Friday, 8 October 2010

'Shiny' regeneration and the 'Big Society'


The blog in Regeneration & Renewal Magazine is the champion of a shiny, state-led, property-biased appoach to regeneration. Over the past year it has proven an unremitting critic of what has become the ‘Coalition’ Government’s agenda. Perhaps we should not be surprised at this for the magazine is the cheerleader for the regeneration industry – more particularly for the development-led regeneration industry and their allies in the town planning profession.

However, this is no excuse for the writers not even trying to understand either localism or the ‘Big Society’. Or indeed for this kind of poor reportage – excusable either by the writer never having visited a party conference of else by them having trained on the Daily Mirror:

“Similarly, the part of Cameron's speech that focused on the coalition's localism agenda ("We're putting [the running of] public services in your hands ... saying to businesses, faith groups, charities, social enterprises - come in and provide a great service. That is the power shift this country needs today") failed to elicit even a half-hearted response from delegates who, presumably, don't feel quite as happy about taking on more responsibility for public service delivery as the Government does about giving it up.”

Now I’ve watched the speech and, for the benefit of Sarah Townsend who wrote this, when people make a noise by bashing their hands together, it’s called applause!

The problem is that shiny regeneration relies on huge traunches of taxpayers’ money being handed over to private developers (or to relatively unaccountable “private-public” partnerships) so they can “deliver” regeneration. And –in times past – this has done some good especially when the money has “levered-in” private investment. The problems with this approach – let’s call it the “Michael Heseltine” strategy – are twofold: firstly, it doesn’t work anymore; and secondly, it has acted to segment, ghettoise and exclude community from the process of regeneration.

Ms Townsend’s criticism – made in such a snide way – fails to understand the people who made up that audience. Those people – Tory activists – are already doing the ‘Big Society’. These activists (and the very fact of them being activists makes them part of the ‘Big Society’) are parish councillors, trustees of village halls, organisers of car clubs, deliverers of meals-on-wheels, runners of scout troops and owners of small businesses. And that is the ‘Big Society’ – it’s really that simple.

What we have to do – and this is the hard part – is to create the same spirit of involvement we have in Cullingworth, that you’ll see in East Keswick and that makes a place like Todmorden so interesting, in our inner cities and so-call "deprived" communities. Not some form of false engagement where a few people attend a forum organised by the council or the police but real involvement – the setting up of small organisations, voluntary groups and parish councils.

The ‘Big Society’ isn’t about money. It’s not about cuts. It’s not about big national funds for us to bid into. And it’s not about handing of huge chunks of money to developers who’ve sold us a sparkling, bejewelled dream of future wonderment.

The ‘Big Society’ is simple – it’s the state getting out of the way, saying “yes, you can do that. Off you go!”



Anonymous said...

At last! Mr Cooke, allow me to be the first - on what I am sure is normally a very active blog - to congratulate you on articulating exactly what the big society is all about. Perhaps if our Prime Minister had expressed the concept with such clarity 18 months ago, Ms Townsend, the vast majority of the rest of the media, the opposition and, let's face it, most Conservative activists would not have been left scratching their heads for so long.

Do you and Mr Cameron share a telepathic link? Do tell! If so, there are plenty of other questions that I would love answered. For instance, when the Prime Minister tells us that "we're all in this together", does that include City bankers? Or does the fact that they are able to bribe HM Treasury by threatening to bunk off to Switzerland excuse them of their duties as citizens of this proud nation? Also, and this one has been troubling me since Jeremy Hunt's appearance on Wednesday's News Night, just how many children is it acceptable for poor people to have?

Finally - and this one is just for you - what do you mean by "so-called deprived communities" in our inner cities? (Actually, you write 'so-call deprived', but I'll let that go.) Good grief man, at least IDS bothered to visit the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow. And you had the nerve to describe Ms Townsend's reporting as 'snide'. The mind boggles.

J. Richardson said...

So the Big Society is, effectively, the coalition government doing nothing. This begs the following question: Why doesn't David Cameron quit politics then and let someone who wants to lead the country get on with the job?

Of course, as you make abundantly clear in your blog, the Big Society concept clearly demonstrates that this Government hasn't got any ideas of its own and hasn't got the first idea about how to run the country.

Even Frances Maude told the coference that the Big Society was "chaotic and disorderly". It sounds like he thinks it's a complete mess too!

Simon Cooke said...

My intention dear Anonymous was to be positive by saying 'so-called deprived' - most folk in these places aren't helped by our characterisation of them a poverty struck, damaged places. And of course it includes City Bankers - and for that matter multi-millionaire Guardian columnists.

Mike Chitty said...

This post I think helps to explain why the property led regen has such a grip. Because we are seen as 'tax-take opportunities' for Whitehall:

SadButMadLad said...

If we had a big state and a small society with authoritarian Labour then a big society means a small state.

However Tories can be just as authoritirian so they will have to learn to use their power properly and allow others control over their lives.

Ultimate power is allowing others to use the power at their own levels and to be able to revoke this delegated power at any time. Power doesn't mean making up useless laws every other second.

Anonymous said...

What is your evidence for saying physical-led regeneration doesn't work any more? Town centres across the country have been put well on the way to being transformed into more vibrant places on the back of physical regeneration (Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester). Clearly this approach doesn't work all the time and of course community renewal is as important, but I don't understand why you completely write off physical regeneration.