Since Hackney IWCA (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004)
was set up we have argued that the New Deal should be publically accountable and actively involve the working class majority in the borough. All too often, decisions have been taken behind closed doors with consultants running the show. Now a report from Inside Housing
magazine shows that this has happened all over the country.
Can residents ever really take the lead on neighbourhood renewal? Paul Hebden reports
The extent to which residents have an influence over initiatives aimed at regenerating their communities has been called into question in a report by the Urban Forum.
The report, based upon the views of residents who attended a conference held by the forum last week, questions the nature of ‘bottom-up’ consultation and raises concern about the limits of resident participation.
Delegates from the 39 NDC areas alleged a tendency for decisions to be made ‘behind closed doors’. Resident power and control was called into question as was the role of consultants who were slammed for their perceived high fees and lack of commitment to individual NDC bids.
But how far can resident involvement translate into actual control of the multi-million pound NDC fund? And do all resident activists really want to head bureaucratic NDC bodies? Anthony Stanuel-Tattie is hoping to set up a residents’ network for NDC and is highly critical of the way the scheme has worked so far.
‘It should be tenants that are actually making the decisions but in fact it’s not like that,’ he said.
‘There are major problems of resident involvement throughout the country. The basic idea is that regeneration initiatives should come from the bottom-up, isn’t it?’
But Aaron Cahill a policy officer at the National Housing Federation questioned whether resident involvement always necessarily meant resident control.
‘The point is that it’s not resident involvement for its own sake, it’s resident involvement for a purpose. Resident involvement must achieve something towards an objective. I am not necessarily convinced it’s about resident control.’
In addition, he said, the complicated interplay of national targets with local needs could prove difficult to reconcile, but shouldn’t detract from local solutions.
‘Look at the 2010 decent homes target – that’s a central government target. Residents may accept it but many may be saying that what they really need are measures to address anti-social behaviour.’
Residents are also unhappy with the role consultants play in new deal schemes. The report said that consultants often fail to pass on their skills to residents but use the skills and knowledge of local people to get their job done.
One consultant who preferred to remain anonymous agreed: ‘I think consultants are a very mixed bag,’ he said. ‘There are consultants that do seem to regurgitate the same model in a slightly different way for every new job. ‘They do get away with things and residents are quick to pick up on it and, because of the fee levels which are often high, it’s inevitable that residents ask “what are we paying for here?”‘
The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions already employs local residents as neighbourhood renewal advisors, though it is unclear whether these could translate into resident consultants. A spokesperson for the DTLR said its annual NDC conference was an opportunity for residents to meet together and swap ideas. He played down the claim that relationships were frayed on the new deal schemes. ‘The key premise must be that these initiatives are resident-led. That’s still the case,’ he added,
Urban Forum briefing: New Deal for Communities conference, 020 7248 3111, or email email@example.com