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6 ways we can refocus efforts to drive regeneration

June 10, 2024

By Stephen Cox

How can we enhance the UK’s regeneration funding process? Here are six ideas to support meaningful urban development.

The UK has pursued a series of policy agendas to deliver meaningful urban regeneration for more than 50 years. These have tried to improve quality of life and living conditions for large segments of the population, support economic growth, and create the conditions for private sector investment in areas it would otherwise not be attracted to.  

In my 30-year career, I’ve seen public regeneration funding used to advance this ambition. Unfortunately, it is apparent to me and many others, that we’ve arrived at a fractured and confused approach to public funding for regeneration projects. And it is slowing down delivery and wasting precious resources. 

In the face of a growing population and a housing crisis, how can we take lessons learned and apply them to future regeneration projects?

Through a recent review our team has conducted into this funding and how it is allocated, we have identified over £78 billion since 2011 allocated by the UK Government. This works out at around £6 billion a year. This number doesn’t include funding allocated by local authorities and other public bodies or private sector investment. As such, the full extent of investment in UK regeneration is unknown. But we can agree it is now a large sector of our economy. And essential to urban development.  

Time for a shift 

Two major fiscal events are drawing closer. The Autumn Statement and the 2025 Spring Budget. With these, the new government and our industry have an opportunity to refocus and reshape how we support regeneration projects. 

We have ongoing discussions with representatives from the development and investment arms of regeneration. From these, we know that creating regeneration propositions and narratives is an art form. For example, crafting a compelling case that secures funding takes creativity, innovation, and time. At the same time, making them sustainable, viable, and able to deliver positive change over long periods of time is embedded in science. But securing public funding to address viability gaps, prepare sites and infrastructure as well as aid project delivery, is essential.

So how can we learn from what has gone before? How can a new government streamline and enhance the process of regeneration funding? 

Following our conversations, here are six suggestions. These are for our industry, politicians, investors, local authorities, and developers to consider.

  1. Reinforce the importance of a plan or framework to guide the delivery of regeneration projects over 10 years or more. Chasing the money without this in place is undermining efficiency and funding success. We all know that regeneration in the UK is incremental and takes time. Funding should be allocated within this broader view. 
  2. Move from a system of bidding for funds to one of allocations and single settlements. Competitive bids are robbing us of valuable local authority resources. They’re driving tightly constrained funding pots and timeframes. Clients we spoke to estimate that bidding can cost from £300,000 to £500,000 each. If only one in five are successful, we are robbing the industry with every competitive process. 
  3. Allow combined authorities and/or local authorities to focus on local priorities. Authorities we work with are embedded and should bring their knowledge to bear on regeneration projects and priorities. 
  4. Aim to build in a 12-to-36-month capacity and programme development phase into regeneration projects. During this period a team can be established, a programme designed, and incremental projects identified. This is all backed by Green Book business cases demonstrating value for money. Formal sign-off by Government could then open a spending period of 10 years or more. This will allow multiple project deliveries and realistic flexibility. This is essential if we are to deliver meaningful change and maximise the opportunities the funding presents.
  5. Encourage involvement from private sector investors and developers during the programme-development phase. This will speed the pace of delivery once the programme is approved and provide as much certainty as possible to all parties. The most successful partnerships I work with are those founded on trust and commercial reality. Bedding this in early will maximise access to supporting resources and funding that secures success.
  6. Make sure that regeneration is delivered within the HM Treasury’s ROAMEF (Rationale, Objectives, Appraisal, Monitoring, Evaluation and Feedback) system. This means measurable outputs are consistent and meaningful with feedback built into the system. 

The most successful regeneration partnerships are those founded on trust and commercial reality.

Efficiency and improvement

Recent DLUHC proposals go part of the way to tackling some of these areas, but we need to do more. By bringing our public and private sector clients together in recent months to discuss and unpick this, it is clear the will, desire, and knowledge is inherent throughout the industry to do things better in future. 

Through streamlining and bolstering the process we should get more, and better, regeneration projects. We can optimise efficiency for public resources while creating more opportunities for private investment. We must consider a more efficient process to maximise the £6 billion per year of government investment to improve places and create opportunities.

  • Stephen Cox

    With a career spanning over three decades, Stephen is a town planner, economist, and team leader who has led business cases worth billions globally and specialises in development economics and urban regeneration.

    Contact Stephen
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