Inner cities take the strain

Mike Tuffrey

 

Posted in: Environment

Inner cities take the strain

December 01, 1992

A long term reduction in resources for the inner cities seems likely after the squeeze on government spending announced in the Autumn Statement. A cut of nearly one fifth over four years is planned in Department of Environment spending on City Challenge, the Urban Programme, urban development corporations and other urban schemes (1992-93 total: £987 million; 1995-96 total £806 million). The commitment to the existing City Challenge schemes escaped, but no new ones will be approved. The Urban Programme is effectively being abolished and UDCs cut back.

In partial compensation, on November 13 the Environment Secretary, Michael Howard MP, announced that £20 million in residual Urban Programme funding will be offered for 1992/93 on a competitive basis only to certain local authorities, provided there is matching funding from the private sector and from asset sales. The new scheme is called Capital Partnership. Both Labour and Conservative-controlled local authority associations have protested at the ending of the Urban Programme, which was effectively the only route new schemes outside the City Challenge areas could achieve funding. Contact DoE on 071 276 0900

The experience of the first round of City Challenge is beginning to show positive results for local communities through better partnership working, according to an interim study by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, but major changes are needed if the full benefits are to be gained. In particular greater resources need to be devoted to empowering community groups, with changes in the structures to enable more participation. Otherwise the benefits will at best be transitory and will not last beyond the five year life span of City Challenge schemes. A discussion paper Involving Local Communities in City Challenge – issues and good practice was published by NCVO in October, written by Richard Macfarlane drawing on experience in Liverpool and Manchester. Contact John Mabbott, NCVO, on 071 713 6161

The strategy to achieve urban regeneration in Birmingham through large-scale development in the city centre has failed, according to a report published in October by the University of Central England in Birmingham (formerly Birmingham Polytechnic). The concentration of resources on projects like the International Conference Centre has not led to any trickle down to the least advantaged parts of the city, says Urban Regeneration and Social Equity: a case study of Birmingham 1986-92. By distorting other capital expenditure programmes, particularly housing and education, social and economic inequalities have actually been exacerbated. Contact Maureen Duggan on 021 331 5558

Greater coordination between development agencies and the public and private sectors are necessary if more inward investment to the West Midlands is to be achieved, says a regional survey of 1,000 opinion formers in business and government, conducted by Coopers & Lybrand and published in October. The findings confirm the conclusions of an earlier research study of successful European regions (see Community Affairs Briefing Issue 6). Contact Marion Jones, Coopers & Lybrand, on 021 200 4000

Comment

The virtual ending of the Urban Programme is very bad news indeed. Capital Partnership, cited by the government as an alternative, does not begin to compare, either in resource levels or as a local partnership. Essentially money that was spent in 57 council areas (150 a few years ago) is now restricted to the narrow City Challenge neighbourhoods in just 32. The urban development corporations are not happy either, although they were always envisaged as time-limited. Lord Walker too, designated head of the proposed national Urban Regeneration Agency, must be wondering if he will simply be running down existing schemes, rather than achieving anything.

Meanwhile, the call from BITC’s David Grayson, in a recent letter to the Financial Times, for a City Challenge-type scheme for the regions appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Focusing on the regions must be the right way forward. Business has learned from the experiences of the 1980s and understands urban regeneration is as much about people as buildings. The public sector (preferably local, but national too) is an essential partner, but the public expenditure squeeze puts into question whether anything more than a few isolated local schemes can now be achieved.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 7 – December, 1992

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