Housing and Regeneration Bill 19th May 2008

Lord Mawson: I shall speak to Amendment No. 23A, which is in my name and is part of the group. It is a probing amendment, which recognises that the creation of the Homes and Communities Agency presents us with a real opportunity to move away from public housing monocultures of the past and to invest in the creation of new towns and areas that have both a physical and a social identity.

Having spent many years working at the centre of a large housing estate, I know how damaging these monocultures can be to local communities and how important it is that the new agency is empowered to respond to the social, economic and cultural contexts in which it invests and to encourage real diversity across the country. The public sector and housing associations are not the only ones guilty of creating monocultures. Private developers also have quite a track record in this regard, and have on many occasions missed the opportunity to create truly sustainable developments that have a real sense of identity.

Place-making is not just about having the right public sector structure or a clear leader, bringing people together or having a clear quality design concept. It is also about having a clear and rooted purpose and vision for the place. The desolate estates on the outskirts of many of our major cities are good examples of rootless places with no clear vision in their conception.

Over the past decade or so, we have talked a great deal about joined-up thinking and joined-up action. This is correct, but in many of our poorest communities these fine words are often not being turned into practical reality on the ground. I was in Bradford recently on an outer estate—here I declare an interest—and discovered a range of buildings sitting very close to each other at the centre of the estate. In reality, however, they had little relationship to each other and there was no real sense of place. It just felt empty and desolate. There was a community facility, which was run by a charitable body, a healthy living centre, a row of shops, a school and a church, and very soon there will be a new small supermarket. Yet the amazing thing was that none of the buildings bore any relationship whatever to another, and there was little of the joined-up activity necessary to create a sense of place and build a sustainable community. However, a number of the buildings had been built and extended in the past decade. All the government structures were there, but the words were not being translated into reality on the ground. There was no heart to the community, and apparently little relationship between the different services in a community which desperately needed a focus.

5.30 pm

My experience suggests that place-making will not happen by chance, and it will not automatically occur through the various public sector structures and

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bodies created by the Government. Something else has to happen, and it has everything to do with people and relationships on the ground. Two years ago I was asked by the then chief executive of Tower Hamlets council to take a look at St Paul’s Way, a group of rundown estates some 500 yards from Canary Wharf. Again, I must declare an interest. Violent clashes had been taking place outside the school and the lead officer wanted a clearer picture of what was happening on the ground. I discovered that there were two large housing estates divided by a main road. On one side of the road were the homes of members of the Bengali community, and on the other housing for traditional white East End families. I was assured that a helpful social reality had developed over many years as loyal local authority officers followed public sector rules and processes which sought to create more equitable and integrated communities, yet the unintended consequences of their actions had not been foreseen. One local resident described the road as the Berlin Wall. Although the public sector structures had been set up to encourage neighbourhood renewal, in reality it was not happening on the ground.