Friday, 15 January 2010

Some reasons why Michael Heseltine is the wrong man to lead on regeneration


“Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine is set to take a key role in forming Conservative party regeneration policy, it was revealed today.”

This was the quote that popped up in my e-mail in-box courtesy of Regeneration & Renewal Magazine (which, of course, being a Haymarket publication has a Hezza connection). Suffice it to say this caught my breath. Why, given the failure of all Heseltine’s prior efforts at regeneration, are we bringing him back to advise the Party on a “green paper”?

“Failure”, I hear you exclaim, “but surely Hezza’s a regeneration superstar?” Followed I guess by talking about intervening every verse end, clearing vast swathes of industrial land in Northern cities and cutting through the “red tape” by handing planning powers to development corporations. Plus Docklands of course.

Well I don’t know where to start with the reasons why Michael Heseltine is the wrong man to lead on regeneration but here’s a few good reasons:

Regeneration isn’t about buildings, land, property development or big business. It’s about people and the barriers to people succeeding in life – remove those barriers and there’s a chance of regeneration. Keep them there and all the land deals in the world won’t make things any better.

Regeneration isn’t about being “business-led”. Especially when the businessmen doing the leading are those with the vested interests in using the public money poured into regeneration to generate profits.

Regeneration isn’t about big , grand, landmark schemes. You can spit from the wonders of the Victoria Dock development in Newham onto the depressing sadness that is Silvertown and North Woolwich. Those grand schemes haven’t transformed those communities – worse than that, they have made them more isolated

Regeneration isn’t about knocking down the stuff you don’t like and handing over the cleared remnants to developers. Sometimes that’s right but mostly it destroys neighbourhoods and merely relocates the community’s problems

Above all regeneration is about people. Not people with nice cars, good suits and expensive haircuts. Not men who think the way to regenerate is to push out all the poor people. Regeneration is about transforming the lives of people who live in poor places – places where the schools are crap, where the only available careers appear to be drug dealer, prostitute or benefits cheat and where having a job is the exception not the rule. All the planning rules, red lines, area-based initiatives, urban development corporations, property forums and assorted paraphernalia of regeneration amount to nothing if we ignore the basics – education, skills, housing and, first and foremost, the aspiration and confidence of people in poor communities.

I don’t doubt Michael Heseltine’s business acumen. I’m sure there are good tactical reasons for the Party involving him in developing policy. But regeneration needs new thinking. Thinking that focuses on the people who live in the places being regenerated. People whose aspirations are low, who see little prospect of opportunity and who get the raw deal when it comes to many services. Rounding up a few businessmen to sit on some grand board so as to hand out some cash didn’t solve the problem in the 1970s. Or the 1980s. Or the 1990s. Or from 2000 to today. Perhaps we’ll learn now and put money and effort into regenerating the people rather than in trying to hide them under shiny new buildings.



Mike Chitty said...

Spot on!

Jess Steele said...

Great stuff. I've been watching regen very closely during and since Grandaddy Heseltine and everything you say above is true. See for the best way I can see to put it right.

- Jess Steele (ex of Deptford - 23 regen schemes, over £150m, between 1989 and 2009, ex of BURA British Urban Regeneration Assocation, now of DTA Development Trusts Association)

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Physical regeneration needs to be an important part of the story in many places. But 'regeneration' without plenty of people centred community development is missing the point.

Crispin Moor

Julian Dobson said...

Couldn't have put it better myself.

I'd be interested in what you make of Lord Michael Bates's comment: 'Given the north has a higher share of the public sector economy, shouldn’t it bear its share of the pain?'

Are we getting ready for a re-run of the 1980s?