Estate regeneration ballots can’t be a referendum of whether to build new homes at all

The Pembury Estate, Hackney: not, to our knowledge, due to be demolished. Image: Geograph.co.uk/creative commons.

The Labour mayor of Hackney on the role of democracy in regeneration schemes.

Estate regeneration has become an increasingly polarised debate. Events in my neighbouring borough of Haringey this week and Sadiq Khan’s backing of ballots for future major estate regeneration projects this morning demonstrate this better than anything.

It’s always worth reminding ourselves why we’re talking about this at all. When our country is shamed by the 120,000 children who spent last Christmas in temporary accommodation, it’s clear we urgently need to unleash a new generation of genuinely affordable council housing – a challenge the government continues to spectacularly fail to meet.

We must stand up for the needs of the many – the 13,000 families waiting for a council home in Hackney alone – but not at the expense of existing tenants and leaseholders, some of whom have lived on their estate for generations. They are rightly concerned about the prospect of development and change on their doorstep.

That’s why I’ve been working closely with Sadiq to develop his Estate Regeneration Good Practice Guide, which he also announced today. And I’m delighted Hackney is recognised as a trailblazer.


It sets out the red lines existing tenants should expect when their home faces demolition – no net loss of social housing, a guaranteed right to return to a new home at the same type of rent and rights, and the opportunity to have a real say throughout the planning and design process.

That’s something we’ve been doing in Hackney for years. We’re building 3,000 homes ourselves through our estate regeneration programme, with the consent and deep involvement of local communities – and at least half of those are for social rent and shared ownership. That’s complimented by council housebuilding on empty and underused land, where we are increasingly focussed, with an even higher percentage of council social rent and shared ownership.

Regeneration done well can provide fantastic new properties for existing residents, much-needed homes for homeless families, and massive improvements to the sometimes poor public & community spaces on estates. It can also bring jobs, training and inject new life into the local economy.

But our estates aren’t just brownfield land ripe for development. They are real communities. The rhetoric of government ministers for the last eight years has suggested otherwise – and I’m pleased to see Sadiq redress that balance.

Labour councils aren't gentrifiers. They are trying to build new homes during the worst housing crisis since the war – a housing crisis in which, despite the rhetoric, there is no meaningful funding from the Tories for new council homes, just further years of austerity.

Londoners rightly want to see the system change, and we will continue to make their case loud and clear. But we can't just sit on our hands if we are to build the homes places like Hackney need.

This week, I joined local residents in Shoreditch to celebrate a construction milestone in one of our biggest projects. The same residents through a petition overwhelmingly backed the original planning application to build nearly 200 homes for outright sale, which will pay for their new Council homes.

That was only possible because of the years of close partnership with them, architects and independent advisors on where those homes should go, where those homes should be, and why we are building them at all.

This isn’t rocket science. If you want to demolish people’s homes, no matter how vital new ones are, they should have a meaningful say in what, how and when that will happen.

If a ballot of residents cements these principles, we should consider how we can introduce it into the process in a constructive way, and I welcome the necessary conversation Sadiq has started today.

Ballots have a long history in regeneration programmes – but this has generally been when Labour governments were ploughing cash into building new social housing. Because ministers now don’t give a penny to build council homes, local authorities like Hackney are forced to build homes for sale to subsidise the genuinely affordable homes we need.

Sadly, right now if we don’t accept that principle, we don’t build any homes. But what ballots shouldn’t be is a referendum of whether we build new homes at all – everyone worth their salt agrees with that. And if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that a binary yes/no vote can be more complicated than it seems.

Philip Glanville is the elected Labour mayor of the London borough of Hackney.

 
 
 
 

“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.


You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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