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Urban regeneration has been defined as a 'comprehensive and integrated action which leads to the resolution of urban problems and which seeks to bring about a lasting improvement in the economic, physical, social and environmental conditions of an area that has been subject to change' (Roberts and Sykes, 2000, p.17). Due to the governmental changes within the UK, there have been shifts in the ways in which different regeneration initiatives have been delivered and managed over time.
This essay firstly aims to provide a story of the UK based regeneration initiatives under New Labour, followed by an explanation of how these UK based initiatives have been taken forward by the Conservative - Liberal Democrat Coalition government. Identifying how regeneration initiatives have been delivered by both New Labour and the Coalition government will provide a critique of Diamond and Liddle's (2005, p.8) statement: 'The story of UK-based urban regeneration initiatives is, at first sight, one of discontinuity'. Identifying how the regeneration initiatives were delivered during the New Labour years and then looking at how regeneration will be managed by the Coalition government will enable a critical evaluation to be formed, to be followed with a conclusion.
Urban Regeneration Initiatives under New Labour
New Labour came into office in 1997, with the election of Tony Blair, and a shift in the regeneration initiatives quickly emerged, which began with an increase in the overall funding of regeneration programmes as a result of the first comprehensive spending review (Foley and Martin, 2000). Labour's approach to neighbourhood renewal, social exclusion and urban renaissance addressed some of the intrinsic faults of the past, moving away from the property and economic dominated approaches in the regeneration process, which were most apparent during the Thatcher years, characterised by a business led agenda, where private sector involvement became a pre-requisite for almost all regeneration projects (Foley and Martin, 2000; Hill, 2000; Tallon, 2010). New Labours policy differed from that of the preceding Conservative Government, in that New Labour 'focused on regenerating communities through a range of capacity building and empowerment initiatives designed to ensure that residents were equipped with the tools and confidence to fully engage with local renewal' (Broughton et al. 2011, p.84). New Labour were determined to modernise the institutions of Britain, and a new ethos was created within government; one which became committed to fostering social justice and communities, with a concern for the market (Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones, 2000). This approach to government has often been labelled the 'Third Way' (Freeden, 1998; Giddens, 1998; Harris, 1998); placing New Labour between the three great western traditions of liberalism, conservatism and socialism (Freedon, 1998).
It began to emerge that New Labour had a dedication towards social inclusion, which led to a renewed emphasis on area based initiatives targeted at the most deprived neighbourhoods (Cullingworth and Nadin, 2006). The first phase of policy continued, but added to, 'the short-life area based spending programmes managed by multi-agency partnerships' of New Labour's Conservative predecessors (Lupton, 2003, p.141). During this phase new initiatives included the creation of Area Based Initiatives (ABIs - time limited programmes intended to address either a particular issue or combination of problems impacting on predefined urban localities (Lawless, 2006)) such as; Employment Zones, Health and Education Action Zones, and Sure Start (Ellison and Ellison, 2006), with the most intensive ABI called the New Deal for Communities (launched in 1998), a programme which aimed to transform 39 deprived neighbourhoods in England over a 10 year period; a 'radical long term approach to tackling the problems of the poorest neighbourhoods (DETR,1998), each accommodating 9,900 people (CLG, 2010a). The surfacing of these 'bottom up' initiatives and New Labour's emphasis on a commitment to involving local people in a wide range of policy decisions, including regeneration (e.g. Neighbourhood Management which aimed to place officers in neighbourhoods and mediate the interests and concerns of local people (Broughton et al. 2011)), led to what Duffy and Hutchinson (1997, p.347) labelled a 'turn to the community'. The rhetoric of the New Labour government suggested that it wanted to create conditions in which communities could have a far stronger role in the development of regeneration strategies.
From 2001 the second phase of policy emerged when there was the introduction of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal (NSNR), which marked the adoption of a new approach to the regeneration of deprived areas (Lupton, 2003). As part of the NSNR, schemes included the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, Local Strategic Partnerships, Neighbourhood Management, Street Wardens and Community Chests (Cullingworth and Nadin, 2006), these targeted policy initiatives all aimed to bridge the gap between the most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of England, as well as achieve lower long time worklesness, less crime, better health and better educational qualifications (Dominelli, 2007; Syrett and North, 2008).
New Labour's determination to encourage greater community involvement was reflected in the reorientation of some of the existing regeneration initiatives, for example, the guidelines for the single regeneration budget (SRB) were revised and updated several times and gave more importance for the role of communities; Round 1 SRB guidelines included two community led SRB schemes, whereas Round 5 guidelines included 22 successful community and voluntary led bids which accounted for 13 percent of successful bids and £43 million of the funding allocated (Foley and Martin, 2000).
Since New Labour came into power many of their policy agendas have 'commonly been seen as New Localist in nature' (Coaffee, 2005, p.109). New Localism was characterised as a 'strategy aimed at devolving power and resources away from central control and towards front line managers, local democratic structures and local consumers and communities, within an agreed framework of national minimum standards and policy priorities' (Stoker, 2004, p.117). New Localism was seen as enabling greater democratic accountability, providing a local mandate, and producing inter agency approaches to localities (Morphet, 2004).
This essay has so far provided an explanation of the regeneration initiatives in place during New Labour, it will now identify the Coalition governments approaches to regeneration, and determine if they reflect a 'discontinuity' within the story of urban regeneration in the UK.
Urban Regeneration Initiatives under the New Coalition Government
The Conservative- Liberal Democrat Coalition government came into power in May 2010; they have stated that they intend to take a different approach to the previous Labour government, but that residents, local businesses, civil society organisations and civic leaders will be put in the 'driving seat', and provided with local rewards and incentives to drive growth and improve the social and physical quality of their area; this has been called the Coalitions 'Localism Agenda' (CLG, 2011a). The Coalition agreement states that:
ÂÂ 'We share a conviction that the days of big government are over; that centralisation and top-down control have proved a failure. We believe that the time has come to disperse power more widely in Britain today; to recognise that we will only make progress if we help people to come together to make life better. In short, it is our ambition to distribute power and opportunity to people rather than hoarding authority within government" (CLG, 2010a, p.4).
They see this relationship between government and people as the opposite to the relationship people had with government in previous decades and argue that this is 'a new chapter in our democratic history' (CLG, 2010b, p.4).
Within the Decentralisation and Localism Bill, published in December 2010, the Coalition government argue that there is a need for a radical shift from the centralised state to local communities, and there are six essential actions required in order to deliver decentralisation: lifting the burden of bureaucracy; empowering communities to do things their way; increasing local control of public finance, diversifying the supply of public services, opening up government to public scrutiny and lastly, strengthening accountability to local people (CLG, 2010b). The Coalition government aim to make a shift from 'Big Government' towards a 'Big Society'; 'achieving our collective goals in ways that are more diverse, more local and more personal' (CLG, 2010b, p.2).
In relation to urban regeneration, the Coalition government argue that the credit crisis, economic recession and public expenditure cuts have transformed the regeneration landscape, but now it is essential that there is 'community based regeneration' (UK Parliament, 2011). Community based regeneration will empower local people to collaborate with other stakeholders to create solutions that tackle neighbourhood concerns, while at the same time create strong social capital, improve community cohesion and efficiently use resources (an extremely important issue during financial austerity and uncertainty). In terms of urban regeneration initiatives, the Coalition government intends to replace the time limited national programmes e.g. education action zones, health action zones etc., with other measures such as Enterprise Zones, Local Enterprise Partnerships (business led partnerships which will replace large, remote regional bodies), drawing local civic and business leaders, voluntary and community sector organisations, local housing trusts, the regional growth funds and Tax Increment Financing and social enterprises together, in order to drive economic growth and to ensure that decisions are made locally (CLG, 2011a; UK Parliament, 2011).
New initiatives such as Enterprise Zones will be established within LEP areas in England to increase the focus locally on driving up economic growth, regenerating local areas; 'The generation of Enterprise Zones are about allowing areas with real potential to create the new business and jobs they need, with positive benefits across the wider economic area' (CLG, 2011b, p.3).
As well as the initiatives explained above, the Coalition government have said that they will invest in vital infrastructure to support regeneration, ranging from transport, to affordable homes, as well as provide incentives for growth. These incentives will include the New Homes Bonus (to encourage development) as well as the Community Infrastructure Levy, to enable local communities to share the benefits of development by receiving a proportion of the funds councils raise from developers, this will enable regeneration to be led by local communities, and not by Whitehall (CLG, 2010c).
Is the story of UK-based regeneration initiatives one of discontinuity?
This essay has so far provided an outline of the UK based regeneration initiatives during New Labour, as well as how the recently elected Coalition government aims to tackle regeneration within the UK. It will now identify, with particular reference to the initiatives taken forward by New Labour and the Coalition government, if the story of UK-based regeneration initiatives is indeed one of discontinuity.
At first sight, it could appear that the story of UK-based regeneration initiatives is one of discontinuity, this is emphasised by the Coalition government who are trying to stress their commitment to creating a turning point in the relationship between government and people, aiming to decentralise approaches to regeneration and enable local people to become more involved in the regeneration of their local area. Table 1 summarises some of the terminology used within both Labour and the Coalition Governments' regeneration policy documents and the significant change in terminology which could reflect a clear indication of policy changes. The table shows that there is a clear difference, from an emphasis on the 'region' to the 'local' and this is reflected through the emergence of Local Enterprise Partnerships as well as a huge emphasis on community development which they hope will lead to the regeneration of areas; whereas New Labour focused more on achieving regeneration through target driven policies as well as also emphasizing the need to involve the community.
Table 1: Changes in Policy and Direction: New Labour and the Coalition Government
Civil Society Organisations
Rights and Responsibilities
Regional Development Agencies
Freedoms and Flexibilities
Local Enterprise Partnerships
Source: Based on Griffiths (2011)
The Coalition government has a very strong view that these new community based approaches to regeneration contrast greatly with New Labours approaches, and argue that whereas regeneration activity was previously led by Whitehall, it will now be led by the local communities, and ministers are now devolving power from 'Whitehall to the Town hall' (CLG, 2011a).
Broughton et al. (2011) state that the underlying issues for regeneration are much the same for the Coalition government as they were for previous governments; inequalities and disadvantage across and within neighbourhoods, the need for 'sustainable' investments in neighbourhoods, and the positive outcomes of community development. They do however argue that that there has been a dramatic change in the discourse around regeneration in the UK since the election of the Coalition government. Since the election, the UK has seen substantial changes impacting on the ways in which regeneration is delivered, some of the changes include considerable resource reductions leading to the loss of Regional Centres for Excellence in Regeneration (e.g. RegenWM), huge budget cuts with the Department of Communities and Local Governments budget being cut by 33 percent over four years, the abolition of Regional Development Agencies (with more emphasis on the 'local' level) and further reductions around Neighbourhood Management (Broughton et al. 2011). Due to the significant lack of resources and funding, the government is now saying that local communities should exercise more control over the management of regeneration, and that local bodies such as charities should get even more involved, whilst at the same time withdrawing funding from those same charities.
On closer examination, it could be said that the story of UK-based regeneration initiatives is not one of discontinuity, but rather one of continuity, due to a number of similarities between New Labour and the Coalition government's regeneration initiatives. Firstly, both governments had a heavy emphasis on community involvement and this has been reflected through Labours concept of 'New Localism', enabling local communities to become major players in the delivery of regeneration, as well as in the Coalition governments Decentralisation and Localism Bill, which uses similar terminology such as 'devolution', 'empowering communities', 'localism' etc. It should also be noted that even before New Labour, there were previous 'localist' initiatives in the 1970s and 1980s (Coaffee, 2005). Both parties, in or out of coalition, have previously/are attempting to decentralise powers and enable community based regeneration.
Secondly, other arguments are beginning to emerge, suggesting that the story of the UK-based regeneration initiatives is not one of discontinuity, rather that the Coalition government's approaches to regeneration, (e.g. Enterprise Zones, Local Enterprise Partnerships etc.), like the Labour approaches, (such as area based initiatives), represent a continuing requirement for Councils and their partners to adopt a competitive bidding strategy with no guarantee of success; the only difference is that there is now greater reliance on private, rather than public, sector funding (UK Parliament, 2011).
Thirdly, the previous, Labour government was criticised for being too 'top down', with regeneration initiatives being controlled by central government (Maloney et al. 2000; Bellamy and Mason, 2003) and new localism being re-named 'new centralism' (Lowndes, 2003). During Labour, the influence in policy making terms was seen as still being located at the national level e.g. the New Deal for Communities was seen as a pragmatic development in a long standing, reformist, centrally driven policy agenda (Lawless, 2005) and Labour was described as having a distinct appearance of 'control freakery' (Wilson, 2003). Similar arguments are now beginning to emerge in relation the Coalition government's regeneration initiatives. Bentley et al. (2010) for example, argue that Local Enterprise Partnerships on the one hand can be seen as part of the governments 'Big Society' philosophy, decentralising power and enabling local communities to become involved in the development of their local area, but on the other hand, LEPs have been described as 're-centralism in disguise' (Bentley et al. 2010, p.535) because it is unlikely that the LEPs will be granted the necessary powers or resources to carry out the tasks set for them. Bentley et al. also state that regeneration initiatives from the Coalition government are also being seen as too centralised as LEPs are also subject to approval from central government, which 'is not the autonomy of localism, only the appearance' (p.549).
The criticisms towards the new regeneration initiatives being brought in by the Coalition government are extremely similar to many of the arguments against Labours regeneration initiatives, this suggests that although the names of policies and amount of funding available for regeneration to take place have altered, and whilst there have been differences of emphasis from 1997 to the present day within regeneration initiatives and policy (ranging from social exclusion to the physical infrastructure), the underlying priorities have remained the same (e.g. achieving community participation and leadership). The problems concerning the initiatives have remained extremely similar, perhaps suggesting that what can be seen is a story of continuity within the UK-based regeneration initiatives rather than of discontinuity, as Diamond and Liddle (2005) suggested.
In conclusion, this essay has provided a story of the UK-based regeneration initiatives, with particular emphasis on Labour (from 1997) and the recently elected Conservative - Liberal Democrat Coalition governments. At first sight, it appears that both governments have taken quite radical, different approaches to urban regeneration. Labour's urban regeneration initiatives represented a significant shift from the business led and economic dominated approaches of centralised power that existed in the previous governments, particularly during the Thatcher years, but Labours 'Third Way' marked a new shift, focussing on the importance of building a modern Britain, and creating regenerated communities through 'New Localist' initiatives. Of particular focus was a real dedication towards ending social exclusion and creating a more equal society, reflected in the new Area Based Initiatives, as well as other schemes such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. In comparison to the previous governments these were seen as more decentralised and 'bottom up'.
With the election of the Coalition government in 2010, they announced that they would take a different approach to Labour, aiming to create a 'Big Society'where regeneration initiatives would no longer be controlled by central government, but would be decentralised back to the local community, through their 'Localism Agenda'. The Coalition government has argued that this shift is essential, particularly due to the current economic climate, in complete contrast to the period of national prosperity which existed under Labour. The area based initiatives and other schemes which previously existed, will be dismantled and replaced with other similar initiatives, including Local Enterprise Partnerships, Enterprise Zones etc; all of which will aim to bring together local business leaders, the voluntary and community sectors and social enterprises to deliver regeneration.
On first sight, it appears that the story of UK-based regeneration initiatives is one of discontinuity, with different regeneration initiatives existing over time, however, when looked at in greater detail, the regeneration initiatives present during each government, appear to be very similar, for example, both parties emphasize the importance of involving the local communities in policy decisions and both emphasize 'localism'. Despite this, regeneration initiatives under Labour were seen to be too centralised and controlled by Whitehall, and this is now being recognized in relation to the Coalition government's regeneration initiatives which have been described as 're-centralism in disguise'. It appears that the Coalition government wish to create a story of discontinuity in terms of the UK based regeneration initiatives, however concerns are beginning to emerge as to how these initiatives will work in reality, particularly as many of the initiatives aim to be 'localist', but are actually still controlled by central government. This therefore suggests that the story of UK-based regeneration initiatives may not be one of discontinuity as Diamond and Liddle (2005) stated, but reflects some elements of continuity.