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A new regeneration strategy (in Scotland at least)

In an attempt to ward off the post-Christmas blues, I had a read of the Scottish Government’s regeneration strategy published in December 2011.  It’s a comforting bedtime-story type of read because it reassures us that there are still people out there who believe in the notion that we should and can support those who are most marginalised, even in a time of financial constraint.

Just because we’re in the middle of an economic crisis, doesn’t mean to say that regeneration is simply a luxury that we can do without. Regeneration is for life, not just for Christmas (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

The strategy defines regeneration as an ‘holistic process to reverse economic, physical and social decline of places where market forces alone won’t suffice’, thereby acknowledging the (pretty obvious) limitations of the traditional trickle-down model and highlighting the clear role that government can play in supporting communities. Its vision is a Scotland where the most disadvantaged communities are supported and where all places are sustainable and promote wellbeing.

The strategy also emphasises the clear role for government, both at the Scottish parliament and locally, in showing leadership to support disadvantaged communities, while at the same time recognising that all parts of society need to be involved; public, private and third sector (something CLES has always advocated in its resilience work).

In contrast, aside from the fact that it offers no clear definition of regeneration, the DCLG’s regeneration strategy seems more wedded than ever to the idea of trickle-down and to the all-giving power of economic growth.  In its definition, regeneration is about ‘driving economic growth’ and, in turn, economic growth will ‘regenerate and breathe economic life into areas’.

However, economic growth, when we had it, far from breathing new life, was often sucking the oxygen out of some of our most marginalized people and places.  Sometimes this was due to the might of big business or short term economic expediency, and often as a result of property rather than people- fuelled investment.

What about the role of big bad government in regeneration?  Well as far as the DCLG is concerned, that seems to have gone into hiding, but, never fear because localism is here.  This means that local people, businesses, civic leaders and community groups all have the chance (but of course no funding) to support the process.  Sorry, but was that a goat escaping through the back door?

I’m not trying to suggest that Scotland has got it all worked out and certainly some of the strategy’s sections read a bit like a ‘regeneration for dummies’ handbook.  But at least they recognize the role of the state, the importance of solidarity and cohesion in communities and that the answer is not simply a question of economic growth, If only it was that simple!

  • Sarah Longlands is a doctoral student at the University of Glasgow and an research fellow at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. She tweets at @sarahlonglands and blogs at www.placevalues.org

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