I suppose it had to happen. At the Select Committee hearings on their Inquiry into Regeneration the conversation turned to trying to define regeneration. Does this matter? Don’t we all know what we mean after so long?
There is something of a consensus around a broad definition of regeneration amongst recent practitioners. What matters is whether that is shared by the policy makers. In government a key art form is to frame the question so that you can produce the answer you had in mind in the first place. So is the question:
“How do we stimulate economic growth to help cut the deficit?”
If so, your answer (if you are government) is likely to focus on places which look as though they will grow quickly with the least intervention.
You may think the question should be:
“How do we ensure that economic growth supports improvements in the quality of people’s lives everywhere?”
If so, your answer would give more emphasis to the problems experienced in places where growth is less likely to occur or the continuing mystery of how parts of London never seem to benefit from the strong overall economy in the city. Here is what I had to say at the Select Committee:
“I would agree with you about the word regeneration, Chair. We spent some time doing word searches on Government documents to see whether it appeared, and very frequently it does not. In our evidence we said that they may have got the title the wrong way around. It should be How Economic Growth Supports Regeneration. One of the key points we have made, as colleagues have made before, is that the commonly accepted definition of regeneration is that it deals with improving the social, economic and physical conditions of those people who have the least quality of life in those aspects. That may be largely as area‑based approaches, but it can also apply to individuals as well.
One of the things we are arguing for is that there needs to be that explicit statement that regeneration, which the Olympic Boroughs, for example, described as being about convergence, is an objective that we are all trying to achieve through whatever tools we have in the toolkit.”
We have to ask the right question to get anywhere near the right answer. Let’s hope the Committee ask Grant Shapps.