Estates Renewal – Regenerating Homes & Communities

26 Apr 2017

Estates Renewal – Communication, Consultation and Collaboration

With London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and central Government both taking a stance recently on the importance of regenerating existing housing estates, estates renewal has been a topic that the property sector has been very vocal about. It is also something that is widely accepted as being a hugely challenging area of development to be involved in.

Last week at our London breakfast we heard from a panel heavily involved in major regeneration, made up of Richard Cherry (CEO partnerships, Countryside Properties), David Lunts (executive director housing and land, Greater London Authority), Peter Pereira Gray (managing director investment division, Wellcome Trust), Kate Davies (chief executive, Notting Hill Housing) and Cllr Peter John OBE (leader of the council, Southwark Council). There was also a 20:20 presentation from the founding director of Social Living, Nicola Bacon.

Community engagement

One of the biggest challenges involved in estate regeneration is the sensitivities involved in regenerating an area with a large number of existing residents. In her 20:20 presentation, Nicola Bacon gave us an excellent insight in to the importance of understanding the perspective of residents and some useful pointers on how to they can be engaged and influenced.

The need for clear communication and engagement with local residents was also discussed by the panel, with Cllr Peter John stressing the importance of constantly communicating the narrative of why regeneration is being undertaken, what the end game is and how the local community and individuals will benefit. He highlighted the need for careful management of media messaging, especially in rebuffing myths, because inaccuracies in the press fuel local dissent and makes regeneration harder. Kate Davies backed this up, suggesting that more needs to be done to tell the success stories more effectively to help people see the end game of positive change and add balance to the public debate.

Public-Private Collaboration

The nature of estate regeneration also means that there is greater need for public-private collaboration than that on many other projects. According to Kate Davies, the vocal leadership on regeneration needs to come from local politicians as they are the democratic voice of the people, whereas the private developers and housing associations should be left to manage the profit margins needed to make schemes viable. Importantly though it needs all three to work together, she says.

The role of the politicians is something that, unsurprisingly, Cllr John had a strong opinion on, saying that the politicians need to believe in the schemes and be visibly passionate about them because estates renewal is not just about housing, but about creating life chances for people living in the area. He also suggested that local authorities need to be more transparent on the financials surrounding a project and the contributions being made to other local community projects so that regeneration is not just seen as a way for private developers to make a profit. Richard Cherry supported this, saying that whilst estates renewal can be commercially successful for all stakeholders, the real reward comes from the social changes that it can deliver. This could be the reason why he feels that there have never been such strong public-private partnerships as there are now.

The importance of these partnerships was stressed by Peter Pereira Gray who gave a refreshingly honest explanation on why institutional investors struggle to justify investing in estates renewal. He explained that, unlike ‘regular’ real estate investment, the length of projects and complexities involved provides next to no certainty on the return on investment. He also stressed that even for those investors who are willing to look at the long-term vision and understand the potential rewards, they need to have confidence in the fact that the partnership delivering the scheme is strong and committed and that the parties will stick with it and still be there in 20 years’ time.

London’s challenge

Sadiq Khan laid out his plans for the renewal of London’s estates at the end of last year and when asked what needed to be done to move forward, David Lunts was clear that there needs to be consistency in the planning policy that enable these major long term projects. There is huge demand for social housing and the pressure of this, he said, is helping to drive up standards on consultation, design and delivery. According to Lunts, the change in thinking over density arguments means that the space used for existing estates can be redesigned to fit a great number of homes on the same land. He also acknowledged that whilst the long term returns are high, there is a large risk factor for private developers and suggested that the public sector could do more to bear the responsibility for upfront funding in order to de-risk the cash flow for private partners.