Yesterday I was in Tenby at a conference on 'Town Centres' which looked at regeneration and the regeneration process and how it works - it was interesting and touched on a number of different themes and gave much food for thought. There was an interesting mix of participants, not just Plaid members, but representatives from a whole variety of different organisations and interest groups. A number of different ideas and concepts were discussed, some of which I have blogged on previously.
Certainly if you live in various parts of Gwent or are intimately familiar with your home community, then Over the years you will have noticed that redevelopment / regeneration comes and goes in phases, in any particular community or town regeneration schemes will have cleaned areas up, built in cycle routes, created transport plans, pedestrianised streets, reopened them to traffic, re-pedestrianised them and (as is the case in Newport) make certain streets shared space with both cars and pedestrians (this is not as crazy an idea as it sounds, and actually works) and so on.
We have restricted parking, created parking and removed parking, made it free and charged for it, created bus lanes, removed bus lanes and changed the hours when bus lanes operate, etc - now this is all well and good and may reflect the latest trend in regeneration and development, but at the end of the day has it made the places where we live, work and shop better? Has the regeneration process or scheme increased or generated wealth in our communities or provided people with the opportunities to get jobs, to go into business for themselves or generate wealth?
One of the (many of us would like to hope) unintended features of redevelopment is that quite often it is (or is perceived as being) driven from the top down i.e. by elected bodies whether they be Town or County Councils or the National Assembly - a process that merely consults after the plans have been drawn up rather than before, during and after - any process run this way runs the risk of becoming deeply flawed. The communities and towns and cities of South Wales have over the years has been the recipient of much grant aid, development and redevelopment schemes and initiatives - how can we measure success?
Measuring a regeneration schemes success should be integral to the regeneration process. This is the question that needs to be asked - after the cement and the paint has dried, after the development / redevelopment / regeneration professionals have moved on - have the various schemes made a difference, I mean beyond any immediate physical improvements to the environment, have they made a real difference when it comes to wealth generation in the area affected by the regeneration scheme? If the end result is in reality a makeover, and the targeted community is no better off, save for being bereft of the 'regeneration funds' that have been effectively syphoned off by professional regeneration companies - is this success?
How do you make regeneration projects work beyond the tick box list of the regeneration schemes managers? One key component that is often ignored or marginalised during the regeneration process is the communities greatest resource - its people. If we truly want to build and develop strong sustainable communities then any regeneration scheme should from the start and at every stage of the process.
Rather than regeneration and redevelopment professionals coming into an area and engaging in a largely token consultation process it is vitally important that they should directly talk to and engage with not just local elected representatives but local people (who are a major asset to the process) and actually find out what they would like to be done, what they actually want for their community and their town.
Regeneration schemes and projects should be directed from the bottom up rather than the top down model with a built in token consultation element that we often seem implemented in the past. One other key thing to remember as was said yesterday, if you are spending public money, then you need to work it very hard and squeeze out every possible benefit.
We also need to maximise the impact locally of the regeneration process and build in local benefits into the tendering process - whether by employing local people, using local resources and / or local skills and local input. If regeneration schemes are reusing or renovating old buildings then any regeneration scheme needs to ensure that old buildings can make a living after the regeneration scheme is finished.
If we do this rather than merely making a token gesture towards public consultation then any regeneration schemes will with hard work really begin to deliver tangible benefits for our communities. After all regeneration should be a process not merely an event.