Politicians and developers continue to spin a narrative of progress and economic growth around the ‘regeneration’ of London’s poorer areas, writes Paul Coleman.
Elected local councillors and appointed council officers invest considerable political and career capital in a developer-led regeneration model.
This model dominates regeneration efforts in London during the first two decades of the 21st Century – even beyond the general economic paralysis caused by the 2008/9 banking and financial meltdown.
Possibly due to the meltdown, they pursue the developer-led regeneration model even more ruthlessly deep into 2014.
The aggressive pursuit of this model is epitomised by local council leaders and global developers cementing their regeneration agreements at MIPIM, the annual international real estate jamboree at the Mediterranean resort of Cannes, and at the London Real Estate Forum in Mayfair.
London’s dominant regeneration model evolves from a neo-liberal paradigm born in the 1980s – retracted public spending, ‘trickle-down economics’, and the ‘marketisation’ of council or social housing.
In 1997, London and UK electors vote for a progressive change after eighteen years of government dominated by such naked free market conservatism.
An outwardly new wave of politicians seem to show a genuine desire to improve the lives of people on average and lower incomes – especially those living in council estates. But they do not believe increased public spending achieves this aim.
They say ‘public-private partnerships will deliver improvements.
A strain of influential opinion emerges amongst policymakers that some parts of British cities – like London – contain too much council or social rented housing. Policy ‘wonks’ persuade politicians the only really effective way to drive up housing standards, educational attainment and to improve the environment is to change the mix of local populations.
Basically, this means getting more affluent or ‘middle class’ people to move into poorer areas and create ‘mixed communities’.
This leads to developer-led regeneration.
Locally elected councillors from mainstream political parties compete with counterparts in other boroughs to attract ‘inward investment’ from property investors, developers and ‘anchor’ department stores.
Developers and asset managers convince local politicians that building large numbers of new mono-tenure homes represents a disastrous return to ‘failed and obsolete’ council estates built in the 1960s and 70s – and requires vast sums of taxpayers’ money not readily available.
But critics say large private developer-led regeneration schemes can only achieve profitable returns with such large public subsidies.
Inevitably, these subsidises take the form of sales of heavily discounted and undervalued public land, taxpayer-funded decanting of existing residents, and demolition of residents’ long-standing homes and traditional neighbourhoods.
Councils control planning in such arrangements. But developers control the money.
Councils with little or no funds – yet under pressure to deliver change – become dependent on developers also under pressure to make profits.
Local people on average and lower incomes find it to difficult to influence decisions taken by this local state-private sector axis.
Politicians try publicly to manufacture a consensus amongst local people for developer-led regeneration schemes.
Privately, politicians impose the full weight of planning practice and law on people who have lived for generations in traditional working class areas of London.
Publicly, the media-amplified mantra hums: ‘Regeneration? Everyone wins. What’s there not to like?’
Privately, power brokers whisper: ‘Win or lose. Like it or not. You will be regenerated.’
The common public regeneration narrative buzzes: ‘Let our vision and regeneration objectives be your future.
Let’s demolish rundown council estates. Tear down tired shopping parades.
Let’s masterplan. Conjure core strategies. Devise local development frameworks.
So developers and housing providers can build mixed, sustainable communities, for you.
So you can live in affordable, carbon neutral homes.
Close to leisure and community facilities.
Generating jobs for local people in the process.
Regeneration will engage and consult local people over place-making.
Brand and re-brand the economic offer.
Build public-private partnerships. Attract inward investment.
Invest in skills. Kick-start businesses.
Promote night-time economies.
Regeneration will establish new urban villages.
Retail destinations. Dynamic gateways.
Quarters. Hubs. Corridors.
‘Developer-led regeneration promises but delivers too.
Transforms. Secures economic growth.
Creates wealth. Supports enterprise.
Innovates. Spreads opportunity.
And regeneration preserves an area’s heritage.
Embraces cultural diversity.’
Only fools not in their right mind would seek to deny us this powerful and glorious vision for London?
What can stop the rise of this divine kingdom of developer-led regeneration?’
© London Intelligence 2014