Building Sustainable Communities: Actions for Housing Market Renewal

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Building Sustainable Communities: Actions for Housing Market Renewal


The policies in “Sustainable communities: building for the future” (published by the Deputy Prime Minister in February 2003), offer a unique opportunity to tackle some of the pressing problems that are undermining the longterm viability of some communities. The issues they face are leading to low demand for housing and, in some cases, abandonment. The Government has already established nine Pathfinder areas in the North and Midlands of England. It has challenged these sub-regions to develop a coherent strategy for tackling problems of low housing demand, as a means of stimulating wider regeneration. If the Pathfinders can put together convincing strategies, then significant resources (up to £500 million identified to date) will follow. This opportunity cannot be squandered. Government resources must be invested wisely to give the best financial, social and environmental benefits for the people living in these areas. Yet tackling the scale of change envisaged can be daunting for all those involved; those planning for it, those who have to deliver it and the people whose lives are affected. So how can we grasp this opportunity and make sure that we create truly sustainable communities? Five national organisations have come together to produce this paper - an agenda for action. They are the agencies charged by Government to: promote sustainable development in practice; champion good design in the built environment; make the most of our built heritage; protect our natural environment; and advise on integrated transport. This paper defines what we consider - together - to be the key success factors for turning around these areas. It is not a blueprint for success, but rather highlights the most important issues or ambitions that we should attempt to achieve through housing market renewal strategies. It seeks to encourage the nine Pathfinders that can spearhead this new approach to regeneration, to raise the debate about our collective responsibility to help them succeed and to inform best practice elsewhere. We hope that these factors will be carefully considered by each of the Pathfinders and reflected in their strategies and their ongoing work, and that they will be used by the Audit Commission and by ODPM in reviewing the quality of incoming strategies.

The seven key actions for successful housing market renewal:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Realise the scale of the opportunity and the task - by developing an understanding of the causes of, and potential solutions to, market failure from the macro scale (the sub-region) to the micro level (the local community). Positively address heritage as an asset - by evaluating the existing physical assets of an area and, where possible, enhancing them. Develop proposals that will create places of distinction and that make sense as a network of settlements. Recognise the value of good design and its role in regeneration - by placing it at the centre of the decision-making process from the outset, including the initial strategies. Adopt a set of tools and strategies that will help design and deliver high quality urban environments on the ground. Place sustainable development at the heart of thinking and action on the urban environment - by designing communities with resource-efficient homes and that encourage sustainable lifestyles. Get ready for the challenge - by enhancing capacity and skills within the organisations charged with delivery, providing appropriate support and resources and targeting some early projects to provide a benchmark for quality.

Realise the scale of the opportunity
It is important that the causes of and potential solutions to market failure are addressed at the sub-regional and local level. Failure to analyse the problems within each affected community, for example, the performance of a particular school or the impact of a crime hot-spot, will equally undermine any devised strategy. There needs to be a clear appreciation of the social, economic and environmental or physical causes of failure in each of the Pathfinder areas, to ensure that proposed solutions are not limited to changes in housing or neighbourhood management essential as these are to neighbourhood vitality. This is particularly important where clearance is being considered to deal with housing areas that are deemed to have failed, or where it is proposed to create demand, by reducing supply. The following principles should guide this early stage:

space strategies; and development of LEA and NHS asset management plans.


Positively address heritage as an asset
The housing market renewal areas represent the wide range of approaches used to meet the housing needs of the nation over the last 150 years- from the Victorian and Edwardian terraces built by the factory and mill owners for their workers, to the large scale council estates, and the array of different housing associations’ styles through the 20th Century. As with any new initiative, it is important that we learn from this chequered past and do not sweep away the places that are intrinsically of great value or have the potential for imaginative renewal. It is recognised that there will be circumstances where demolition may have to be considered. However, to ensure that such proposals are based on sound information we should:

> Recognise that the legacy of the past can be used
as the driver for recovery, particularly where there are buildings, public spaces or urban layouts of heritage value. This has been demonstrated time and time again where market values in historic areas become higher than elsewhere, sometimes as a result of public intervention. It may be a matter of seeing beyond the immediate problems of market failure and envisaging the potential of existing housing. as an asset to attract potential investors and residents, due to the distinctive qualities and identity that they can bring to a neighbourhood.


> In some places housing market renewal will only

be addressed through a reduction in overall housing stock and a related decline in population. It will be important to plan positively for this outcome, ensuring that optimum population levels are maintained and local services provided that sustain and enhance the lives of the community. to understand the local geography of the community: the social and economic fabric of the neighbourhoods. This understanding will be vital to ensuring that any change deals with problems beyond those that have a purely physical cause or symptom; for instance, the fear of crime and related issues of marginalised young people, or the activities of bad landlords and their impact on housing abandonment. needs, frustrations, desires and rights of individual people who will have their lives changed by the process. They should therefore be at the centre of decision-making. Start by listening to what local people have to say; their personal histories and stories about the neighbourhood, the things that work/do not work, their likes/dislikes. The wealth or knowledge and insight gained will be invaluable in shaping strategies. This does not mean that every desire will be met or that every ward councillor can be satisfied. A successful renewal strategy will not be a set of compromises. But it is essential that the whole strategy is built up from a solid understanding of the differing values and priorities of the individual communities.

> At the neighbourhood level, it is essential

> Use the historic environment and local landmarks

> Place the historic environment at the


Housing supply should be tackled at the subregional level, particularly where the development of housing in high demand areas is contributing to abandonment and market failure elsewhere. This may require political courage and coordination between local authorities regarding local plan policies, the adoption of crossborder supplementary planning guidance and masterplans, development control decisions and, in due course, the policies of the new regional housing boards. Decisions relating to clearance and new-build should be based on an understanding of the subregional and medium term economic projections, not simply the local housing market. Resolving environmental, economic and social issues at the macro level will almost always be critical to success. For example, linking decisions relating to housing allocations to public transport provision, provision of public services (schools, transport, primary healthcare) and the development of an overarching landscape strategy for the entire area. For this to happen housing market renewal objectives must be reflected in: Department of Transport allocations criteria and guidance for future development; ODPM/CABE guidance on development of public

> Ultimately, regeneration comes down to the

centre of considerations when planning for new developments. An appreciation of a neighbourhood’s historic development and its potential assets can play a role in the creation of desirable sustainable neighbourhoods, which have good layouts, provide links with the past and have a sense of place. possible in the process. Carry out evaluations to understand and classify the historic fabric of the area, through the preparation of characterisation studies. This process will help determine what is historically and culturally significant, vulnerable to change or in need of protection, enhancement or celebration.

> Think about the historic environment as early as



Create places of distinction
Alongside reinstating valuable historic assets, market renewal will be bolstered by the creation of places of quality and distinction. We have had our fill of housing estates that are designed for nowhere and found everywhere. Indeed, plenty of them can already be found in the Pathfinder areas, some of which have failed or are failing. There is a perception that somehow if we simply import a suburban ideal into the renewal areas, the problems will be solved. This is false thinking. Instead, we should:

> Develop landscape, public space and

environment strategies for the Pathfinder area, which address both the large-scale landscape setting and also the provision and management of smaller green spaces and streets.


Recognise the value of design and its role in renewal
Successful design goes far beyond the single building, and should address how investments in new or refurbished buildings, open spaces and infrastructure can have a positive impact on people’s everyday experiences; their time at home, their wait at the bus stop, their walk to school or to the doctors surgery; their play on the swings in the park. We have a proud legacy of design in the built environment in the UK, but we also have some horrors. So how do we, even at this early stage in the process, make sure that we are creating sustainable communities that will have lasting quality and that will attract new investment and enterprise?

> Don’t see design quality as a luxury or an issue

that can be thought about later. It is vital that design is at the centre of thinking, from the earliest stage in the process. buildings, as the buildings themselves. It is often by turning our assumptions about the role of buildings around that we really create successful places. This perspective can raise very relevant issues, for example, what is the child’s experience when playing on the street outside their home? that are being pursued. Communicate this to key partners, for example house builders, investors and designers. It is vital that this message is clear and followed through in decision-making, for example when selecting investment and regeneration partners.


> Assess all possible uses of existing buildings

> Think as much about the space between the


Start with an understanding of the pattern of settlement that has been built up over the centuries and examine where physical development - buildings or landscape - can restore and enhance the urban form and grain of neighbourhoods. This can help investment create distinctive, attractive and safe places to live. Consider the potential of the urban areas that are being affected. Act to ensure that their economic and civic roles are considered, given the change proposed. Also think about the capacity of the natural environment to accommodate change. Creative thinking will lead to new ideas about how to design neighbourhoods that will be attractive to residents. For example, the unique selling points for different neighbourhoods in relation to access to the countryside, parks, public transport or a neighbourhood’s unique heritage will broaden an area’s appeal to residents. Recognise that design quality is not about the application of styles or a layer that can be stuck on the outside of a building; rather it is about the entire street, neighbourhood and the quality of the living environment, inside and outside the home. Good design is also about solutions that allow us to build and live much more efficiently. Abide by the key principles of urban design as set out in Government guidance, creating places that have: character; a clear distinction between public and private realm; ease of movement; excellent public space; legible layouts; adaptability and a mix of uses.

and the blighting effect of large-scale clearance, factoring in the demolition and management costs. Where possible, recycle buildings and spaces for reuse in the shortest practicable time, saving as much as possible of the existing infrastructure. Keeping records of what is there at the moment will be important, prior to any demolition process. In addition, if cleared land is not immediately to be developed, ensure that there is a positive strategy for its management and potential temporary use, for example, as wildlife habitat or open space.

> Place design quality high up on the list of priorities


> Look around for projects that illustrate the qualities
that are wanted. Use them to build up knowledge of processes and outcomes that deliver success. signalling that something new and exciting is happening. This can help build confidence amongst investors, the existing community and potential new residents.

> Recognise that design can help promote areas,

> Ensure that there is someone who will act as the



‘design conscience’ - a design champion. Ideally this person should be a senior member of the team or Board member whose responsibility will be to illustrate the possibilities and raise concerns in relation to design. Sometimes their role will be to ask difficult questions, particularly when tough decisions have to be made about balancing quality with speed of delivery or cost of investment. medium to long-term: it will reap large benefits over an appropriate timescale. But understand that investment in quality pays over a longer timescale than we usually consider for investment decisions in the built environment.

> Invest in design and quality for payback over the

Adopt policies and tools to deliver high quality urban neighbourhoods
Much of the late 20th Century housing that is classified as deficient in design terms has failed, not because of the quality of the houses themselves (their internal layout and space standards - the private realm), but due to the approach to the wider physical environment - the public realm. Examples include deck access housing or soulless estates on the edge of an urban area. It is important that we avoid repeating these mistakes. In preparing for developers to come forward with proposals, making investments in existing housing stock, or carrying out clearance, it is vital that we plan to design successful places, not simply buildings. We should:

> Make sure that thinking about housing

management is interwoven with considerations about urban design. Thinking about the two in isolation risks repeating the mistakes of the past. function and management - at the same time as dealing with the quality of the housing. It is vitally important that the funding for creating and maintaining the public realm is thought through.

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Place sustainable development at the heart of thinking and action
Sustainability has begun to be embedded in our terminology, if not quite in our public regeneration and investment decisions or personal habits and preferences. Sustainable regeneration is about combining social and environmental justice such as access to services and a good quality living environment - with economic progress. Too often the most disadvantaged communities get the worst environments. The quality of the environment on the street and in public open spaces is a real and legitimate concern, particularly as fly tipping, vandalism, litter, flooding and poor air quality often acutely affect areas experiencing housing market failure. It impacts on community cohesion at one extreme and biodiversity at the other. To address sustainability in the regeneration of areas experiencing housing market failure we must: Integrate sustainable regeneration into policies and practice on land use and urban form, transport, energy, buildings, natural resources, ecology, community and business, particularly through the engagement of partner organisations. This can help reduce environmental inequalities between different communities. Support local employment and community re-investment opportunities through local environmental action (eg recycling, street wardens and community enterprises). These activities can help strengthen community cohesion, through better-used and more attractive local environments, boosting civic pride and furthering the capacity of communities to help themselves. Recognise the real environmental costs and benefits of decisions. In particular, consider options for housing clearance or improvement in a comprehensive way. Avoid the dissipation of potentially viable communities through unnecessary clearance policies and examine the relative costs of demolition versus renewal, in relation to the environment, social fabric and local economy.

> Use land wisely and consider the environmental

> Address the quality of public spaces - their design,

impact of development, for example avoiding development in functional flood plains. Recycle previously used land, tackle land contamination on site and encourage the multiple use of open space so that it contributes to recreation, wildlife habitats and sustainable drainage.


> Design solutions that encourage sustainable

> Place the movement of people at the centre of the


Use all the tools available to deliver design quality on the ground. For example, adopting masterplans as supplementary planning guidance; preparing development briefs to market sites and as briefs to developer competitions; carrying out characterisation studies to inform decisions about investment, and developing landscape strategies. Examine and develop an understanding about the quality of places through the preparation of urban design studies. These studies should analyse: how urban areas are interconnected physically (by streets and open spaces); the qualities of the built and natural fabric of a place; assets that should be saved and where possible enhanced; and the qualities of the built environment that can inform how we design for the future. For example, look at the scale of streets and buildings or the relationship of houses to the street and gardens. Some of this analysis may draw on places that are outside the main area of change. Develop urban design strategies and guidelines for areas where investment is proposed. Sometimes they will have to address proposals at a much larger scale and masterplans will be required, which present the overarching principles for the physical development of a large area. Strategies may also be needed that inform small-scale investment in public realm improvements and deal with detailed issues, such as design and crime.

design process. In this way we will be considering the creation of streets and places for people, not cars, which also encourages walking, cycling and the use of public transport. This thinking should be intertwined with open space strategies. the built environment (the private house builder, the housing association, the parks and leisure department, the local education authority, the primary care trust) have signed up to delivering a place of quality and that they adopt best practice in the preparation of good briefs, identification of appropriate budgets and appointment of good designers and builders for their projects.

> Ensure that those who will have an impact on

lifestyles, for example compact mixed-use neighbourhoods, close to shops and services, with good links to sustainable transport, waste recycling infrastructure and access to low carbon emission power. Bring forward early infrastructure investment in recycling and waste management so it becomes an established and accepted part of the neighbourhood. Neighbourhoods that are developed at an appropriate density will contribute to creating ‘sustainable communities’ which are socially diverse, vibrant and self-supporting. and construction that encourage the prudent use of resources. This should impact on the choice of construction materials, the energy efficiency of buildings and development, local sourcing of materials and community energy generation schemes.

> Promote policies and practices in building design


> Enhance fair access to ‘environmental goods’ (eg

health services, food, green spaces). This can be achieved by integrating the planning of housing, neighbourhoods and public transport and strengthen transport hubs. Public spaces should also give precedence to people rather than cars, for example, through the creation of Home Zones.


Get ready for the challenge
This is a once in a generation opportunity for many communities. Meeting this challenge will need solid commitment from many. There is a need to:


The Signatories
CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) is the Government’s champion for better quality buildings and public spaces. CABE, Tower Building, 11 York Road, London SE1 7NX T 020 7960 2400 F 020 7960 2444 E The Commission for Integrated Transport (CfiT) is the Government’s adviser on the implementation of integrated transport policy. CfIT, 5th Floor, Romney House, Tufton Street, London SW1P 3RA T 020 7944 4813 F 020 7944 2919 E English Heritage is the Government’s principal adviser on all aspects of the historic environment, its management and enjoyment. English Heritage, 23 Saville Row, London W1S 2ET T 020 7973 3000 F 020 7973 3001 The Environment Agency is the public body charged with protecting and improving the environment in England and Wales. Environment Agency, Rio House, Aztec West, Waterside Drive, Almondsbury, Bristol BS32 4UD T 01454 624 400 E The Sustainable Development Commission has a remit to advocate sustainable development across all sectors in the UK, review progress towards it, and build consensus on the actions needed if further progress is to be achieved. Sustainable Development Commission, 5th Floor, Romney House, Tufton Street, London SW1P 3RA T 020 7944 4964 F 020 7944 4959 E

The Pathfinders


Recognise the scale of the task and understand that delivery will be dependent on many individuals and organisations. Capacity and skills issues must be addressed. This applies to the public agencies promoting regeneration, the communities’ desire or willingness to engage with the process and, very importantly, the construction and investment industry’s capacity to fund and deliver development. Concentrate on a manageable number of excellent early projects, which if delivered to a high quality, will generate follow-on investment and act as anchors within the renewal area from which other projects can grow. This can build up skills and capacity, and also send out an important message about what is expected of key partners. Do not accept second best in early projects, but demand the best. Build on existing success. If there are neighbourhoods within the renewal area that are successful, build upon this success. Ensure good decision-making and a clear political commitment to design quality and sustainability. This will sometimes require courageous decisions. Access good advice about issues relating to design, heritage, environmental protection and improvement and sustainable development. This will be available from key government agencies. We are each here to help.


Boundry of Pathfinder area
Areas with lowest house prices


Newcastle & Gateshead


East Lancashire Oldham & Rochdale Merseyside


South Yorkshire

Manchester & Salford North Staffordshire Birmingham & Sandwell

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Photography credits: Gwynne Rd, Battersea > James O. Davies Park image with flowers > Mark Ellis Hulme hfc > Sabine Engelhardt Britannia Mills > Urban Splash Hulme hfc > Sabine Engelhardt Greenwich Millennium Village > Charlotte Wood / Hulme hfc > David Rudlin, URBED Murray Grove > Peabody Trust Ipswich Skatepark > Sport England

Description: Realise the scale of the opportunity and the task - by developing an understanding of the causes of, and potential solutions to, market failure from the macro scale (the sub-region) to the micro level (the local community). Positively address heritage as an asset - by evaluating the existing physical assets of an area and, where possible, enhancing them. Develop proposals that will create places of distinction and that make sense as a network of settlements. Recognise the value of good design and its role in regeneration - by placing it at the centre of the decision-making process from the outset, including the initial strategies. Adopt a set of tools and strategies that will help design and deliver high quality urban environments on the ground. Place sustainable development at the heart of thinking and action on the urban environment - by designing communities with resource-efficient homes and that encourage sustainable lifestyles. Get ready for the challenge - by enhancing capacity and skills within the organisations charged with delivery, providing appropriate support and resources and targeting some early projects to provide a benchmark for quality.