IHBC’s ‘IMHO’ opinion from PBC Today: Is urban regeneration worth the effort?

websiteIn a recent issue of Planning and Building Control Today (PBC Today) Kim Vernau, CEO at BLP Insurance, highlights the key points raised at an interactive discussion organised for industry peers on whether regeneration can really work in practice to alleviate pressure on the housing market.

Kim Vernau writes:

The UK’s housing crisis continues to plague policymakers, with ongoing discussions around different solutions to meet the challenge of shortages in housing supply. Regeneration offers the government and broader housing sector the opportunity to address this fundamental issue, while also reviving parts of the UK by driving growth, creating new jobs, and redistributing the population to address overcrowding.

Guest speaker Liz Peace, CBE and Chair of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation, provided valuable insight on the merits of urban regeneration versus starting from scratch elsewhere, also highlighting the complex range of public policy issues now on the agenda around housing and infrastructure funding….

The term regeneration has been around for a long time, however the debate over how it should be defined remains ongoing. Regeneration is not straightforward redevelopment; it is proactively implementing improvements where, in the absence of intervention nothing would have happened. Regeneration has the potential to help the government move towards its housing target of 250,000 new homes a year, however to achieve this target significant work will be required to overcome the obstacles deeply entrenched in the industry.

Politics can create issues for regeneration across the UK. Development projects tend to be completed over a long timeframe which can be seriously disrupted by changes in leadership caused by the five-year national electoral cycle and local government elections. Developers that have an agreed approach for an area with one party can subsequently find their plans in the hands of a different leadership.

Land ownership also presents an interesting challenge. Public land is good for regeneration, but there can often be a delay in releasing it for development. Alternatively, private land purchased at development value may lead to subsequent problems as unreasonable expectations from landowners in respect of land values can create difficulties further down the line; where land is sold at a high value this can restrain what developers can afford to deliver in terms of social value and affordable housing. Furthermore, brownfield land brings its own issues where it requires decontamination, potentially causing the value of the land to depreciate immediately.

The housing industry and public authorities that want to see regeneration happen need to address the issue of profit versus place. A compromise may need to be made in order to create the right development. Further, communities have also started to find their voice. Their views can delay development for long periods of time should they oppose the plans….

One of the challenges for sizeable regeneration schemes is getting the project out of the starting blocks. In the absence of a delivery body, be it an urban development or regeneration company or a joint venture vehicle, it is difficult to overcome local government issues. There may be occasions where this can only be addressed through the use or threat of a compulsory purchase order (CPO).

In the UK, the London Docklands Development Corporation has had a number of successes, without which the development of Canary Wharf simply wouldn’t have got off the ground. This is now an important model for subsequent Mayors, not least as it evidences the importance of having a structure to progress the development….

While urban regeneration schemes can take years to get off the ground, and often become the subject of drawn-out political debate, there is a strong argument for preferring urban regeneration compared with starting development afresh elsewhere on greenfield sites, often in the Green Belt. But only by facing up to the multitude of issues and frustrations that such projects bring can we start to reap the benefits of successful projects in creating new homes and wider opportunities.

The industry must work under the assumption that the UK’s population and demand for housing will continue to grow at a substantial rate. Large-scale regeneration schemes represent a clear and sustainable solution for the UK’s property sector which developers, builders and the government all need to put effort into making work.

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