We gave evidence last night at the CLG Select Committee Inquiry into Regeneration. I say “we”, but, of course, I sent in Dr Evans (now, be aware, this isn’t cowardice, it is playing to strengths, which I think you’ll agree is an excellent ability in any manager). The other day he (Dr Evans) was accused – by Chris Brown, no less – of being “Jackie’s brain,” which is downright insulting really (but probably pretty accurate). His retort was “well, I’m certainly not her body”, which was nearly as rude.
We were pleased to be asked to appear at the Select Committee, which started two weeks ago and continues throughout June. Inevitably, differences of view are emerging. And, blimey, there are a lot of old lags in the game! Dr Evans has nobly summarised some of the main submissions from some national and other bodies for the UKR Forum Library (and if you want a copy, you’ll need to join the UKR Forum so ner). It will be interesting to see how these various views play out, and how far they influence government.
There is widespread welcome for, or at least acceptance of, a more local approach with less bureaucracy, with even Paul Evans himself now a fully paid-up member of the “less is more” club. But some key questions remain, such as: has the government retreated too far? Now some of m’learned friends argue that the government should be clarifying definitions, providing a narrative or setting overall priorities. They point to the contrasting approach in a recent publication by the Scottish government. Many think that the government’s strategy is thin or weak.
But we in UKR don’t really see the point in either bleating for more money (when there ain’t none) or in trying to buck the market with some sort of “national strategy”, so we grasped the nettle firmly and went on record to say we think the government has followed through its own logic, and the challenge is now for all of us to form our own narrative. Stop asking permission. While doing so, we should ask three specific questions which are: first, are all the right tools available? Second, is there enough funding? And third, how do we maintain momentum and retain expertise and knowledge? And we took steps to answer each of these in turn (in short, and in order: yes; no but we have some smart ideas; not clear, but UKR is actively doing all it can). But our position is pretty much “let’s get real and let’s DO some things”.
Dr Evans made all of our points admirably. I was right proud. And this, despite being a little swamped by planners as he was grouped with Richard Summers of RTPI and Hugh Ellis of the TCPA (at one point Paul squealed as if in defence: “I’m not a planner, but my daughter is one”) . I don’t think any of the venerable institutions do themselves many favours with the current administration by continually lamenting the loss of the RDAs, and even the regional assemblies, but hey! There was one golden moment when a member of the committee asked one of the planning mafia if they could cite an example of where a planning instrument had unlocked a regeneration scheme (you know full well that I’d have responded “Paddington” or “Brierley Hill” had it been me), to which the response was “Hartlepool”. Oh dear, oh dear.
Michael Parkinson of Liverpool John Moores University and Nick Johnson of Urban Splash hold the hand of the committee. But the consensus really was that we need new blood and we need new models. We are clearly in real transition, as the great Professor John Ratcliffe said at the Countrywide Seminar last Thursday. I will report back on the way the debate evolves, no doubt picking up some of these threads as the committee proceedings wear on.