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02/10/2019

Community-led regeneration sets foundations for success

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Community-led regeneration is challenging but rewarding – and it produces better outcomes. It's time to do more than just pay lip-service to participation, says Mike Fox

Community-led regeneration should be more than a government buzz phrase. Its growth should be encouraged and aligned with other policy priorities such as tackling deprivation and regenerating town centres on a much bigger scale.

So why isn’t there more of this type of regeneration? First, there’s the matter of funding; how to secure it and the fact that some projects do not have the budget to deliver meaningful engagement.

Managing stakeholders keep multiple partners and the community informed and engaged, and different groups with different people having their own ideas, needs and voices all add to the design and planning process.

We’ve already seen community-managed projects, with the purchase of small community shops, like in Dig-In in Edinburgh. The Boat Museum in Watchet, Somerset, is also a great example of the community taking action to save something.

But community-led regeneration requires proper consultation – managed and shaped by the community – rather than the more conventional and sometimes tokenistic exercises that can be all too familiar in major planning projects.

“Any engagement needs to be inclusive, informative and practical”

Southmead Development Trust had already secured community buy-in, via their community plan back in 2015, which they then built on in developing a town centre vision for Southmead, near Bristol, the following year. Together, these secured the community’s support for the principle of building higher-density housing – on Glencoyne Square, an existing public open space – to kick-start the regeneration of the centre and unlock land for homes.

The public and wider community are the key to this approach and any engagement needs to be inclusive, informative and practical. Using different tools helps bring the project to life, from one-to-ones to coffee mornings, co-design workshops, and displays at community events using virtual reality goggles to showcase how the scheme could look.

Taking on a regeneration project of this size means you need to commit significant resources upfront and work with other organisations. Funding is probably the main barrier to overcome. Lenders can be conservative when it comes to such schemes and public sector coffers are overstretched.

While this type of regeneration is challenging, it can also be hugely rewarding to educate people in the planning and design process.

The inclusive nature of the engagement process at Southmead has provided a sound footing for the first phase. Through the provision of 120 homes, live-work space and a mix of new community facilities, this will build momentum for delivering long-term change. 

Mike Fox is associate director of urban planning at Nash Partnership

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