Thinking Beyond The North-South Divide

Great Estates: Putting Communities At The Heart Of Regeneration is a study of what could and should be done to breathe life back into the ribbon of rundown housing estates stretching across Britain. Written by Edward Douglas and published by ResPublica, the ‘red Tory’ think tank, this policy piece – part-analysis, part-manifesto – is more pertinent than it first appears.

The accompanying blurb relies on the hoary old idea of a North-South Divide, i.e. the once-fashionable mapping of Britain into prosperous South and semi-derelict North; a spurious map which glosses over the uneven development (to say the least) of the South-East, and fails to address the prominence of Southern boroughs such as Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets in every league table of social deprivation.

The study starts out by addressing the paucity of government investment into the regeneration of housing estates, which adds up to a total of £140 million across a hundred or more redevelopment schemes. It also looks into the importance of community-led regeneration, pointing out that “if we want to transform estates for the better, we need to give people the power to lead on their regeneration.”

Douglas draws on data for deprivation and housing demand to chart both the affordability and the urgency of various redevelopment schemes. His analysis seems to show that much of the regeneration taking place in London, has occurred in areas that aren’t in the most desperate need of redevelopment; but would appear to offer the best financial rewards for the property developers undertaking it. Douglas also stresses that in high deprivation areas where private investment is bound to be low, the requirement for socially sourced investment is inescapable; even if the urgency of this has so far managed to escape successive governments.

To conclude the study, Douglas recommends producing guidelines for best practice as part of a nationwide Estates Regeneration Strategy with a new Residents’ Charter the main component. In theory, this seems like a good idea as it will ensure that residents will have a say in developments and reduce the predominant influence of developers.

His second recommendation is an Estates Endowment Fund to provide seed funding for social investment into estates nationwide. His final recommendation is partial tax relief for refurbishment – an incentive for private investors to invest in refurbishing old social housing. It could make a big difference in areas like Newham, but it is conditional on Brexit since such tax breaks are in breach of EU legislation.

Photo of social housing by lydia_shiningbrightly is used under Creative Commons license