New approach needed if Olympic regeneration is to deliver for all and address growing inequality

As we approach a decade from the announcement of London’s winning Olympic bid, much more needs to be done by developers and planners to ensure that the regeneration benefits everyone within the community, an East London charity has said. The charity is concerned that regeneration may lead to division and increasing inequality between new rich incomers and existing communities. According to Community Links, regeneration must “focus on people as well as places and be genuinely open to all”.

The call, set out in the leading social action charity’s latest policy briefing Regeneration For All comes a decade after East London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, which led to huge inward investment and physical regeneration in the area. The charity is calling on developers and planning authorities to take a long-term approach and do more before, during and after regeneration projects:

  • Beforehand they need to start early to gain meaningful understanding of places’ shared histories and desires.
  • During regeneration, they need to ensure the process as well as the outcomes meet communities’ desires and enable networks to be maintained.
  • Afterwards, long-term social investment is needed to enable old and new communities to come together.

The briefing points out that the annual private investment made into Stratford over the past decade is – at £1,125m – more than four times as large as Newham Council’s £275m budget, and argues that more of such investments should be assigned to social purposes.

The call comes as analysis of new homebuilding statistics shows development of the Olympic host borough is happening at double pace. Community Links estimates the number of houses be built in Newham this year will be more than twice as many as the average over the past decade. The charity says this rapid regeneration will “completely change the area” and that it’s potential for positive impacts “won’t be realised by accident”

The briefing also questions the ability of economically-driven, private-sector-led regeneration to deliver social outcomes for the poorest communities. Questions around who regeneration seeks to benefit – existing residents or external people who could be attracted into an area – and about what kinds of places it is seeking to achieve are often left vague within planning documents. The charity says this can lead to underlying causes of poverty remaining unaddressed, and opportunities created by development being inaccessible to local people and businesses.

Community Links’s policy briefing is published as consensus is building among public bodies on the need to do more to ensure regeneration works for all communities. A report published last month by the London Assembly’s housing committee highlighted the importance of winning local people’s trust and consent, echoing Community Links’s call for developers to “start listening and learning early, allowing enough time for communities to articulate their aspirations”.

In the briefing, Community Links states:

“Despite rhetoric about improving areas or communities, regeneration efforts have tended to be poor at improving the lot of existing communities and have often left them feeling isolated and distant from any benefits.”

Geraldine Blake, CEO of Community Links said

“Here in east London, the combination of a return to ‘business as usual’ following the 2008 crash with a severe austerity programme has increased inequality and multiplied the challenges faced by the poorest communities. The huge investment being made into our area has the potential to alleviate this, but the poorest people are not yet feeling the benefits. We need to ensure that regeneration focuses on people as well as places, and that questions of who pays for it and what it is trying to achieve are answered with these people in mind. Failing to do so will only mean increasing inequality”.