At the beginning of the New Deal for Communities (NDC) programme, the 17 ‘pathfinder' areas reported back to the government that it would not be possible to deliver a programme based solely on improvements to people - education, crime, employment, health - rather than place.
Unless residents could see physical change, including improvements to local environmental services, they would not believe that valuable new non-physical initiatives were happening around them. Unless the physical places fulfilled residents' needs, they would move somewhere else as soon as their circumstances allowed, and be replaced by new residents with issues similar to those of the original residents.
The West Midlands Economic Strategy recognises this, arguing that a successful and vibrant economy requires a balanced and strong contribution from business and place and people: "It is impossible to influence the drivers of economic growth and achieve long-term prosperity without positive improvement in all three areas. A healthy and dynamic business base is essential to creating wealth and employment, but it is dependent upon a strong supply of high-quality human capital and consumers. Finally, neither businesses nor individuals will prosper unless the location where they are based meets their particular needs".
The government's Sustainable Communities Plan outlined a programme of action for economic, social and environmental development in both urban and rural areas. Sustainable communities are defined as "where people want to live and work, now and in the future. They meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment, and contribute to a high quality of life. They are safe and inclusive, well planned, built and run, and offer equality of opportunity and good services for all."
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned a series of research projects to look at different kinds of public space across Britain, how they are used and how they function. The projects focused on different types of places, including parks, town-centre high streets, open spaces in residential areas, shopping precincts and community centres. A notable finding was that regeneration seeking to improve these places needs to be responsive to how people use public spaces, not just to aesthetic design ideas.
The Building for Life standard (measured against 20 design related criteria) is the national benchmark for well-designed housing and neighbourhoods in England. The criteria embody Building for Life's vision of what housing should be: functional, attractive, and sustainable. Building for Life promotes design excellence and celebrates best practice in the house building industry. The initiative is led by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) and the Home Builders Federation, and supported by English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation. See the Building for Life website for more information and an online toolkit produced by CABE.
Secured By Design is a UK Police flagship initiative supporting the principles of 'designing out crime' by use of effective crime prevention and security standards for a range of applications. Research shows that Secured by Design can reduce burglary by 50 per cent and criminal damage by 25 per cent. Improvements to both public space and homes can be effective - for example, replacement windows are almost always far more secure than the old single glazed metal or timber units or some of the older aluminium framed double-glazed windows.
Building for Health is a partnership project between the National Heart Forum, Living Streets and CABE, looking at how places and buildings can be designed to encourage physical activity. The resulting report, Building Health, covers issues ranging from strategic and urban planning, to walking and cycling, to urban green space and building design. Many transport and planning policies unintentionally contribute to sedentary lifestyles by building barriers to physical activity - such as prioritising cars before pedestrians and cyclists, and locating housing, shops, services and places where people work in areas virtually inaccessible without a car.
The Regional Spatial Strategy focuses on the things that will make the West Midlands a better place in which to live and work, for example:
The decline of manufacturing industry in the West Midlands has left a significant amount of vacant and derelict land, known as brownfield land or previously developed land. Dealing with this can be complicated and expensive - it may be contaminated and require remediation, access may be poor, and infrastructure (transport and other essential services) may be inadequate. RegenWM host the Centre of Excellence in Land Reclamation - find out about land reclamation good practice and useful resources.
According to the English House Condition Survey (EHCS), as many as 39 per cent of the dwellings in the West Midlands region do not meet the Decent Homes Standard: this means they are damp, or with inadequate heating, or in a bad state of repair, or without adequate toilet facilities. The West Midlands not only has a higher proportion of the overall housing stock estimated to be non-decent than any other region, but also a higher proportion of private sector stock (over 37 per cent compared with a national average of under 32 per cent) failing the Standard. In the social sector the West Midlands had the second highest proportion of homes failing the standard, over 42 per cent of the stock, which is notably higher than the proportion for England as a whole.
The EHCS found that the most common reason for homes failing the Standard is due to inadequate levels of thermal comfort. Some 80 per cent of non-decent social homes nationally (local authority and Registered Social Landlord) homes fail on this measure. In the West Midlands:
The Regional Housing Strategy promotes meeting of the Decent Homes Standard through the achievement of design excellence, energy efficiency and the reduction of fuel poverty (which occurs when a household spends more than 10% of its income on fuel). There is a direct link between cold weather and heart and respiratory problems, serious illness, discomfort and depression. By improving heating and insulation to homes, both unnecessary winter deaths and fuel poverty can be reduced. Shelter's report 'Chance of a Lifetime' describes the impact of bad housing on children's health, education and life chances.
The public health document Choosing Health for the West Midlands highlights overcrowding as an issue associated with poor physical and mental health. In the West Midlands, on average people from Black and Ethnic Minority communities are over 6 times more likely to be in overcrowded housing than white households. The levels of overcrowding in houses varies widely across the region - according to the 2001 Census, 9.6 per cent of houses in Birmingham were overcrowded compared to 2.7 per cent of houses in Bromsgrove. However, although Birmingham accounts for around half of all homeless acceptances in the region, adjusting for population and ‘affordable housing' supply shows that many rural areas (such as West Mercia) are also areas of high need for homelessness.
More details on affordable housing in the West Midlands can be found in 'A Guide to the Delivery of Affordable Housing in the West Midlands' and in the West Midlands Rural Affairs Forum Affordable Rural Housing Report.
The West Midlands has the highest proportion of private sector properties in what are classified by the EHCS as poor neighbourhoods (where there is a concentration of more than 10 per cent of houses in substantial disrepair, or there are major problems with vacant or derelict sites, or where there are other forms of neglect such as rubbish dumping or graffiti, or where there is a poor visual quality score, or a combination of these).
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation investigated the interplay between public service provision and neighbourhood decline, and examined the effectiveness of different approaches. Their report, 'Cleaning up neighbourhoods: Environmental problems and service provision in deprived neighbourhoods', found that poor neighbourhoods had more environmental problems. They also had a greater range of problems, the most severe being graffiti, litter, fly-tipping of bulky items of waste, and poorly maintained public and open spaces.
The report suggests that the reasons for this ‘environmental gap' relate to:
Regeneration efforts focusing on physical changes can play a part in improving deprived neighbourhoods, for example, by developing clearer arrangements for the maintenance of public spaces. Neighbourhood management and warden schemes contribute by combining education and enforcement alongside activities enabling residents to take more control over their environment. It is possible to identify indirect impacts, such as tenancy training making tenancies more sustainable and neighbourhood wardens reducing anti-social behaviour - both of these help to maximise the life of improvements by reducing vandalism and other abuse of facilities.
The Environment Agency website contains a wealth of information on a variety of subjects such as air quality, water quality, dealing with waste (including the national fly-tipping database and extensive advice on tackling fly-tipping, and figures on previously developed land).
The Department for Communities and Local Government produce a wide range of housing related statistics. These include both physical statistics such as the English House Condition Survey, socially-related statistics such as homelessness and household estimates and projections, and finance-related statistics such as house and land prices. Most of the data are shown by the three tenure categories, private, Registered Social Landlord (RSL) or housing association, and local authority.
The Housing Corporation is the government agency that funds new ‘affordable housing' and regulates housing associations. Part of the website is denoted the Centre for Research and Market Intelligence, and holds good practice examples and statistics such as the National Register of Social Housing (NROSH).