How can strategy be turned into delivery?

Amanda Taylor outlines the key elements that can make regenerative housing projects a success.

Local authorities, housing associations and community trusts in the South West are increasingly finding innovative approaches to regenerate their communities and neighbourhoods to deliver high-quality and well-designed housing and places fit for modern-day living. These projects are not just bricks and mortar: they are also about people, communities and places.

Despite an uncertain political and economic backdrop, local authorities and housing associations are being given greater support to build more new homes and regenerate current estates.  Changes such as removing the Housing Revenue Accounts’ borrowing cap, the continuing trend of Local Authorities establishing their own Local Housing Companies and the establishment of strategic partnerships between Housing Associations and Homes England signal this increasing support for delivery.

Dramatic changes are afoot, but people still need to be at the heart of every regeneration project. With this in mind, what are the key elements that make such projects a success?

Leadership and governance

Corporate and political support for change is an absolute must. Strong leadership relating to project principles, vision and objectives is needed to understand the key priorities for the projects. Establishing a clear governance strategy from the start will steer the project through to delivery.

Public and political involvement

Bringing change where communities have been established for 40-50 years requires appropriate public and political consultation. Instead of being ‘consulted’, residents, councillors and other stakeholders need an active role in design proposals. Consider creating ‘charters’ which show your commitment to the local community and the principles you intend to follow in development proposals. Estate regeneration projects affect communities and people’s homes and can take a long time to delivery.  Consultation needs to be appropriately timed and carefully balanced to produce innovative solutions whilst at the same time avoiding stress or raising aspirations that can’t be delivered.

Business plan

Understanding finance and funding possibilities from the outset will enable the project to move forward with more confidence. Complex finance restrictions for Registered Providers and Local Authorities calls for innovative approaches. Don’t be surprised if you are creating 60-year business plans!

The temptation may be to build higher and build denser in order to balance the business plan but don’t lose sight of placemaking and the value of the existing community.  Diversifying the mix or adding new homes will not tackle the underlying issues of deprivation or poverty in isolation. Investment in people – training, community spaces, opportunities for young people – must be factored into the business plan.

Measurement

How will you measure project success? How will you agree where to refurbish buildings or demolish and regenerate in certain areas over others?  Gathering and mapping baseline data can help but only if the reasons for particular trends are understood.  Agreeing measures to assess options and understand the impact of changes is critical for winning support from the local community and other stakeholders. Consider the key factors early on – these need to relate to people as well as finance and delivery.

Delivery

Decant sites are likely to be necessary to produce a phased delivery plan. The natural turnover of properties can be used to provide temporary solutions, enabling community groups to stay together.

Having a base on site can be invaluable, enabling the client to respond to the concerns of residents and their decant needs with clarity and trust. Ensure that sufficient resources are available for this delicate stage of the project.

To minimise disruption to the community and residents, alternative and specialist forms of accommodation should be considered. Off-site methods of manufacturing can bring a positive contribution to quicken the build programme and make use of difficult to access sites.

Holistic approach

In addition to low-quality housing or poor local facilities, communities are often experiencing social issues relating to mental health, crime and low employment. Consider how you can address these issues through other community initiatives such as local business partnerships, training programmes or community activities such as allotments.

In 2017 central government awarded £30m to estate regeneration projects across the country to consider innovative ways of improving existing housing stock and provide additional homes. Many of these projects, such as our Vision for Cheltenham West, have now been completed and a package of proposals has been put back to MHCLG.  They demonstrate that it is possible to provide more homes on existing sites without creeping into the green belt and at the same time address some of the wider social and economic issues facing these estates.  With a weight of evidence behind these case studies, the hope is that MHCLG will lobby for additional funding to turn these innovative projects, about communities as well as housing numbers, into reality.