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!”