On Wednesday 9 September I was a speaker alongside Melanie Leech CBE, Chief Executive of the British Property Federation at the IPT’s virtual event on Regenerating the UK’s Urban Environments. The discussion was attended by Members from both the House of Commons and House of Lords, alongside representatives from a wide variety of sectors from business and industry to the public sector.
Our discussions broadly covered:
The debate was extremely timely and posed important questions, namely: what do we actually mean by urban regeneration? What might it look like post-COVID, post-Brexit, post-Grenfell? And how can we ensure it is delivered to the benefit of all in the UK?
Urban regeneration in the UK to date has not always done what it says on the box and there has been little creativity in recent years in thinking about and developing new models of urban regeneration. There is a tendency to rehash old ideas.
In my short speech I highlighted 3 key messages:
1. Urban regeneration should be a response to the challenges which are presented by urban decline in a particular town or city at a specific moment in time. Urban regeneration is not just about driving investment. Over the last 20 years or so urban regeneration, even policies designed to trigger social uplift, have been to the detriment of low income groups, and more often than not have resulted in gentrification and displacement, that model is not socially sustainable. Economic inclusion and more equitable development are critical factors for the health, safety, and economic competitiveness of our towns and cities.
2. We are at an opportune moment in time in which to rethink urban regeneration. We urgently need a new urban regeneration plan that makes local urban economies and communities more mixed, greener, properly resilient and robust, and not reliant simply on property development. We need proper public dialogue to discuss visionary but grounded ideas for the future of cities in the UK.
3. It is over 20 years since the publication of Towards an Urban Renaissance which was informed by the detailed research done by an Urban Task Force set up by government. It is time to set up a new Urban Task Force to review the needs of British towns and cities post-COVID, post-Brexit, and indeed post-Grenfell.
Urban regeneration in the UK at this point in time, after three critical shocks – Grenfell, COVID and Brexit - needs to pay attention to the different local geographies and needs of towns and cities across the country and bring people together to develop new ideas.
A ‘New Urban Task Force’ should be made up of experts in the socio-cultural, economic, environmental and public health aspects of the urban - economic development leaders, business representatives, academics, and other experts. They should be charged with identifying critical urban needs at this moment in time and coming up with new urban regeneration ideas and models that support improved outcomes for our towns and cities and all who live in them.
The debate on September 9 triggered active and enthused discussion amongst quite different bodies, significantly all were on the same page. It would be real value added if debate on this important issue could continue in Westminster and beyond. Properly evidenced and thought through a new body of urban regeneration ideas could be key in providing solutions to the socio-economic problems our cities are facing now and in the decades to come.
Words by Professor Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography, University of Leicester