Hannah Vickers 02 November 2020

Rethinking local regeneration

Many will be aware of the limitations of the traditional approach to regeneration which has tended to focus on redevelopment, and not on the revitalisation of a local area, neglecting social, environmental and economic outcomes that could potentially deliver on longer-term Government ambitions.

We should not be surprised that when it comes to national housing targets, the levelling-up agenda, or Net Zero ambitions, regeneration often underwhelms. Owing to the nature of how it is financed, current programmes favour assets over places, finance over social impact and successful economic locations over less prosperous areas. With all of this in mind, we have developed proposals for a £40bn Greener Regeneration Investment Fund which will challenge the regeneration model to truly deliver more for society.

While the impact of the pandemic on local authority financing is currently unknown, it is fair to assume that finance will remain an issue for any forward thinking local authority or LEP looking to use regeneration as a catalyst for a locally-led recovery. This is why the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), through the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), developed these proposals to help make regeneration faster, better and greener.

Providing this alternative source of Government-backed finance would reduce this cost by as much as 7%. In turn, this could be reinvested by local authorities into their community in the form of social or environmental projects and schemes. However, this is not just about a more cost-effective financial transaction, this subtle change in approach would give local authorities a much stronger hand when it comes to negotiation, and would go some way to rebalancing the relationship between public and private partnerships.

With a secure source of affordable finance, local authorities will be able to drive schemes to market more rapidly, purchasing land or sites, and encouraging community or infrastructure improvements. With additional public sector leverage, the most suitable land would be purchased, rather than the cheapest. This would mean placing doctors surgeries, care homes, social housing or public open spaces where they are actually needed, rather than being an afterthought to developers’ commercial considerations.

To meet Net Zero goals at a town or city level requires a strategic approach to development and this new type of regeneration provides the perfect opportunity to embed local biodiversity principles and priorities. More directly and with strong financial backing, Net Zero targets and resilience could be embedded in any proposed buildings and structures.

Furthermore, alongside the financial elements to the Fund, it has been designed to provide access to expert capability and knowledge-sharing in finance, capability and planning, truly empowering local leaders as they develop plans, proposals and programmes for a post-COVID world.

The pandemic has changed expectations and regeneration schemes will need to up their game if they are to deliver on society’s ambitions. With the traditional financial model on hold until the pandemic is well and truly over, we will need an innovative approach if we are to use regeneration to enable a locally-led recovery which helps Britain 'Build Back Better'.

Hannah Vickers is chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE)

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