2009 EMERITUS FELLOWSHIP – INTERIM REPORT FOR LEVERHULME TRUST
Dr Robert. J. Colenutt
Summary of Research
My research examines the potential of community-led land and property development for the renewal of deprived urban neighbourhoods, asking in particular whether it has relevance in the current economic climate when conventional property market development has broken down.
The objectives in the first nine months of the research were:
(a) To review research and evidence about the mechanisms that have led to gentrification, displacement, housing shortages and loss of employment opportunities in inner city neighbourhoods
(b) To undertake desk research and study visits to community led organisations to assess the potential of community-led models of neighbourhood development
(c) To enter into dialogue and disseminate papers on this topic to colleagues through participation in seminars, workshops, and websites
There has been a rapid growth in local initiatives and government support for community-led regeneration over the past two years. But expansion is not the real story. The most important aspect of the research is interpreting community led regeneration in the changing economic and political context and how this is shaping the debate in terms of ideology, policy, and practice. Also striking is the recent political convergence around community led development , now receiving support from all sides of the political spectrum whereas 10 years ago it was a more divisive issue.
Yet there are critical differences in purpose and outcome between different positions. The economic and political crisis has highlighted the fault lines between at one extreme “the Big Society” standpoint which is about inclusive government and reducing state intervention, and the “Social Justice” standpoint that sees community led regeneration as part of a struggle between the poor and those in power, requiring intervention by the state. Overlain on all this are significant regional and urban/rural differences in the take up of community led regeneration.
These differences come into sharp focus in the practical delivery of community led regeneration. For example, there are limitations of funding from either banks or the public sector to acquire land and buildings for community led development; often local authorities are unwilling to release land to communities at less than market price. Many community trusts face challenges of finding a long term income stream to support newly acquired assets, and trusts must at the same time involve the community and obtain technical and political support.
There has been a stream of national policy measures on these issues over the past two years. But policy objectives have become greatly complicated by cut backs in local authority budgets. One the one hand, local authorities do not want to incur financial risks of asset transfer to community groups that may not be sustainable or legitimate, on the other they want to outsource or sell off facilities such as community centres because they cannot afford to maintain them.
The principal objective of my research proposal was to explore the potential of community led regeneration. But in view of the prominence of the economic and political changes outlined above I think it is now important to give more emphasis to the different purposes of community led regeneration in different contexts (economically, politically and geographically), since without understanding these differences, there can be no proper assessment of potential.
Attendance at workshops and seminars to participate in discussions between practitioners, academics and policy makers has highlighted the impact of the current economic and political context on community led regeneration. My own writing in recent months has reflected this (see my article in Red Pepper, ”The New Politics of Community Action”, April/May 210, pp45-47)
I organised a well attended seminar (for 60 people) on the potential for community led regeneration in Northamptonshire (with the Development Trusts Association) in March 2010 part funded by my Leverhulme grant. I spoke at a Conference in December 2009 on the 2012 Olympics Legacy about opportunities for community led development and wrote an article about it for the French Chamber of Commerce monthly magazine; in May, I presented a paper to a seminar of housing practitioners (the Highbury Group) about my Leverhulme study visit to the Netherlands, and with a colleague, gave a paper at a University of Westminster Seminar on Sustainable Communities in April 2010. I have written an article summarising my research for the Leverhulme Trust Annual report 2009
Most of my time since October 2009 has been spent on study visits and research into community led development, and in participation in seminars and workshops where this issue is being debated.
I have visited regeneration projects in London and Scotland and, with my colleague Michael Edwards also a Leverhulme Fellow, made a study visit to projects in the Netherlands. I have also spent some time bringing myself fully up to date on community led regeneration by literature research on community trusts and community land trusts across the UK, and interviewed representatives of some of the advocacy groups most notably the Development Trusts Association.