Leave our streets alone

From EU referendums, to proposed education changes, to regeneration, it’s safe to say that the UK is on the cusp of major change. As a researcher with a focus on the public sector, one of the many questions that I ask and have been asked, is how local government can balance the commercial benefits of regeneration against many long standing residents concerns? How are councils able to make long term positive changes without isolating current residents?

Firstly, a lot of long term residents in these areas have concerns about prospects for themselves and their families. With commercial housing companies building properties that are often sold or rented out at ever increasing prices, first time buyers are unable to buy properties in the areas that they have grown up in and young professionals that come to work in London are unable to live here and add to these communities.

Local residents’ disapproval is always a concern for council officials and many of the senior professionals that I have spoken with are working with housing associations and housing developers to ensure that long term residents, first time buyers and low earners are able to live comfortably. However, with ever increasing cuts in local government and pressure to perform well, it is very difficult to do this without adopting a more commercial mind set and building relationships with private sector partners. To ensure long term success for the council, the compromise is to work with these partners but to ensure that each programme delivers long term benefits to residents and a strong investment return for the council.

There is also a concern that large scale regeneration often results in gentrification. Whilst a lot of people benefit from this, it is difficult to ignore that it can also disrupt strong communities that have been built over many generations. These residents want to continue to build their community with people that they have known for a long time, whilst also supporting locally owned businesses. But, the prospect of newly built properties that are marketed towards people that don’t necessarily reflect the current community can make this difficult and make residents understandably cautious.

It is though, difficult to ignore the fact that long term and sustainable regeneration can lead to better integration and greater social mobility. Councils such as Tower Hamlets have worked with developers to ensure that a proportion of the housing and commercial developments in their remit will be allocated to long standing residents and potential first time buyers, which will ensure that long term residents will not be left behind but newcomers will still be able to add to these communities. There is also the point that greater commercial investment from large businesses, will result in greater employment opportunities for residents and also ensure that councils are able to reinvest the money, for the benefit of their residents.

In conclusion, as someone who lives in an area that is undergoing huge regeneration, it is understandable that long term residents have concerns and doubts about how regeneration plans will affect them and their families. But, in order for our cities to thrive, councils and developers will need to continue to tread a careful line between a commercial imperative and community cohesion.

 

By Denean Rowe

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