Boroughs drive investment through regeneration and partnership

Hard-hit boroughs across London are digging deep to unlock investment to drive growth, powered by a new zest for collaboration and partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors they forged during lockdown. So said local authority politicians including Waltham Forest council leader Cllr Clare Coghill at London: driving growth, the final session in this year’s LREF Investment Summit last week.

Hard-hit boroughs across London are digging deep to unlock investment to drive growth, powered by a new zest for collaboration and partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors they forged during lockdown.

So said local authority politicians including Waltham Forest council leader Cllr Clare Coghill at London: driving growth, the final session in this year’s LREF Investment Summit last week.

‘It’s been a wonderful positive experience to build those relationships and those partnerships’, said Coghill. ‘It’s never, ever been more important for people to have accessible jobs and for people to have the right level of skills to do those jobs’. The built environment sector has a ‘brilliant story to tell’ but needs to articulate all the advantages that come with that, while air quality is another aspect that boroughs like Waltham Forest have continued to take seriously to improve life expectancy and dramatically change the way residents move about the area.

Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia said that the authority had put an emphasis on delivering regeneration at places like Nine Elms where he claimed it has ‘added to the existing community without dislocating the old’ in its mission to deliver fair, green, sustainable growth. By 2030 there will be some 30,000 people living in the area, a new Zone 1 neighbourhood with a new primary school and health centre on the way, as well as a new tube station joining the US Embassy and, soon, Apple in Battersea Power Station – acting as a further ‘catalyst for change’. ‘For me, robust partnership is about joining forces to achieve long-term value’, Govindia said. ‘We want long-term value because we want placemaking at the heart of it’. On a smaller scale, Govindia aims to ‘breathe life’ into Putney, but it is the partnership between authorities and voluntary sectors that have been thrown into sharp focus and which help to foster economic growth as well as aid in placemaking and nurturing communities.

Ealing council leader Cllr Julian Bell said it was a pleasure to extol the wonders of his borough – ‘the most connected in the universe’, including how its green spaces have gained value through the pandemic period. The council is pressing for active travel measures in the recovery from Covid, drawing on the experience of other areas. ‘I doff my cap in deference to Waltham Forest’, said Bell, pointing to the mini Holland programme and ‘fantastic’ emphasis on walking and cycling. One of the positives has been reskilling aviation industry workers in vaccination centres with the hope of more permanent roles in the NHS for some, but the chief mission now was to ensure that the recovery is more inclusive and accessible to everyone, starting to tackle structural racism in the process.

Westminster set up its own development company to power growth, said Barbara Brownlee of Westminster Builds in terms of the economy, building in a countercyclical market something that has long terms interests of the council at heart and in a tightly controlled format on programme and pace.

Housing associations, too, are concerned with ‘patient investment’, said Geoff Pearce of Swan Housing. ‘When we plan our developments we’re not just thinking about the bottom line, profitability and an in and out involvement. We spend a lot of time thinking about the long-term sustainability of the place, not just the homes but also the wider community assets’. The need to build more affordable housing in London, however, has ‘never been more acute’, said Pearce, despite it being a challenging time economically for housing associations and local authorities around things like fire safety and decarbonising existing properties.

Coghill said she thought that government was ‘enjoying having Sadiq where they want him’ and that there is ‘some quite unfair trading going on’. But in terms of other governmental actions and asks, the session also included discussion on the need for more subsidy in housing and local authorities having the ability to take a collective view of its sites, development’s role in helping the economy through job creation, investment vehicles and more government cash for transport infrastructure, home ownership and ‘alchemy’ of placemaking, amidst more partnership working. ‘It’s a pretty impressive set of opportunities that we can present as a wider group of local authorities’, said Bell, ‘and, certainly, that collaborative working is essential’.

Watch the full webinar recording here