Sadiq Khan announced on Wednesday the award of £24m to 54 cultural, employment, educational and green infrastructure projects, drawing the cash from what he calls his Good Growth Fund. That label is significant. So is City Hall’s top line message that the money will “enable local people to take an active role in the regeneration of their communities”.
The Mayor himself makes a wider point: “I am using this funding to challenge preconceptions about how regeneration takes place. I want to give all Londoners – regardless of background – the opportunity to be actively involved in their city and have more places to live, learn, work and play.”
In his book Remaking London, Ben Campkin correctly observes that the word “regeneration” has become “a pervasive metaphor for urban change in London” yet is “by no means a straightforward concept”. It is certainly one that means very different things to different people: short hand for beneficial transformations within neighbourhoods for some, a companion dirty word of “gentrification” for others.
The Mayor, his housing and planning teams and a bunch of borough leaders, mostly Inner London Labour ones, know that hostility to regeneration is a problem for them as they strive to meet the challenges presented by a still-booming population in need of more and better housing, transportation systems and places and spaces in which to work, rest and play.
The recent speed and intensity of change in the city, driven by public investment, private enterprise, London’s lusty birthrate compared with its death rate, and its attractions for incomers from across the nation and the world, have meant progress and opportunity for many. But it is not felt or experienced as Good Growth by all.
For lots of Londoners, the city’s recent rapid evolution has brought disquiet, resentment, higher housing costs and a sense of loss. Opposition can be informed by conservationism, emotional attachment to old places and old ways, fears about over-development and a dislike of capitalism. Sometimes, the difference is hard to see. But whatever the combination, the sense and the contention that regeneration means a thing being done to people against their will and from which they have nothing to gain, has become a bigger factor in the complex planning equations faced by politicians and others across the city.
Perhaps I’m over-interpreting, but that is the context in which the Mayor’s Good Growth Fund announcement has been made (and indeed his Borough of Culture initiative). In line with a core theme of his draft London Plan, it argues that regeneration is not just about knocking buildings down and constructing new ones, but also about adding to the sum of options for better lives for local people of all kinds.
This is not any easy sell. But help for culture and creative industries should help. And the projects backed look good. They range from a pop-up restaurant square in Harrow Town Centre (£485,000), to the creation of artists’ workspace and a market in Redbridge (£1.8m), to various enhancements of Plumstead High Street (£2.15m), to the new home of the famous Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in Peckham (£844,000). I should declare an interest in the last one, as one of my daughters is a Mountview student. Getting there from Clapton will be harder for her after the school moves from its present home in Wood Green, but will be worth it because the teaching is outstanding. And the young people who go there really do look like London. It will be a great asset to Peckham.
The Good Growth Fund cash comes from the London Economic Action Partnership, which is the capital’s local enterprise partnership – a grouping of politicians, economic experts and business people, which advises the Mayor on fostering economic development and investing growth funds from the government and European Social Fund.
Photo of the new home of Mountview Academy from Carl Turner Architects.