The Tragedy of Assigning Responsibility for Regeneration to Petty Politicians and Institutionalised Planners/Developers

Posted on | Monday, 16 July 2012 | 1 Comment

Or, how an opportunity to infuse social enterprise life-blood into the ailing, lifeless body of Tower Hamlets' Bromley-by-Bow Ward was scuttled by uncreative, unimaginative philistines, responsible for regeneration and planning.

None of us are in denial over the incriminating reality that in England around 1.75 million households are on the social housing waiting lists. As the demand for social housing has increased, so the supply has withered - there has been a drop of 1.7 million in the total number of social homes, from 5.5 million in 1981 to 3.8 million in 2009-10. But we need to realise that lack of work is a major cause and consequence of homelessness, eroding skills and self-esteem and acting as a practical obstacle to finding and keeping a home. It's no secret that job training and education can give unemployed and homeless people the skills and confidence required to get them back on track and help them prepare for, find and keep jobs.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets contributes significantly to the huge and growing national social housing list, estimated to be 10% of the borough's population. Yet the Council continue to foster the belief that this is a legacy problem best treated by infusions of new building stock. Their solution is to squeeze more and more poor and unemployed people into fewer and smaller homes. Their focus is on the effect of this 'legacy problem' - a social housing bottleneck - rather than its cause. Councillors and MP's alike drag the chains of this misery as if it represented some high moral cause to justify their existence. We repeatedly read of how they 'represent one of the poorest boroughs in the country', yet, as we can see by this one glaring example, they compound the problem, rather than recognise the cause, and set about curing it.

As stated earlier, lack of work is a major cause of Tower Hamlets' growing social housing list. Uncontrolled immigration into the borough is another, but that is less complex and ought to be solved by closer liaison between the Council and Immigration (more on this in a upcoming blog). From the Council's point of view, the long term strategic focus must be on reducing the social housing list not by simply building more units but by reducing the need for social housing through new social enterprise and local employment which will inevitably raise the standard of living. All regeneration and development ought to be aligned with this strategic aim so that employment enablers figure prominently in any development.

Let's relate this strategic no-brainer to the recent disastrous planning approval given for the Hancock Road development in the Ward of Bromley-by-Bow. You can read how this project for 741 residential units, office space, and a huge car dealership was steam-rollered through a poorly advertised 'public' Planning Committee Meeting held in Newham by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (LTGDC) on 12 July 2012.

The site is historic - most in East London are. But more than this, the Hancock Road site sits adjacent to the River Lea's network of underdeveloped canals, and at the intersection of two of East London's arterial roads - the A11 and A12. It screams out for redevelopment focusing on tourism, and that means local employment and income. Think Camden Market, the fourth-most popular visitor attraction in London, attracting approximately 100,000 people each weekend. The canal fronted Hancock Road site is far better located than Camden Market. It has the potential to become a vibrate tourist destination with restaurants, bars, shops and market stalls catering for crafts, clothing, bric-a-brac, and fast food. As part of the Olympic legacy development, the canal network will be revamped and this will further add to what may have been termed, the new Bow Bridge Market becoming a major attraction.

This is a wake up call to say that the shocking LTGDC decision was wrong and the site surely ought to have been used primarily for building social enterprise initiatives/models to kindle (re)training and employment, and raise the local standard of living, not to provide more cell like social housing which only further exasperates the problem.

This is not to underestimate the importance of our social housing need, and it should be accommodated on the site as part of a balanced mixed development, but supporting the strategy outlined above.

Alas, it is now too late. Gone is the opportunity for creative regeneration, servicing local needs; our Councillors and LTGDC have seen to that.


One Response to “The Tragedy of Assigning Responsibility for Regeneration to Petty Politicians and Institutionalised Planners/Developers”

  1. Anonymous
    19 July 2012 at 11:04

    I agree in that in the 30+ years that I have lived here, the main effect of "development" has been to drive small businesses out of the area, with the usual consequences for local employment.

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