CoStar Column: Why communities need to be at the heart of regeneration projects
With so many complex, large-scale regeneration schemes underway or in planning across London and the whole of the UK, it can be easy for developers to prioritise what planning committees, local authorities and other key decision makers want, rather than focusing on the community.
Nicolas Guérin, Managing Director of Linkcity, which is currently developing Hallsville Quarter, the major five-phase regeneration project in London’s Canning Town, and has recently been shortlisted for the £1bn High Road West development in Tottenham, reminds us why regeneration needs to consider communities and link into existing facilities in order to be effective.
Just as introducing oneself as a banker might result in rolled eyes and thinned lips, the general public tends to associate property development with greed and negativity.
It is hardly surprising: with a housing crisis making it more difficult than ever for young people to buy their first home, and accusations of landbanking and prioritising luxury developments for overseas investors regularly being levelled at developers by the mainstream media, there is a widely held perception of a disparity between the ambitions of property developers and the needs and wants of the general population.
The idea behind regeneration schemes is undoubtedly a positive one: the transformation of swathes of unused or under-used brownfield land into useful places that contribute towards the additional homes our communities desperately need while providing new facilities that help improve people’s quality of life. But all too often, members of the public seem at best ambivalent or cynical towards these projects and, at worst, vehemently opposed to them.
The strength of feeling people have around changes to their local environment is understandable. The legacy of developments will last a century or more and developers have a responsibility and a duty to get them right. Developing a better life for communities should be what we aim to leave behind. We cannot only be short term players; urban regeneration is above all about ensuring we deliver sustainable places that work for the people who live or spend time in them.
Of course, everyone is wary of change, and new developments always cause some disruption to local residents. But by involving neighbours from the outset, listening and working through their concerns, and by acting in true partnership with local authorities, we should - as an industry - be getting communities on our side, treating local people as our customers and ensuring we deliver projects that match their needs and wants.
Both through the make-up of the developments themselves and the community relations activities we undertake during construction, we can - and should - ensure that the people around these regeneration sites get as much value as possible out of them.
We also need to ensure that the projects we are developing are inclusive. Too often, ‘exclusive’ is used as a supposedly positive term, particularly when describing luxury apartments. But rather than shutting themselves off from the communities in which they are built, regeneration projects need to integrate with the neighbourhood and work within their context, so that existing shops, restaurants and other businesses do not feel threatened and can reap the benefit of the increased footfall that a new mixed-use regeneration development brings.
Working with communities is not always easy and keeping absolutely everyone happy is impossible. But, putting NIMBYism to one side, involving the public and treating them as the key stakeholder is essential to creating regeneration projects that work - and, hopefully, to developing a more positive image of the property industry.