which new local work can arise from innovation, trial and error and the occasional failure, it is proving counterproductive to the recovery of a self-generating and diverse local economy. Eight policy areas where local, as distinct from central, government should act are proposed.


At a conference of regeneration professionals and community participants in Scotland in 2007, everyone was committed and energetic but, to an observer (the present author), there seemed to be an underlying sense of disillusion and failure. One can be sure that was not what those taking part felt — they were fully engaged in the process and focused on achieving real results on the ground — but the author was returning to this field of activity after some absence, not as professional or expert but as someone previously involved in local political leadership, and he could not escape that impression.

That is not because everyone is not trying really hard. They are. More public money than ever has been going into the regeneration effort in Scotland since devolution in 1999, with major improvements in the public infrastructure from water and schools to transport and housing. The 2006 government publication ‘People and place: Regeneration policy statement’,1 sets out what had been done until then and outlines a very significant strengthening in future years. Real change on the ground is, quite rightly, sought and expected. So why the sombre mood?

‘Measurable outcomes’

In the language of today, ‘real change on the ground’ means measurable outcomes from all that activity and for all that money. The providers and users of the money, professional and community alike, have therefore committed themselves to an agreed plan on where the money will be spent and to what measurable purpose — the Regeneration Outcome Agreements (ROAs). The Scottish Government calls them ‘the foundation stone for effective joint working’. So why what appeared to be negative feelings?

Unfortunately, the conference was told, it appears that, though the outcomes in these agreements are supposed to be measurable through agreed indicators, no such measurements were able to be made in one close-to-home case. It was not said whether this is because the indicators are the wrong ones, or because the outcomes are there but too difficult to measure in the real world, or because there are no such outcomes to be seen. Government had, however, said what its response to this conundrum was in future to be: ‘a light touch’. (It is tempting to interpret this as an unwillingness to admit that the expenditure of so much money and effort may not be producing the desired results and therefore to assume that it is, but no longer attempt to measure it so rigorously.) That inability to report measurable results was one contributory factor to the gloom, it seemed.

Community engagement

There was also considerable anger at what was seen as lack of ‘community engagement’ in what goes on. It is hard to believe that is the case —there is a lot of community engagement or, at least, a lot of it on offer. Mostly, only very few people in a community take up that offer. And those few often struggle to get what they want out of the process. That, the author believes, is because regeneration is, especially at present, a large-scale, essentially inward investment process; inward investment is what government, particularly central government, can do, so it does it. And, for all the right reasons with regard to the spending of public money, unified single structures to manage and account for that significant spend are put in place, producing processes that are efficient and outcomes that are, in theory, measurable. But these processes are not necessarily effective, as those who try and fail to measure the outcomes have seen. In the changing and yet intractable social and economic setting in which regeneration professionals work, effectiveness needs freshness, innovation and, inevitably, trial and error. Measurable single structures tend not to produce that. More often they produce more of the same. Innovation always seems to bubble from the ground up, not rain from the top down, and this is what those who complain about lack of community engagement are sensing. Not enough is springing up from the ground. They know that they are really the audience at a play, albeit encouraged to engage in vigorous audience participation, but they are not the actors, and certainly not innovative playwrights.

This is reminiscent of an idea from Jane Jacobs:2 the ‘company town’ and how the economic structures there inevitably lead to stagnation (and therefore, in a sense, ‘in need of regeneration’). In a ‘company town’, the company entirely dominates the city economy — because of its scale and also often because of its domineering trading methods. It might have created the town to serve its purpose or moved into and mostly taken over the economy of a usually not very prosperous existing town.

Jacobs says that, in successful cities, continued economic prosperity happens when previous imports into a city are replaced by local production — production and work new to the city. This then stimulates further new work, some of which can be exported. This new work is created either by adding new work activities to that new import-replacing local production or by people with new work ideas breaking away from their existing work, their existing employer and starting anew. All those diverse and new activities require dissent, innovation, trial and error and, naturally, some failure. And they are essentially indigenous, rooted in the city and its people and their trading relationships with the outside world. In a company town, on the contrary, everything is geared to the needs of the company; there are no breakaways, no new work added within the company, and all its local suppliers are fully engaged in supplying the needs of company — not doing new things for themselves and not exporting some of the products of their work. Innovation and export stops, the town becomes stagnant, and eventually the company closes or moves away to where there is more life. A company town — while it lasts — is certainly efficient and often impressive in the scale of its operation but, unless innovation and change and new work happen, it will eventually stagnate.

Regeneration especially needs the innovation, the trial and error, the new local work that any vital economy needs. On that measure of ‘community engagement’ — new local indigenous work springing out of the existing economic community — it is easy to see why many local people feel that the current ‘company town’ model of regeneration has failed them. The regeneration agency, with its substantial funding, its single-minded focus on defined and quantified ‘outcomes’, its network of partners all working towards the same ends seems like the very model of impressive modern efficiency, and perhaps it is. But it may be that it is counterproductive to the recovery of a self-generating and diverse local economy.

Inward investment

That is the context for the third area at the conference in which people expressed disillusion and doubt. They were asked how important an ‘economic boost’ was to their regeneration objectives. ‘Not very’ was the answer — because the ‘boost’ could just as easily become ‘collapse’, they said, as the inward investment, a factory or a call centre, which was their only experience of what ‘economic boost’ meant, failed to produce the promised local benefit or simply eventually upped and went away when market conditions or government subsidies altered. Inward investment can often produce a fine edifice. But Jane Jacobs2 (Chapter 4) quotes Alcaeus in 600 bc as saying, ‘Not houses finely roofed nor the stones of walls well built nor canals nor dockyards make the city, but men able to use their opportunity’. In other words, impressive and efficient inward investment means nothing unless there is or it creates, through deliberate policy, the local ability to use the opportunities, to do something else, to break away, to try different things, to innovate and export. Those who were dismissive of the usefulness of an ‘economic boost’ preferred to concentrate on promoting the well-being and resilience of the local people as a more relevant objective. In a sense, given what was being offered, they were right; but, because they were talking in largely social welfare terms, and ignored the issue of economic well-being, it came across as ‘resilience to survive poverty’ rather then ‘resilience to grasp our opportunities’.

So it was not surprising that much time at the conference was devoted to the changes, recent and proposed, in the ways in which regeneration funds would be dispensed and managed by the government grant-giving agency. A company town, especially if the company headquarters are elsewhere, is fully reliant upon the resources, both financial and creative, of the company, not on its own self-generated activity. A strong focus on external bureaucratic change and process always seems to indicate malaise, actual or potential.

Rethinking regeneration policy  

If this reading of the conference is correct, what does that imply for regeneration policy?

When a local economy is stagnant, worklessness leads to social ills and cultural decline. People, especially the more talented and industrious, move out when they can. The neighbourhood, in both its work spaces and living spaces, becomes under-occupied and talk begins about the need for regeneration.

Regeneration aims to help the neighbourhood turn and face a different direction; it becomes successful when it can create or expand or sustain the reciprocating systems, the self-generating economic processes which create new work — new work that is sticky to the regeneration neighbourhood. It is hard to think of any more important building block to successful cities and neighbourhoods than an increasingly prosperous economy based on new indigenous work. When an economy is more prosperous, so are the families who make up its society. And if their neighbours are prosperous, families are less likely to move out of the neighbourhood when their own circumstances improve. The neighbourhood slowly improves.

That regeneration turnaround is immensely hard to do; but one should know by now that it is not likely to be achieved through the single-structure, externally reliant, company-town ‘economic boost’ that comes and then goes — although that does not seem to stop people trying. It will come by creating opportunity and then by helping people who live there, to quote Alcaeus, to ‘use their opportunity’.

In a neighbourhood in need of regeneration, most of the goods and services that people rely on are, almost by definition, provided from outside the neighbourhood. If the population has declined because the more successful families have moved out, many of the local shops will have closed. Because wealth is minimal and declining, property will not be being repaired and opportunities for local businesses to pursue this work will decline. Professional social and community services will be provided by outsiders and, as the neighbourhood declines, so the number of ‘poverty industry’ professionals brought into the area will increase. The first step in the regeneration turnaround is to find opportunities for those who still pursue existing work in the neighbourhood to expand or create new work, to replace some of those ‘imports’. Ways must be found for the additional skills or goods these new local activities will then need to be sourced from within the neighbourhood. And then the people who do this ‘import replacement’ work, and the people who supply them with products, need to be helped to market their products in the wider city, creating stable and wealth-creating economic activity.

There are examples from both Craigmillar and Wester Hailes in Edinburgh where local businesses, which were started through community action using local skills and first serving only the neighbourhood, are now established and selling their products throughout the city. It is not easy — indeed it is very hard — and there is much necessary trial and error along the way, but this is the beginning of self-sustaining regeneration. It needs to be done on a wider scale and over a longer period to provide the volume to turn a few unrelated activities into an economy.

A list of policy issues  

This regeneration of a local economy will not happen through sitting back and waiting for some invisible hand. It will need intervention by the public sector to make this happen. Policies will need to be devised, again probably with much necessary trial and error, to address a list of issues:

1.    to sustain existing local work
2.    to find and exploit opportunities for new work — through ‘import replacement’ and ‘export’
3.    to enhance the knowledge and work skills of local people and remove the personal barriers to working
4.    to retain or provide low-rent local business premises
5.    to provide easy access to low-interest, small-scale risk capital
6.    to ensure there is a good concentration and mix of people and uses in the neighbourhood to support local enterprises
7.    to provide the local internal connections between people through sustaining or providing local meeting places
8.    to sustain or provide good connections to the wider city.

That is a very simply expressed list, and each item contains many issues which have to be addressed according to circumstances; much good work is already being done around the country in some of these areas. so what does current policy and current thinking have to contribute to this set of policy areas. The first place to look is at is current methodology — the ROA. The second is in planning and land use policy, the other main existing regeneration policy area.

Current methodology 1 – The ‘Regeneration Outcome Agreement’

Glasgow has the most significant levels of deprivation in the country and Glasgow’s 2006–2008 ROA3 should therefore provide the best current thinking and policy. The main thrust of this Agreement between the various local community planning partners and the central government agency administering the programme, Communities Scotland, is to itemise Glasgow’s problems, of which there are many, and to list the numerical outcomes which will represent at least the beginnings of a solution to these problems. This is done by making an analysis of need, specifying five themes for action (health, learning, safety, vibrancy and work), listing the priorities within those themes, listing the required outcomes in detail for all the various organisations taking part, and detailing the money to be spent by each organisation in achieving these outcomes. It does not say how these outcomes are to be achieved; that is left to each organisation.

The ROA says that ‘strengthening the city’s economy is at the heart of the community planning agenda’ and identifies two key issues. The first is the problem of ‘worklessness’ — 25 per cent of the working age population (94,500 people) are neither in work nor actively seeking work. The second is the weakness of the business base, with the number of businesses in the city falling and the business failure rate the highest in the UK. In response to this, the outcomes required are threefold: first, to increase the proportion of the working-age population in jobs (with a consequent decrease in the number claiming worklessness-related benefits) from 54 per cent to 57 per cent in the areas falling within the worst 15 per cent datazones in Scotland; second, to increase the number of people with particular health or support needs who are ‘job-ready’; and, third, to increase levels of entrepreneurial activity (detailed as (a) new business start-ups from 950 to 1000 p.a,, (b) social enterprises assisted up from 35 to 75, (c) new businesses created with Community Regeneration Fund support up from the current 34 and (d) new jobs created with social enterprises up from the current 38). Programmes addressing those three ‘business base’ priorities were to spend £5,664,453 over two years, of which programmes charged with increasing entrepreneurial activity were to spend £890,453. The total ROA spend over two years is £93,006,871.

Most of the £93m is spent on providing services of health, safety, learning and support to workless people in Glasgow, the financial benefit, in large part, going to the professionals from outside the regeneration areas who provide those services. Less than £1m is directed towards supporting and creating new work. Now, of course, the health, safety and learning of people is a most significant factor in whether they can ‘use their opportunity’ — it is the third of the eight policy areas — but the opportunity itself needs to be created as well as the ability to use that opportunity.

It was the outcome from Glasgow’s £93m 2006–2008 ROA which was the example given at the conference to demonstrate that ROA outcomes are not able to be measured — and given the very precise nature of the outcomes required, it is necessary to ask again whether, in fact, the outcomes were there to be measured.

This possible absence of the required outcomes might be because the ROA process has some of the characteristics of a ‘company town’, where the purpose, creativity and money are provided from outside, and where the ‘profit’ (in this instance in the form of ‘poverty industry wages’) largely goes out to ‘company HQ’ rather than ‘sticking’ to the local community and starting a reciprocating, self-generating system of economic prosperity based on the creation of new work.

Current methodology 2 – the planning system

What then of the planning system, the second place to look? How does this measure up to the needs of neighbourhoods and cities where the economy has stagnated, and society and culture are following it in a downward direction? How does it measure up to supporting the eight policy areas that, as suggested above, need to be developed?

The consultation document for setting out a fresh approach to planning for economic development, PPS4, was published in 2007 for England and Wales4 and, in SPP2, there is an established policy for Scotland.5 Both are about the planning system doing the things it can readily do — provide new economic land and guide the redevelopment of brownfield land. SPP2 talks about planning authorities ‘providing a range of development opportunities’: defined as accessible sites in city and town centres or otherwise near to public transport, brownfield sites inside towns and cities for mixed development or office or business parks, large sites close to motorways and specialist sites of high environmental quality. It also wants the planning system to identify ‘opportunities for small business development in locations that do not erode residential amenity’. The PPS4 draft requires planning authorities to

‘plan for, and facilitate a supply of land which will be able to cater for the differing needs of businesses and the expected employment needs of the whole community but which is flexible enough to be responsive to a changing economy or new business requirements.’

It also says that planning authorities should seek to make the most efficient and effective use of land and buildings, especially vacant or derelict buildings (including historic buildings). Both policy documents are much the same in that both say to local authorities that economic development should be made a priority in development plans — something any sensible planning authority would probably be doing without civil service encouragement.

The underlying and unsurprising assumption in both is that what is at issue is investment in new development or good redevelopment —on either greenfield or brownfield land. And that means investment on which investors will want a proper return, a good market rent. And that is the opposite of what local many businesses, especially in regeneration areas, need — either to grow or to start up. Often they need the kind of building where capital costs were repaid a generation ago and rents are low or the kind of building which is so inexpensive to provide that few private investors will find it worthwhile

Central government would find it difficult to say something as low-key as that and even more difficult to set out as national policy. The challenge therefore, as so often with many big issues, lies locally. As the eccentric planner and early master of the soundbite Patrick Geddes long ago said: ‘Think Global, Act Local’.6

Therefore, alongside and in addition to the obvious objectives set out by government, it is suggested that there are other land use policies that must be developed in order to be successful and sustainable in promoting regeneration and economic development. These are to protect the low rent building, to protect diversity of building form, age, affordability and tenure, and to resist the clearing away or even the expensive renewal of old, low value buildings. In other words — to sustain a certain amount of messiness in cities. This would in part address the fourth of the policy issues set out above if regeneration is to succeed: to retain or provide low-rent business premises.

A new policy approach

Look at that eight-item list again and think what issues government, this time local government, might consider as it devises policies to address them.

1. Sustain existing work
First, to sustain existing work, especially existing work that is indigenous to communities and places in need of regeneration. It is from existing work and all the knowledge, skills, markets and capital that go with it, that new work and economic growth will flow. It does not grow out of nothing. Regeneration areas are characterised, rightly, as areas of significant worklessness. But this does not mean that they are free of existing work; they are not. Existing work is present in three ways: first and largest, those who work entirely outside the neighbourhood for external employers; second, those who run often single-person businesses providing sometimes construction industry services within, but mostly outside, the neighbourhood; and, third and interestingly, those who undertake economically beneficial work, inside and outside the neighbourhood, within the black economy. All the people engaged in these forms of work will have economically valuable skills, and many, the latter two in particular, entrepreneurial abilities.

The black economy, or to give it the more precise and less value-laden term favoured by the leading writers7 on this matter of ‘informal employment’, is not separate from other economic activities, but is part of the broad continuum of work, both paid and unpaid, which sustains a community. Although it is largely hidden from the state, it will often be highly visible in that community.

This informal employment will be valuable to a regeneration neighbourhood by providing, in common with such work in richer areas, monetary reward to those who engage in it. It will also provide, and this is a characteristic of such work only in poorer neighbourhoods, the kind of services for neighbours, friends and family that build up social capital in the neighbourhood.8 Above that, what informal employment in regeneration areas does demonstrate is that people in regeneration areas are not all welfare slackers, the thought of whom provokes such ire in parts of the press, but people with significant and often self-taught skills and entrepreneurial talents.

If local government could find the appropriate organisational and especially cultural means to bring ‘black economy’ skills and activities into mainstream economic life, it would (and by its nature there is an element of belief and hope here) provoke a transformation of how both the levels of existing economic work and levels of worklessness in regeneration areas are viewed. It might also encourage different and more culturally specific responses to issues surrounding business start-ups and transitions to the mainstream economy in regeneration areas.9

There is a (perhaps apocryphal) story from the time in the 1970s when Wester Hailes, the giant housing estate on the western edge of Edinburgh was being developed, which illustrates the difference between the ‘company town’ approach and the ‘black economy’ approach. The council thought that the area would benefit from trees, and sent its people to plant large saplings in the area. Each time the workers went around and planted them in the spots designated by the architects and planners, they were vandalised and uprooted. One evening the men forgot to remove the next set of saplings from the back of the lorry on which they had been despatched that afternoon into the neighbourhood. Next morning all the saplings had vanished. They reappeared, well-watered and flourishing, not in the designated spots but near houses where they could be guarded, though never so close to one particular house that the sapling ‘thieves’ could be identified. Wester Hailes now has trees, but not where they were supposed to be.

To help sustain existing businesses, however they have arisen, in regeneration areas, local government should first seek out and then purchase goods and services from businesses in such areas within its own administrative boundaries. That goes against current efforts to find efficiencies of scale in local government purchasing by local authorities banding together to buy in bulk on the national or international market. This price efficiency is sought in order to gain the best value for money for the public purse. A laudable aim, but one which may well be causing greater and more embedded expense for the public purse by making necessary the requirement for continued ‘regeneration’ spending in areas where the local economy is stagnant. A mix of purchasing practices — both local and global — which allows a wider definition of benefit to the public purse and the public interest is necessary.

2. Create opportunities for new work  
The second policy area in the list is to find and exploit opportunities for new work — through ‘import replacement’ and ‘export’. Most legitimate work that people from a regeneration area do, again almost by definition, is likely to be located outside the area, with external employers, and is often of the low-skill, low-pay type of work. With too much reliance on outside employment, there is no self-generating capacity for growth and prosperity; any new work for the neighbourhood will also be external and depend entirely on the personal skills and abilities of those from the neighbourhood who go to seek them. Regeneration policy usually encourages this approach. That is why there is so much attention paid to and money spent on ‘removing the personal barriers to work’. It is important to do this, and spending on this must continue, but real change lies in the revitalisation of the local economy and the re-energising of the people with regard to their work, which will come from that.

Many of the existing ‘indigenous’ businesses in areas which require regeneration, providing local work, are likely to be in the construction trades, the engineering trades, the retail trades and, for want of a better term, the ‘community support’ trades. These are occupations where the big global and national players who currently dominate the economy are less evident, and therefore where opportunities for local development are stronger. How can these existing areas of work develop and change to find and exploit opportunities for new work and bring a vital local economy into being? That is the real challenge for policy makers. What construction, engineering retail and ‘community support’ goods and services are being imported from outside the neighbourhood which local business, formal or ‘informal’, with some adaptation of what they already do, could supply instead? And which goods and services created by existing work, together with the new goods and services from new, ‘import-replaced’ work, could be exported to outside the neighbourhood? And how can public policy support those very local processes? Perhaps by sensitive sub-contracting to local organisations and businesses, some of the services that the local public sector currently provides, from nursery nurses to building maintenance. Perhaps, again, by changes in local government procurement practices. Perhaps by supporting a variety of forms of enterprise — not just the conventional private entrepreneurial model, but also social enterprise, community enterprise and cooperative enterprise.

3.  Enhance access and remove barriers to work  
Certainly one policy the public sector can and does pursue is the third in the list: to enhance the knowledge and work skills of local people and remove the personal barriers to working. Much effort is devoted to confronting the problem of worklessness and helping people with all kinds of abilities to improve their access to external employment and, once gained, their capacity to retain it. Comparatively little effort is devoted to improving the knowledge and skills of people in the neighbourhood to sustain their current ‘indigenous’ work and to adapt and develop it. But there may be a change afoot. Three programmes aimed at boosting business in deprived areas have been launched as part of plans to streamline government-funded business support.10 The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has said there will be at least three new programmes aimed at tackling economic exclusion within the new simplified range of business support services. These will be a new coaching scheme for people without the skills and knowledge to start a firm, and two new products offering support and advice on ‘business creation’ and ‘business expertise’ which will be offered more intensively in deprived areas. One of the big barriers to the success of such ‘products’ is a lack of self-confidence and a belief that ‘people like me’ do not get to be successful and prosperous; it will be interesting to see whether these new business programmes can address that issue over time.

These three policy areas — to sustain existing local work, to find and exploit opportunities for new work through ‘import replacement’ and ‘export’ and, less so, to enhance the knowledge and work skills of local people — are more easily pursued in the mixed inner-city regeneration areas, where there is already a mix of uses, skills, properties and work. They are less easy to follow successfully in those outer city regeneration areas planned as purely residential neighbourhoods. It is in those outer city residential estates where worklessness is most entrenched, and that is exactly the way they were planned: without work. People who live in these areas have always been relied on to travel outside the area to work and, through large programmes to improve their knowledge and skills and remove their personal barriers to work, are still encouraged to do so. Those who achieve well-remunerated external work through such efforts tend to leave the area; that larger number which achieves low-paid work from employers elsewhere in the city tend to stay. And what is so often seen today are the survival of all the many characteristics of deprivation within these areas and a ‘failure’ in regeneration. It is even more pressing, therefore, if also more difficult and more lengthy, in such mono-use residential areas to seek to establish diverse work that is indigenous to the neighbourhood and thereby seek to seed the possibility of a self-generating and self-sustaining local economy.

4. Retain and provide low-rent premises 
The classic economic inputs are labour, land and capital, and the first three policy areas have addressed — in its broadest sense — the issue of ‘labour’. Today, at a neighbourhood scale, when looking at the ‘land’ input, it is perhaps more useful to talk about the uses to which land is put, rather than land itself, and, consequently, policies towards business premises. In regeneration neighbourhoods, this means addressing the retention or provision of low-rent local business premises. It is the fourth policy area on the list.

Looking back, it may turn out that one of the more important policies that the author initiated in his recent time as a councillor in Edinburgh was a means of protecting small workplaces in broadly residential areas from complete redevelopment as residences.11 True, it started as a means, in those areas of the city where residential values are high, to protect the very useful mixed nature of those areas and the local services that were provided from often much lower-value workshops and other workplaces within them. It was difficult for council officers to write such a policy — why should a sometimes low-rent, messy, old, workplace not be converted and upgraded and turned into a desirable place to live, when so many people wanted to live there? But they succeeded, and it was found that the council had also given itself the tools to protect from redevelopment as flats or houses larger groupings of what, in a very Edinburgh way, are called ‘artisan and artist’ workspaces in a broader range of neighbourhoods. To all cities, but especially to a capital city where the cultural and artistic work is of great significance, providing or keeping a sufficient and variable stock of low-rent workplaces — and keeping them mixed in with other kinds of buildings and uses — is an indispensable part of maintaining or regaining prosperity. Mess, mix and low-rent are necessary economic drivers.

For those places where site redevelopment is justified, design studies were produced in Edinburgh to demonstrate to doubtful developers that residential and small business premises could go hand in hand.12 In regeneration areas where redevelopment is planned and to encourage the retention and the growth of local work, the provision of affordable housing and affordable business premises is a dual priority. In thriving neighbourhoods, that mix has evolved over time; in the redevelopment of regeneration areas, that mix needs to be provided in a shorter timescale, and those design studies show that it is possible.

5. Create access to small scale risk capital
Labour, land and now capital is the fifth policy area on the list. Local government should find a way to provide easy access to more low-interest, small scale, risk capital working alongside local community development finance institutions where they exist. And risk means risk. No one always has the right answer where business enterprise is concerned and, although reasonable prudence with public funds is required, the need to encourage trial and error, failure and the occasional success must be recognised through a light-touch and imaginative approach to small business risk funding. It is not an approach that the commercial banks, especially now, will adopt; but the public sector can. In the end, the public purse will have far fewer demands made on it if the economy of an area in need of regeneration has some self-generating economic activity seeded within it than if it is left to stagnate with all the demands on the public purse that then follow.

We are beginning to learn today that, as well as land, labour and capital, ‘place’ might also be thought of as an economic contributor all on its own. Jane Jacobs, when considering the economies of whole cities, put it this way:2

‘Consider too the physical arrangements that promote the greatest profusion of duplicate and diverse enterprises serving the population of a city, and lead therefore to the greatest opportunities for plentiful divisions of labour upon which new work can potentially arise.’(Chapter 3)

The renewal of ‘ the physical arrangements’ of place is part of the regeneration mix of policies and is now, at last, becoming part of mainstream thinking. There are three separate aspects.

6.  Sustain concentration and mix of people
The first of these, and the sixth policy area, is to ensure that there is a good concentration and mix of people and uses in the neighbourhood sufficient to support local enterprises. In a long-established regeneration neighbourhood, this is hard to deliver and can meet with resistance. Again an example from Edinburgh: Craigmillar is a large working class housing area on the eastern edge of the city, prosperous from the 1950s to the 1970s. Since that time, its population has declined from about 25,000 in its 1950s heyday to about 18,000 in the 1970s, and then drastically declined to about 7,500 a couple of years ago. Hardly enough people to sustain a chemist, a post office and a pub. The spatial plans for the regeneration of Craigmillar were outlined in the Craigmillar Urban Design Framework.13 The element of that framework most vehemently opposed by a section of the local community was the proposal to bring more people back into the area and, as a consequence, to increase the density of the area. In part, it was a political issue — not wanting the population of the area, and therefore the current power base of those objectors, to be diluted by incomers. In part, it was also something more understandable — people knew who their neighbours could be if they were unfortunate, and they did not want to be any closer than they then were to potential trouble from noisy, drug-using, criminal neighbours. Lots of unused space between low-rise buildings suited them just fine. They could not believe that higher, though not excessive, density with the right design could bring vitality, safety and greater prosperity to an area. Local government must find the policies and the means of communication by which it can convince people, even in the suburbs, that, if regeneration is to take place, sufficient people must be brought back in to live there to support the local enterprises necessary to that regeneration; and that, if local enterprises are to thrive and standards of living to be slowly improved, a full mix of uses, not just homes and community buildings, must be part of the plan.

7.  Sustain and develop local internal connections 
The seventh policy area is to provide local internal connections between people through sustaining or providing local meeting places. Neighbourhoods with sufficient density to support local enterprises will not generate their own economy and prosperity unless there are also places in which people can meet and the connections made upon which new relationships and ideas for new work can evolve. Local policy, both land use policy and economic development policy, needs actively to sustain or provide local meeting places. There are three types of meeting places — external, threshold, internal. All have different characteristics, and all must be provided for. The external meeting place is the public space, the street, the park, the square, and the creation of good functioning public spaces is now recognised as creating economic value.14 City centre examples are normally given but, if a neighbourhood is to sustain and develop its own economic life, local public spaces, albeit of a different scale and nature, are important here too. Public spaces are the most anonymous of the three types and, in Jan Gehl’s analysis, support ‘movement, marketing and meeting’ — all aspects of the necessary strong internal connections if a neighbourhood is to regenerate and prosper. There is often a lot of space accessible to the public in regeneration areas, but it is spare space, either from demolition or between-buildings SLOAP space (‘space left over after planning’). It is not defined, safe, connected, active public space in which movement, marketing and meeting can take place.

The threshold meeting places are those on the edge between internal and external, between the largely anonymous public space and the largely known ‘private’ space. They are the pubs and cafes where people meet and business is so often done, or the trust and recognition created which allow it to be done. In these places it is possible either to remain anonymous or to be part of local society. It is easy for a local authority to squeeze such facilities out of neighbourhoods (and many regeneration areas already lack enough of them) — through retail planning policy, through residential planning policy, through licensing policy. If it finds that its policies are preventing such places being sustained or provided anew, through fear of noise or litter or drunkenness, it needs to deal with those issues directly rather than close or prevent the creation of these threshold meeting spaces.

In an established neighbourhood in need of regeneration, the local people will be well aware of the need for the third type of meeting place: the internal — community centres and other buildings. They are a safe and significant local resource, but it is a requirement of their use that one may not remain anonymous and must join existing activity. Communities will campaign for their provision or re-provision in any regeneration scheme, and they will be readily provided.

In new-build areas, which will be areas in need of regeneration in the not too distant future unless they are built rather better than often they currently are, developers are reluctant to make land available for these three ‘connecting’ uses, but local planning authorities must see that they do so.

8. Sustain and develop external connections
The eighth and final policy area is to sustain or provide good connections to the wider city. Again, the importance of good connections by foot, by bicycle, by public transport and by private car is now well recognised. They carry work and people in and out. But a note of warning. Good connections to and from a city or neighbourhood, unless the foundations for local economic vitality are strongly in place, may simply provide the means for the more energetic and enterprising in a population to go and work elsewhere and for outsiders to come into the area to take up the more rewarding employment. Professor Ivan Turok has raised this as a question with regard to the development of Medway.15 Most of the ‘good’ jobs there are to be had at the other end of the fast commuter rail link to London and ‘extensive commuting deprives Medway of social vitality and self-organisation or “social capital”’ because of the weariness and dislocation it causes. (Another reason, perhaps, why in regeneration areas, where so many of the more able people go to work elsewhere, full ‘community engagement’ is hard to achieve.) Commuting also deprives Medway of the benefit of much of the commuters’ spending; much of the money earned elsewhere is spent elsewhere. The good connections do bring people into Medway — but, because Medway’s more energetic and enterprising are commuting out, the incomers take a disproportionately high number of the high-level local jobs and spend their money where they live, not in Medway. Other connecting infrastructure, he concludes, ‘appears to have made the economy more permeable rather than to increase inward investment’. Malmö worried about this kind of impact when the Oresund bridge was built to Copenhagen and, before it opened, wisely invested in the vitality of its city centre. Good connections are not in themselves a guarantee of prosperity, to a city or to a neighbourhood. They need the parallel revitalisation of the local economy if they are to bring the benefits which all assume for them.

Inevitably, the question will be asked — if these eight policy directions require local trail-blazers, is local government up to it? Does it have the innovation skills and the command over local resources to follow through with effective initiatives without the policy guidance, coordinating powers and additional resource which only central government civil servants can supply? That question is asked because there is a strong belief among government policy makers that local government is broadly incompetent and that central government, naturally believed by it practitioners to be broadly competent, must therefore involve itself. And that belief has led to the annexation of local government powers and activities by central government agencies. The ‘company town’ implications of such necessarily large-scale intervention by central government agencies have been seen.

Lord Heseltine has strong views on the impact of such intervention:

‘Local government in Britain’s cities has been emasculated and hollowed out. The powers which they once exercised have been removed by centralising Governments unwilling to trust local people to shape their own destiny. Tragically, the ability of our great Cities to lead their own renaissance no longer meaningfully exists.’16

It is a general view which is shared throughout local government, but even within the limits imposed on it by central government, local government can and does act in its own neighbourhoods. The ‘power of well-being’, constrained though it is by its legal framework, is a tool which allows for leadership and imagination, and it could be used more. Fewer that one in 12 councils in England currently make use of this power.17 Most importantly, councils need simply to explore their own understandings of what is really happening in neighbourhoods and assert their own ability to act, without deferring to the wrongly assumed greater knowledge, power and ability of central government; because it is local action which will make a lasting difference in regeneration neighbourhoods, not central intervention.

1.    Scottish Executive (2006), ‘People and place: Regeneration policy statement’, Scottish Executive, Edinburgh.
2.    Jacobs, J. (1970), ‘The economy of cities’, Vintage Books, London.
3.    Communities Scotland (2005), ‘Regeneration Outcome Agreement 2006–2008’, Glasgow Community Planning Partnership, Glasgow.
4.    Department of Communities and Local Government (2007), ‘Consultation paper on a new Planning Policy Statement 4: Planning for sustainable economic development’, Communities and Local Government Publications, Wetherby.
5.    Scottish Executive (2002).
6.    Geddes, P. (1915) ‘Cities in evolution’.
7.    Williams, C. and Windebank, J. (1998), ‘Informal employment in the advanced economies’, Taylor & Francis, London.
8.    Williams, C. and Windebank, J. (2001), ‘Reconceptualising paid informal exchange: some lessons from English cities’, Environment and Planning A, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 121–140.
9.    Copisarow, R. and Barbour, A. (2004), ‘Self-employed people in the informal economy: cheats or contributors?: Evidence, implications and policy recommendations’, Community Links, London.
10.    Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (2008), ‘Solutions for business — funded by government’.
11.    Draft Edinburgh City Local Plan (2007), Employment Policy 4 and City of Edinburgh Council Planning Committee (15 May 2008) ‘Edinburgh Small Business Space 2008’.
12.    Smith Scott Mullan, Architects (2006), ‘ Small business design study’, City of Edinburgh Council Planning Committee, 10th August.
13.    City of Edinburgh Council (2005), ‘Craigmillar urban design framework’.
14.    Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (2007), ‘Paved with gold’, CABE, London.
15.    Turok, I. (2008), ‘Limits to the mega-city-region: Local versus regional needs in the Thames Gateway’.
16.    Heseltine, M. (2007), ‘Cities renaissance: creating local leadership’, submission to the Shadow Cabinet.
17.    Department of Communities and Local Government (2008), ‘Evaluation of the take-up and use of the well-being power: research summary’, Communities and Local Government Publications, Wetherby.