The Regeneration Game
Last week, we saw a rush of councils across England announce preferred partners for their planned regeneration schemes. Whether it was Kingston Council, who will put their plans to a public vote (what could possibly go wrong?), or plans progressing for a revamp of Bishop’s Stortford town centre, ‘regeneration’ is clearly a buzzword for local authorities today.
Given the lack of a plan from central government when it comes to either social infrastructure or, indeed, how to harness private finance, it should come as no surprise that local authorities are taking things into their own hands to redevelop crumbling infrastructure.
After all, it is now almost a decade since the Building Schools for the Future programme was scrapped – the last great attempt by any government to provide a truly systematic refresh of an aspect of the nation’s social infrastructure. And since PFI was replaced with PF2 a full seven years ago, it has yielded a handful of schools and a half-built hospital: a demining indictment of the lack of interest in the policy, whichever way one looks at it.
Which is why many councils are now looking to the private sector much more as long-term joint venture partners, as opposed to long-term adversaries on the other side of a government-created contract.
By cutting out the central government middle-man, some local authorities are hopeful that they can develop far better partnering relationships by having a strong say in any plans that are developed, in conjunction with the private sector. It is also why many developers are gearing themselves up for this sort of approach, with the likes of Morgan Sindall, Cityheart and others willing to deliver not just a new shop or some new homes, but a fully integrated community, including schools and health facilities.
For many authorities, such an integrated approach, in which their land is their only asset to attract development, entering into joint ventures that give them a say over what should be built where is the only realistic option to get new social infrastructure delivered.
And the good news is that there are likely to be plenty more of these opportunities. According to research published this week by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, there could be as many as one million new homes built – three-quarters of them in the next five years – on brownfield sites. Many of these will not be easy, but will be the kind of sites that have an underlying value, that can be used as leverage in a joint venture to bring in a private sector partner.
Regeneration is clearly where the future lies.