Hang around regeneration conferences and you’re bound to hear a bit of refreshing honesty. Last week’s Bura event was a case in point: not, unfortunately, the ministerial speeches, but the unguarded remarks that offer rather more insight into what’s really going on.
Among the asides that particularly struck me was the observation of a housing association chief executive that regenerators are ‘never given long enough to do the job properly’ - with the comment that the proposed merger of English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation would ‘throw the whole system into confusion for at least two years’. It isn’t just the NHS that’s groaning under the burden of energy-sapping reorganisations that divert much-needed investment into internal politics. It’s jam tomorrow at the price of logjam today.
And then there was the developer who candidly admitted that the so-called ‘regeneration sites’ his group are involved in are really just ‘housing sites’. A momentary flash of frankness and the myth the industry spends millions of pounds on goes up in smoke - they build houses, not communities.
Regeneration events often reveal how we speak the same language, but fail to understand each other - and conceal very different agendas behind similar jargon. One delegate last week suggested we needed a new breed of ‘social lexicographers’ to help us define and appreciate what we all mean when we use the same words.
It would certainly help us to understand the connections and interdependency between the physical, economic and social aspects of regeneration: it’s only when you meet a few of the people who are paid handsome salaries to do the job that you realise how much lip-service goes on.
There are plenty of people who have lived through regeneration projects and do have such an understanding. It should be compulsory for developers, masterplanners and builders to involve some of them in their planning before one brick is put on top of another. Ministers and civil servants could benefit from their advice too on whether those grand reorganisations will make a jot of difference where it really matters.
In the meantime, let’s keep providing opportunities for unguarded remarks. If nothing else, they show how far we have to go.
Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine