Will levelling-up lead to a new interest in regeneration projects?
Almost 20 years ago, as The Consultation Institute was opening its doors, one of the most visible themes in the public sector was urban regeneration. Following from well-publicised heroics by Michael Heseltine in Merseyside and the imaginative redevelopment of Docklands in London, many cities had their own version, complete with armies of planners, architects, builders, of course, community development staff.
The thinking was that such wholesale redevelopment required a considered vision of the kind of communities that you are seeking to build. Hence the term regeneration. The idea was that the replacement of old-style infrastructure would be successful only if the resulting communities enjoyed better life prospects, had a cohesive sense of identity and the new generations of residents or workers were comfortable with their new surroundings.
When austerity hit the UK, local authorities in particular, were obliged to slash their budgets. Simultaneously there was suddenly a problem in raising capital for major large-scale development projects and as a result, wide-angle urban regeneration abruptly stopped. Only in London, with the 2012 Olympics imminent, was there a will and the means to galvanise a city and harness skills and expertise on a grand enough scale to effect massive change. Even today, the legacy of that enterprise remains, and is probably the sole surviving example of the regeneration thinking that lasted for several years around the turn of the century. Elsewhere, though, and in many of our northern cities, the dreams were put on hold, and the last decade was one of treading water for many of them. Instead we have a plethora of smaller, less ambitious projects thanks to the Towns Fund and similar initiatives. It is one of many reasons why the cry went up for ‘levelling up’.