Renew and revitalise: Scottish regeneration
According to the Scottish Government, regeneration of the most disadvantaged areas and strengthening of local communities are “key priorities”. Announcing its regeneration strategy in 2011, then Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment Alex Neil noted that while there had been some success in supporting and transforming communities for the better, it still wasn’t enough.
He said: “Too many of Scotland’s people still live in communities suffering the effects of deprivation and disadvantage. Where too many people are not in work and have low educational attainment, where crime and fear of crime is too high, where the physical environment is still poor, and where people still die far younger than their fellow Scots. This regeneration strategy will reinvigorate efforts to change that.
“Achieving regeneration outcomes is made even more challenging in the current economic climate. The economic downturn and constraints on public sector resources pose an even greater challenge, with Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities facing issues of worklessness and reduced economic opportunities. Our response across Scotland must take account of this.”
Fast forward almost two years and the problems which this strategy sought to challenge remain. In January the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee embarked upon an inquiry to find out just how far the strategy has worked in regenerating communities and what barriers still exist. Not only has the committee been hearing evidence from various sources, including urban regeneration companies from across Scotland, members have also been visiting groups and organisations to find out what is happening on the ground.
Committee convener Kevin Stewart MSP told Holyrood the ongoing inquiry has communities at its heart. He said: “We have had a pretty comprehensive inquiry, a large amount of written responses have come back and we have had a number of evidence sessions, however, as per usual, the key thing for me has been going out and about in communities and actually finding out what the people on the ground are saying about regeneration, about government policy, about funding and what they are up to.
“I have to say I have been heartened by the effort of community organisations in all of the places we visited in terms of the effort they have put in and the outcomes. Very often, for quite small amounts of money, we have seen local communities manage assets, lever in private finance in a number of cases and consult properly to ensure that their communities are better places to live.
“One of the good examples is the Seaton Backies Project in my own constituency, whereby the local community have transformed play areas and some other areas which have lain fallow in the community. They have really improved these areas to a huge degree, there was seed-corn money there but a lot of the funds that they have raised are through efforts they have made, bringing in money from the private sector and other sources. Hats off to them and to others across the country who are carrying out similar works.
“What you will find when you get out there, in terms of regeneration, where it is working is where there is a huge community involvement. People are doing regeneration for themselves, rather than having regeneration done to them, if you like.”
Urban regeneration companies (URCs) are formal partnerships of key representatives from the public and private sectors which operate at arm’s length from partner organisations to deliver physical, economic and social regeneration in a specific area.
URCs take a strategic overview of their area, and develop a shared set of objectives and outcomes in partnership with public and private partners and, most importantly, the communities themselves. According to the Scottish Government, these companies have been established in six parts of Scotland to deliver focused, integrated regeneration strategies. They include Raploch, PARC Craigmillar, Clydebank Rebuilt, Riverside Inverclyde, Irvine Bay and Clyde Gateway.
However, recent years have proved tough for URCs, as with many other areas of the private and public sector. Stewart added: “The economic downturn and then the Westminster austerity agenda has had an effect on what has been attempted in various parts. Obviously the great hope is to use public money to lever in private money too, to help regenerate communities. In many places, private money is not there at this moment in time.
“Of course, at the same time, we’ve got much less public money on the go because of the squeeze that is put on by HM Treasury. In some regards, we need to look and see exactly what can be done with less and it seems to me that in many parts of the country community groups themselves have managed to get around some of the difficulties with innovative thinking and beyond that, actually getting more bang for their buck.”
Inverclyde recently published a long awaited midterm review report on the workings of URC, Riverside Inverclyde (RI). Established in 2006 by Inverclyde Council and Scottish Enterprise, RI was tasked with delivering a number of economic regeneration objectives over a 10-year period. The review discovered a mixed picture of the effectiveness and impact of RI and of regeneration services in Inverclyde more broadly. It stated that while there have been some “real achievements” and areas of visible progress in the past few years, “there are many opportunities to do things better”. It also said there is a “strong case” for a different approach to regeneration, reflecting changed funding and economic conditions.
The review said: “The main disappointment is the lack of impact of RI’s regeneration programme on the creation of new jobs and wealth in the area, and so far the positive impact on local residents has been limited. As a result, the economic return on the £59 million of public funds spent to date by RI has been low. Clearly, the prolonged recession in the economy and the property market has been a major drag on overall progress and impact. All in all, while some good progress has been made over the past few years, much more work will be needed in the future to see through the development of RI’s other key sites and to do everything possible to ensure that businesses are attracted to Inverclyde and new jobs are created.”
With an initial target of 2,600 jobs to be created by RI, the total up to 2012/13 was just 191. Moving forward, Inverclyde’s urban regeneration company will now review their targets, work more closely with the council and Scottish Enterprise and have a new board. Both RI’s chairman and chief executive recently left the company, with Inverclyde’s Depute Provost, Councillor David Wilson taking over as chairman from Alf Young and Inverclyde Council corporate director, Aubrey Fawcett, replacing Bill Nicol as acting chief executive.
Wilson explained: “Our board wholeheartedly accept the findings of the mid-term review. While it is clear that Riverside Inverclyde struggled to meet some very tough targets, it does need to be put in context that Riverside Inverclyde has been operating during the biggest recession in living memory and that it has delivered in many areas.
“The physical infrastructure of Inverclyde has been transformed as a result of the work Riverside Inverclyde has carried out and the evidence is there for all of us to see. One example is that they helped deliver the new Beacon Arts Centre, a project which is receiving praise across the arts community across the country.
“The mid-term review is an important step in the life of Riverside Inverclyde. It is a chance to look at what has worked well, what hasn’t and to create a new plan of action.”
So what more can be done to help boost regeneration in Scotland? Labour’s local government and planning spokesperson Sarah Boyack believes there are many people who are not benefiting from economic development. She said: “The challenge of urban regeneration is about making the most of our people and our land. In the times we’re in, the economy and the changes which have taken place in the economy have made that even more challenging.
“The Scottish Government should be thinking about what it can do to help the key players, particularly looking at the capacity of local authorities. I was really struck, visiting local authorities during the summer, by the loss of staff, loss of knowledge and the extent to which they are boxed into a very difficult financial settlement. They have very little control over what they do and while they are trying to be creative and use their investment in, particularly, employment and training, you see some really interesting work on the ground of local authorities using their own procurement to try and stimulate economic development. I think we need more from the Scottish Government, particularly on issues like housing, on training and also reflecting on the capacity of local government to use its economic muscle and services to actually work with urban regeneration companies and those communities which need that investment.”