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Castle Vale

Changing Castle Vale through a holistic approach

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Castle Vale was built between 1964 and 1969 and was one of the largest post-war housing estates in Europe, occupying 481 acres of land five miles outside of Birmingham city centre.

The site was built on a disused airfield, and was one of the largest tower block estates in the UK, including 34 tower blocks alongside a mixture of maisonettes and houses. At the time of completion there were almost 5,000 homes and 20,000 people living in Castle Vale.

Background

During the 1970s and 1980s, the conditions in Castle Vale deteriorated to the extent that it received national notoriety for its social conditions, crime and poverty.

Overwhelmingly negative press coverage damaged the estate’s reputation leaving it stigmatised. Key issues highlighted in a Health Needs Assessment (published in 1992 when the estate had a population of over 10,000) included:

  • Unemployment at 26 per cent. Job applicants with a Castle Vale postcode were rarely considered.
  • Life expectancy at 68.3 per cent - the national average was closer to 76 per cent.
  • One of the highest rates of infant mortality in the West Midlands.
  • Education attainment was significantly below the city average and the estate’s reputation made it difficult to attract good teachers.

Other problems on the estate included high levels of anti-social behaviour, crime, joy riding and vandalism. The condition of many of the flats was very poor. Damp was a feature in many of the homes and the maisonettes were so badly built they were impossible to heat.

Project

In 1993 a Housing Action Trust (HAT) was set up, following a feasibility study undertaken by Birmingham City Council and strong support from local tenants. Housing Action Trusts were non-departmental public bodies set up by central government to address poor housing, economic deprivation and social decay in urban areas.

This meant that the estate was taken out of council control during a 12-year programme of regeneration, with tenants having the right to return to the council at the end.

The HAT set about changing Castle Vale through a holistic approach:

  • Housing
  • Health
  • Environment
  • Employment
  • Education and training
  • Community safety

At the heart of this was a strong sense of community involvement, with residents forming 25 per cent of HAT staff. Residents also took positions on the HAT board along with other community representatives from the Tenants and Residents Alliance and the Castle Vale Community Housing Association (CVCHA).

This ensured active involvement, leadership and support from a group of strong and committed tenants and residents.

During the project the estate underwent a huge transformation: 32 of the 34 tower blocks were demolished; the only two remaining blocks were attached to schools making demolition virtually impossible.

Originally only 17 of the tower blocks were to be demolished. However once they had seen the dramatic improvements taking place elsewhere on the estate, many residents took advantage of the continuous consultation process, changed their minds and also opted for demolition – leading to the demolition of a further 15 blocks.

The changes to the estate included:

  • The demolition of 2,200 homes, the building of 1,500 homes and the improvement of a further 1,333 homes.
  • The creation of a new retail area, attracting Sainsbury’s.
  • The building of a new community facility- The Sanctuary.
  • The development of a ‘health village’ in 2004, and new doctor’s surgeries.
  • A new 68-bed nursing home, developed by the private sector.
  • Huge changes to the public realm on the estate including public art and the building of a public park in the centre (where the notorious eight central tower blocks once stood).
  • The redevelopment of a 1.5 hectare brownfield site on the east of the estate into industrial and commercial space with over 39 units.

The HAT also set up a Neighbourhood Partnership. This partnership consisted of key groups and service providers with the aim of ensuring the continuance of services during and after the regeneration project.

This was a key component in the success Castle Vale has had after the HAT dissolved in 2005.

Impact

After years of being isolated and marginalised on the edge of Birmingham, Castle Vale became not only physically a better place to live in, but also one with improved opportunities and standard of living.

Life expectancy went from 68.3 to 73.7 in under 10 years. The two key factors that contributed to this were improvements to housing stock and a strategy for health improvements on the estate including:

  • Programmes to break drug cycles and providing support for drug addiction. Awareness programmes delivered to all ages from three years old.
  • A Zero Tolerance campaign towards domestic violence to raise awareness of the issues and a change in policy to allow the victims to stay in the house with eviction of perpetrators.
  • The provision for mental health care in The Sanctuary through a centralised reception ensured discretion for users, and a support group led to reduction of hospital admissions and some individuals being able to return to work.

Many new employment opportunities were created for residents:

  • 1,461 jobs were created
  • 1,107 Castle Vale residents were placed in jobs
  • 2,113 Castle Vale residents went onto training programmes (3,415 training places in total)

For an area that previously had 26 per cent unemployment these interventions meant that by October 2004 unemployment had been brought down to 5.3 per cent against a Birmingham average of 7.3 per cent.

Police were supported by a network of neighbourhood wardens acting as a link with the community. The installation of CCTV cameras throughout the estate led to a 36 per cent drop in crime between 2000 and 2004.

Lessons Learned

Angus Kennedy, former CEO of Castle Vale Housing Action Trust (HAT) said: “The HAT programme was community led and its succession strategy has ensured that progress has continued to be made after it closed."

  • The succession bodies which continued the work after the HAT stopped in 2005 have worked successfully. Succession was a focus for the HAT from the start.
  • One of the key organisations was the establishment of a community-based housing association the Castle Vale Community Housing Association, (CVCHA) to which 94 per cent of the 1,327 homes were transferred.
  • The CVCHA has eight Castle Vale residents on a board of 14, making it a truly resident-led organisation. This has been important in keeping the local residents empowered within the estate.
  • Steve Clayton, Castle Vale Neighbourhood Manager, said: “Building on the success of the HAT, the Castle Vale Neighbourhood Partnership Board is continuing the regeneration with the aim that all Castle Vale residents can achieve to their full potential.”
  • Improving the image of the area, through effective public relations and impressive public art had two key impacts for the estate. It helped the overall wellbeing of residents, improving mental health and feeling safe in the estate, but also had an impact on private investment in the area.
  • Although the project was largely subsidised by the public sector over the years, private investors started to build houses, nursing homes and take up units in the retail park (notably Sainsbury’s). This was an important factor in securing the future sustainability of the area.
  • The new Sainsbury’s supermarket was a key factor. This gave non-residents a reason to go to Castle Vale as well as providing an anchor tenant for the retail park. It also provided opportunities for employment and better quality of shopping for residents.
  • It was important that the job opportunities created through the regeneration of Castle Vale directly benefited and were accessible for the local residents. The Merlin Venture was a social enterprise which offers training and supports local businesses in Castle Vale. It also had a minibus service to enable residents to access jobs off the estate.
  • The HAT also linked training with local businesses to provide extra support for residents to get jobs – for example it worked with Jaguar in its paint shop, leading to 22 jobs secured on salaries over £22,000.

Good Practice

  • Tackling large-scale regeneration in a truly holistic manner can have a much larger impact on the overall project.
  • When providing training for jobs, ensure that it is relevant to the jobs available in the area. Also ensure transport services are set up to allow residents to access the jobs.
  • Improving public realm and providing large areas of green space can not only improve the look of an area but has a substantial impact on residents’ health and attitude.
  • Succession is vital. Look at ways of developing partnerships which will allow ‘home-grown’ services to carry on the work after the leading body has left.
  • Always consult the community and revisit the consultation to get feedback as the project is being delivered. People’s attitudes may change once a project has started.
  • Provide essential health services on the estate and keep the more sensitive services such as substance misuse and mental health support in an overarching centre to allow people to be discreet (and be more likely to use the services).

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