The Local Growth White Paper set out the Government’s ambition for a new approach to locally-driven growth, encouraging business investment and promoting economic development. Regeneration to enable growth: What Government is doing in support of community-led regeneration sees ‘top-down regeneration’ replaced by a new, community-led approach as a wide range of powers, incentives, freedoms and flexibilities are introduced through the decentralisation, localism and Big Society agendas:
“putting residents, local businesses, civil society organisations and civic leaders in the driving seat and providing them with local rewards and incentives to drive growth and improve the social and physical quality of their area.”
Regeneration to enable growth (member access only) provides a guide to the ways in which local authorities and communities will be enabled to drive regeneration. Central government’s role will be strategic and supportive, along five broad lines:
- reforming and decentralising public services – lifting burdensome bureaucracy and empowering local areas to do things their way with changes to planning policy, local government finance, diversified public services provisions and welfare reform;
- providing incentives to drive growth – freeing up local areas to grow their economies enabled by incentives such as the New Homes Bonus, local discretion over business rates, an amended Community Infrastructure Levy, as well as new support structures such as the new Local Enterprise Partnerships and refocussed Homes and Communities Agency;
- removing barriers that hinder local ambition – abolishing outdated planning rules, enabling local tax increment financing and facilitating Big Society innovations;
- providing targeted investment and reform to strengthen the infrastructure for growth and regeneration and to support the most vulnerable – almost £20 billion central government infrastructural investment in developments including the national high speed rail network, new affordable homes, Decent Homes refurbishment and Regional Growth Fund, as well as funding to support adult skills, improve educational and social outcomes and protect local front line services in the most vulnerable places.
In its generality, the Local Growth White Paper approach is welcome. A key role is envisaged for local authorities and priority given to equipping them with the flexibility and discretion necessary to meeting local needs. It is also helpful in not restricting itself to the area/housing renewal-based approaches of the past. Whilst liberating its scope, alluding to housing, economic and other development as well as some social policies, it offers no alternative definition or objective. Regeneration, in theory as in practice, appears entirely open to local interpretation.
It is inevitable however that the substantive concerns will centre around resources and funding. Many of the opportunities for regeneration look to realising Big Society investments of time and money from civil society. Notwithstanding the ingenuity and potential of these new resource and income streams, concerns are now being voiced as to the financial viability of the Big Society approach itself. There is a real risk that councils struggling to support rising levels of unemployment, growing demand on public services and deteriorating capital assets and infrastructure, will regard government’s approach to community-led regeneration as not so much devolving as abdicating responsibility – passing the buck without the bucks.
For all these reasons, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into regeneration is especially welcome. It challenges contributors to consider both the merits of this new approach and those of the past. Just as local councils have been placed at the heart of the new community-led approach, so should the wealth of theiir views and experience be at the heart of the Select Committee’s evidence.
A full members briefing, written by Juliet Morris, can be found through this link